Walter E. Pond


A Ph.D. Dissertation presented to the faculties of the University of Pennsylvania, August 1998, and available from University Microfilms International (UMI), Ann Arbor, Michigan ( or 1-800-521-0600).

This study challenges the notion that the English word, "marriage" adequately describes relationships involving sexuality, reproduction, cohabitation, and household economy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Data are drawn from marriage practices in Nigeria, principally among the Mambila but including Fon, Hausa, Ibo, Ijo, Irigwe, Kofyar, Rukuba, Tiv, and Yoruba marriage. Reported forms of marriage include polygamous or monogamous forms of: bridewealth marriage, sister exchange marriage, cross-cousin marriage, slave marriage, secondary marriage, and ritual marriage. Ethnographic data show that multiple marriage forms operate simultaneously and individual men and women are allowed, in some cases required, to have multiple marital relationships. This complexity calls into question the validity of the Western concept of "marriage" and an alternative is proposed: "conjugality."

A formal methodology for a "cultural analysis" of social relations is developed from the Mambila data and tested against comparative material from Nigeria's "Middle Belt" and the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon, as well as a sampling of examples from Central Africa, East Africa, and South Africa in pre-colonial, colonial, and modern times. Cultural analysis confirms that African conjugality is not characterized by monogamy and life-time commitment, even at the ideal level, as found in the Western Judeo-Christian tradition. A cultural analysis of African conjugal relations reveals the partibility of African male/female relationships, which have until now been lumped together under the Western concept of "marriage:" conjugality, cohabitation, parenthood, spousehood, and economic cooperation.

Conjugal networks are defined as another arena (in addition to politics, business, kinship, slavery, healing societies, ritual associations or common interest associations) in which African men and women compete to attract dependents and increase personal prestige. In the arena of conjugality, multiple forms of conjugal relations and multiple partners allow individuals to construct networks of adolescent boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses, co-parents, lovers, ex-spouses, and ex-lovers as well as the kin and clients of these partners. By employing a cultural analysis of Sub-Saharan African marital relations the study emphasizes women's interest in lateral, intra-generational, networks over men's interest in lineal, inter-generational, networks which have traditionally formed the basis for anthropology's understanding of African social relations.