Courtship and Marriage

In the past, nearly all Bamiléké parents arranged the marriages of their children, although both the groom and bride had the right to refuse. Arranged marriage served two purposes: preventing unintentional incest (in the case of close lineage relations separated and masked by the passage of many generations), and the wish of the groom's family to be able to control their son's bride. After a period of covert investigation, the process of courtship was initiated by the groom approaching his future father-in-law with the expression, "I have no one to cook for me." As a prerequisite to marriage, the groom needed to build a house, including a kitchen, for his new bride. The Bamiléké term for marriage, na nda, means "to cook inside," symbolically referring to the containment of the wife's productive and reproductive labor "inside" the literal walls of the kitchen and metaphoric boundaries of the marriage contract. A series of prestations

(gift exchanges) would be made from both sides, culminating in a marriage ceremony that emphasized fidelity, fertility, and the alliance formed between two families. Bridewealth was paid by the groom and his family to the bride's father, his heir, or occasionally to her grandfather or ta nkap (if no bridewealth had been paid for her mother). The payment of bridewealth ensured that the children of the union would be members of their father's patrilineage. Bridewealth payments were often spread over long periods of time, and disputes over bridewealth and resulting ancestral wrath were interpreted as a major cause of reproductive illness. These customs persist to the present day, although youths currently choose their own spouses. Marriage is expected of everyone, and if youths wait too long, family members will choose spouses and exert considerable social pressure to marry. Bamileke expect that the marriage will quickly result in a child; when pregnancy does not follow marriage within a few months, family members will start to suggest traditional medical practitioners and even hospital infertility treatment. Infertility is usually blamed on the woman, and leads to many problems with her affines (members of her husband's family).

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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