It happened yesterday when I was scrolling through Facebook. I saw at first a Naij.com post on a Nigerian-Canadian woman who refused to kneel for her husband at their marriage ceremony. I thought at first, this was a non-news until I saw it again and again, reposted and shared!
I still did not bother to read the post. I went on Twitter only to see this post again. So, I thought, what is all the fuss about? As I scrolled through the comments, it became clear, there is a debate to be had on this matter. The questions that instantly come to mind are:
First, was this bride right for declining to kneel to her husband?
Second, will this achieve the desired purpose of reinforcing equality within Nigerian marriages?
Third, is it high time that we moved away from this antiquated tradition? Is it really worth the fuss?
I wanted to explore these questions, so I read both sides of the argument. Here is my two cents.
The bride E claimed that kneeling for the husband as part of the Yoruba wedding was a sign of submission to the husband. My friend and I were literally arguing this point at one o clock in the morning. Is it really a sign of submission? Does kneeling really mean that you are subordinate to your husband?
The picture above shows you what kneeling down looks like. I struggled to find an image of a bride kneeling to her husband but this picture, I presume is a bride kneeling to her in-laws. This is how it would look should she be kneeling to her husband.
In the Yoruba tradition, females kneel and males prostrate. My friend argued that it is a sign of submission especially because most women are told to submit to their husbands for a blissful marriage PLUS the men are not required to prostrate to their wives as part of the marriage rites. Hmmmm. So, I had to examine what I do when I kneel. As a Yoruba girl, I kneel to my parents, and I kneel to anyone older than me and or I wish to respect. I am expected to kneel to older sisters, cousins, aunties. Why? To show respect. Does it mean that I am subordinate? Does respect mean submission? I would argue not. When I kneel to my parents, I do this to show respect or greet them. If this meant submission, you would not need to kneel to your parents when you ‘leave their house’ as a married woman because you would no longer be submitting to them. I think her choice of word ‘subordinate’ is misplaced because you can kneel to people that not as wealthy as you, not as educated as you , not as (fill in the gap) as you to show respect. To be subordinate means to be inferior or of lesser value. But the Yoruba culture would require you to kneel for people who you can argue are inferior to you out of respect. In that case, these ‘subordinate’ people ought to be kneeling/prostrating for you and not the other way around. I think that the Yoruba culture can be overly respectful, but we must not conflate respect with submission.
I am not a marriage expert but we know that respect is one of the essential pillars of a relationship. My friend argued that kneeling in a marital context extends beyond the realms of respect. She rightly claimed that the Yoruba culture is patriarchal and places the onus on the women to ‘respect’ their husbands. I would agree, our culture is patriarchal but it values women too. In our monarchical system, we have the Iyalode. In our traditional religion, we have Osun, Oya and many other goddesses. I do not know why the Yoruba culture makes the woman kneel for her husband and I will ask my Grandmother when next I speak to her.
I have only observed one traditional wedding so I do not know if this is typical of most weddings. In this, the groom and his male family members prostrated to the brides family. My friend thought that this could be a sign that women are seen as properties and could not by themselves, ask for a persons hand in marriage. I think you can argue otherwise too. I argue that since the groom and his family prostrate to the brides family, it can be viewed that this surpasses the bride kneeling only to her husband. If we examine where the power lies, we can say that the ultimate power lies in the hands of the brides family, not her husband. In addition, we can argue that since the groom and his men prostrate to both the bride’s mother and father, our culture places the value of women and men as the same. We can also extend this argument further- the fact that the women in the family do not kneel or prostrate at all shows that they ‘above’ this?
I must now move on to the next question of whether this is a great demonstration for marriage equality in the Nigerian context. Again, my friend and I had different views. E decided that to symbolise equality within her marriage, she must remove this tradition. I ask, why did she not add a requirement for her husband to prostrate to her? Take a scenario that is very typical of Yoruba marriages. The husband is the breadwinner, and the wife accepts domestic responsibilities. Let us say, that the wife does not work, we would not say because their financial contributions are unequal, let us get rid of the man’s source of income. Instead, we will encourage the woman to step up and start earning too. Why doe E not take a similar approach with her wedding? Why is E’s husband not prostrating to her as well as her kneeling to him? I do not know the answer to this, but I am inclined to disagree that her approach is the best way to demonstrate equality in a marriage. Although she has the right which she clearly exercised, I think the right way would have been for her husband to prostrate to her if she so wanted to make a symbolic move. But my friend said ‘lets not kid ourselves, the same people shouting are those that will accuse her of using her husbands head’.
The last question on whether it is time for us to move away from the tradition. I have to commend her because I never thought twice about this tradition, as you would not when kneeling to your parents. There are certain things that we just do. But she got me thinking, why do we do them and why are they right? It is true that many use the excuse of tradition to justify an expectation of submission from their wives. I am not in favour of this. I personally do not mind this tradition although I doubt I will have a traditional wedding myself. My reason for this would be different, I think Nigerians have to re-evaluate the necessity of the extravagance displayed on wedding days. But I must confess, I enjoy the Facebook videos and the hilarious dance moves. I think with this discussion comes a question on the necessity of bride price or dowries. Is it appropriate for men to pay bride price when women are not their properties? Should we also be moving away from this?
Although this has sparked a conversation, I am afraid that the impact which I foresee are minimal. Most women who are in marriages that are so skewed that we can call them subordinates will not be reached or moved by this act. I also think although this is a good talking point, there are deeper discussions to be had about the pay gap between spouses in Nigeria, the expectations for women to earn less than their husbands. But I do not want my blog to serve as a justification for the men who think their wives must submit and this should be a given because it is our culture. Perhaps in twenty, fifty or a hundred years, we would have moved on from many traditions, this included (although I hope that we keep the dancing and aso ebi). I do not think there is a need for the public outcry; E has the right and she exercised it. However, her view paints women who kneel to their husbands as subordinates when this can be argued to be untrue. First, kneeling is not symbolic of submission. Second, many women kneel for their husbands only on this occasion, especially if we look at our generation. Then again, you can ask ‘why do it just for the wedding day?’
Finally, we live in a world where you have the choice so, if you decide to kneel or not to kneel, more power to your elbow! I think questions are good, they get us to think. I wish E and her husband a happy married life!
If you wish to read more, http://www.informationng.com/2018/08/yoruba-feminist-insists-she-wont-kneel-down-for-her-husband-during-her-wedding-ceremony.html; https://twitter.com/EniolaHu/status/1032652862713683969
This is a very interesting debate so do share your respectful opinions in the comments section below. Opinions change so you might be able to persuade me.
Disclaimer: I expressly disclaim any liability for damages of any kind arising out of use, reference to or reliance on any information contained within this publication. I do not assume ownership or responsibility for the accuracy or functioning of the pictures or diagrams presented in this publication.