This is the continuation of my last post.
In the 18th century, a new, secular model of marriage began to evolve, which is known as the Enlightenment Contractual model. It is the dominant model of marriage in operation in the western world today. We would do well before delving into the model to understand what is meant by the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment was an 18th century intellectual movement inspired by the stunning successes of the Scientific Revolution of the previous century, most notably the emergence of Newtonian Mechanics, named after Isaac Newton, whose essence is comprised of Newton’s laws of motion and his work on gravitation. The likes of Newton, Johannes Kepler, Galileo and others produced a scientific and rational basis for understanding the natural world and the universe at large. Influenced by this, some leading western thinkers of the 18th century were determined to find out if a scientific and rational basis could be found for understanding the underpinnings of society. That movement was known as the Enlightenment. You can learn more about it in my book, Why Africa is not rich like America and Europe. The Enlightenment was sweeping in its scope. It remade every facet of western society. Its values and ideals undergird everything from science, to the economy, to politics and representative democracy, to the notion of human, individual and natural rights and society. Basically, the Enlightenment’s values and ideals serve as the basis for western political, scientific, legal and social institutions. The very same institutions we in Africa have imported in the hope of emulating western material success.
Given how far-reaching the Enlightenment was, it would be surprising if it didn’t have some form of effect on marriage. Taking inspiration from the work done on social contract theory by thinkers like John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau, the Enlightenment contractual model of marriage stressed the natural and legal rights of each member of the household as opposed as to the traditional biblical duties of each member of the household stressed by the Christian models . It also placed a premium on the principle of equality of the marriage couple. It also made room for the dissolution of the marriage if the natural and legal rights of any member was violated. It no doubt plays a crucial part in the spike seen in the number of divorces globally in the last few decades. The enlightenment model stripped marriage of its sacramental, social, covenantal and commonwealth overtones and left only its contractual core, where the terms of the marriage were created and agreed upon by the couple .
I think it is worth pointing out that the enlightenment model of marriage didn’t only come about as a result of the Enlightenment reforming everything it touched. It partly came about as a specific response to the abuses that sometimes trailed the traditional Christian models in practice . For instance, parents often abused the privilege of parental consent by coercing their children into marriages of their own choosing. Also, some members of the clergy used the doctrine of church consecration to probe deeply into the intimacies of the faithful, to extract huge sums of money for marital consecration and to play matchmaker against the wills of the marital parties or their parents . The abuses suffered by women and children at the hands of the male head under the traditional regime is well known. Illegitimate children had it the worst as they were often aborted or smothered at birth. If they survived, they typically had severely truncated civil, political, and property rights . It was these abuses the enlightenment model sought to correct.
I have taken the trouble to write this two-part essay on the European Marriage Pattern (EMP) and the five models of western marriage because given our embrace of market economies, the influence of Christianity, and our adoption of western social, legal and political institutions on the African continent, these models play a heavy role on our thinking about marriage even if we our unaware of their existence. Making the source of these models explicit will no doubt help improve our understanding of the institution of marriage.
I realize this account of the history of marriage is incomplete as I have neglected to discuss the influence of Islam and traditional African religion on marriage. Such an account will take more time and energy than I am willing to devote to the subject of marriage. My explicit aim was merely to write an account of the evolution of romantic marriage. By romantic marriage I mean marriage based on love, consent and freedom of choice as regards marriage partner. This form of marriage clearly had its origins in 13th century Europe and co-evolved with the emergence of the market economy, the Christian and enlightenment models of marriage. I will say this though in regards to Islamic and Traditional marriage; to the extent that muslims and traditional religion adherents take part in the market economy, it is reasonable that their marriage patterns would evolved in a similar direction as the EMP, that is you would expect Islamic and traditional marriages to be increasingly based on consent, love, and freedom of choice as regards marriage partner.
I will also say something about polygamy (specifically about polygyny where a man marries more than one wife). Polygamy was largely the norm everywhere until about the 6th century AD. Between the 6th and 9th century, things started to change in Europe as the Catholic church insisted that men could only take one wife and had a protracted battle with the European kings and nobility about this . The church would eventually prevail and monogamy became the norm in the west. I think it is also worth pointing out that while polygamy permits marrying more than one wife, most men in places and times that permit polygamy, would of practical necessity have had at most, one wife. The laws of sexual inheritance from the field of Mendelian Genetics taught in about every secondary school biology textbook places significant limits on the number of men that can practice polygamy. As Mendelian Genetics ensures that in any suitably large population, roughly equal numbers of males and females would be produced, there simply wouldn’t be enough women to go around for the vast majority of men to have more than one wife. For the skeptics who need hard data, the following table is from the data service Statisense, which shows the top 17 states with the most polygamous men (ages 15-49) with at least 2 wives in Nigeria:
|State||Percentage that are polygamous|
As you can see, no state has a percentage over 30. You will agree that less than 30 out of 100 does not constitute a majority. I would also add that it stands to reason that there are bound to be men who ordinarily under monogamy might have had one wife, who under polygamy wouldn’t have any at all because in the competition for women, some single men may find themselves losing to married men. As a result, there will be instances where children born to a 2nd or even 3rd wife, would under monogamy, still have been given birth to. The only difference is that they would have had a different father. All this leads me to suspect that the excess of population that polygamy might produce over monogamy isn’t all that much. A 2019 estimate of the population of Northern Nigeria vs Southern Nigeria put the figures at 128 million for the north and 92 million for the south . The southern figure is about 71% of the northern figure. One would think with the way people talk about polygamy that the northern figure would be at least double. Furthermore, I do not think that polygamy is the biggest factor for the difference. I think the greater incidence of poverty in the north and the significantly less usage of contraceptives in the north bear a greater responsibility and the two are linked. The National Bureau of Statistics issued a press release in November 2022 stating that 65% of the multidimensionally poor are to be found in the north, with the incidence of multidimensional poverty ranging from 27% in Ondo to 91% in Sokoto . I have explained in a previous on the demographic transition how poverty in its own pernicious way, fuels population growth. In poor families that rely on a subsistence mode of existence, children provide a source of labor on the family farm and a form of insurance/pension for aged parents. Now when this is the case, you are not likely to want to use contraceptives even if provided free of charge. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), over 70% of Nigerians engage in the agriculture sector mainly at a subsistence level . This is in stark contrast to the US, where 1.3% of the people are farmers and they produce enough to feed over 300 million people and export 20% of their produce. Clearly, those people are not practicing hoe and cutlass agriculture.
There is more proof for this point of view when you consider a number of Arab nations. Arabs are muslims and so are permitted to practice polygamy but have rather small (sometimes very small) populations. Here is a selection of them. The seven listed here are the wealthiest oil producers:
|Country||Population||Percentage of Foreigners|
As you might have noticed, they all have significant foreign populations, sometimes majority foreign populations, so the actual number of Arabs is significantly smaller, sometimes much smaller. One would have thought that the combination of extreme oil wealth and embrace of polygamy would have led to a population explosion but it hasn’t. In fact, it is far from it. The reason for this is that Arab nations have generally reached at least stage 3 of the demographic transition, while most sub-Saharan African countries are at stage 2. I explained the demographic transition in a previous post. Finally, the political and demographic history of Lebanon might prove instructive. Lebanon, like Nigeria has significant christian and muslim populations. In the 1950s, the christians outnumbered the muslims by a ratio of 5 to 4 and this demographic reality was reflected in their parliament . By the 1970s, the muslim population had outstripped the christian population as a result of the high birthrate among the Shi’ite muslims. The muslims asked that the sharing of seats in parliament reflect the new demographic reality and the christians refused . This played a crucial role in the onset of the Lebanese civil war that spanned about 15 years from 1975 to 1990. In recent times as a result of more urbanization and modernization, the muslim birthrate has been increasingly converging on the christian birthrate.
I will end on this note. I had pointed out that our embrace of the market economy on the African continent had led to the EMP (that is marriage based on love, consent and free choice regarding marriage partner) to be increasingly, the dominant marriage pattern on the African continent (at least in urban areas). That, coupled with increasing urbanization, inevitably leads to a significant increase in the number of people who will remain unmarried despite seeking a life partner. While I commiserate with people, particularly females affected by this, you need to stop blaming the witches in your village for things they are probably innocent of. I won’t be surprised if young witches seeking a partner also blame other witches for their inability to find a life partner. I mean where does it all end?
- Blake, Jenny H. Sep 1999. ‘The History and Evolution of Marriage (Review of From Sacrament to Contract by John Witte Jr.)’ BYU Law Review Volume 1999 | Issue 3 Article 5
- John Witte Jr. Oct 2002 ‘The Meanings of Marriage’ firstthings.com https://www.firstthings.com/article/2002/10/the-meanings-of-marriage
- Ghose, Tia Jun 2013 ‘History of Marriage: 13 Surprising Facts’ livescience.com https://www.livescience.com/37777-history-of-marriage.html
- National Bureau of Statistics Demographic Bulletin 2020
- National Bureau of Statistics Nov 2022 ’Nigeria launches its most extensive national measure of multidimensional poverty‘ nigerianstat.gov.ng https://nigerianstat.gov.ng/news/78
- FAO team ‘Nigeria at a glance’ fao.org https://www.fao.org/nigeria/fao-in-nigeria/nigeria-at-a-glance/en/
- Friedman, Thomas L. Aug 1990 From Beirut to Jerusalem New York: Anchor Books