ROMANCE, PARENTHOOD, AND GENDER IN A MODERN AFRICAN SOCIETY(1)

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Date: Spring 2001
From: Ethnology(Vol. 40, Issue 2)
Publisher: University of Pittsburgh, Department of Anthropology
Document Type: Article
Length: 11,519 words

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Young Igbo men and women in Nigeria increasingly insist on choosing their marriage partners, and ideas about love are shaping Igbo constructions of marriage. But the viability of marriage still depends on fertility. This article examines the divergent consequences for men and women as they negotiate the transition from the role of romantic lover that now commonly characterizes courtship to the roles of mother and father, embedded in webs of kinship, that characterize marriage. (Igbo, Nigeria, marriage, courtship, gender, fertility, love)

Young Igbo men and women in Nigeria are far more likely than their parents and grandparents to insist on choosing their marriage partners. Increasingly, notions of romantic love and emotional intimacy are important criteria for selecting a spouse. Changes in patterns of courtship, the growing importance of Christian wedding ceremonies, and trends toward establishing urban residences with nuclear household organization symbolize and reinforce an emerging model of marriage that emphasizes the personal relationship between husband and wife. Ideals of romance, conjugality, and companionship are shaping Igbo constructions of marriage.

But to achieve their social and economic goals, Igbo people continue to rely on and face tremendous obligations to their kinspeople and affines. Though the selection of marriage partners is increasingly a matter of individual choice, the stability and sustainability of marriage still depends, above all, on fertility. This article explores the dynamic tensions created as Igbo men and women adjust to the transition from the role of romantic lover that now often characterizes courtship to the roles of mother and father, embedded in webs of kinship, that characterize marriage. In particular, it examines the divergent consequences for men and women as gender roles are renegotiated when courtship and love become marriage and parenthood.

ROMANTIC LOVE AND MARRIAGE IN WEST AFRICA

The question of whether romantic love is universal has intrigued anthropologists and other cross-cultural researchers for a long time (Murstein 1974; Kurian 1979; Endleman 1989; Jankowiak 1995; Hatfield and Rapson 1996). Jankowiak and Fischer (1992) set out test the question by examining Murdock and White's (1969) Standard Cross-Cultural Sample, looking for the existence (or absence) of romantic love in ethnographic data collected from nearly 200 cultures. They preface their study with the assertion:

The anthropological study of romantic (or passionate) love is virtually nonexistent due to the widespread belief that romantic love is unique to Euro-American culture.... Underlying these Eurocentric views is the assumption that modernization and the rise of individualism are directly linked to the appearance of romantic notions of love. (Jankowiak and Fischer 1992:149)

Defining romantic love as "any intense attraction that involves the idealization of the other, within an erotic context, with the expectation of enduring for sometime in the future," Jankowiak and Fischer (1992:150) conclude from their analysis that romantic love is a cross-cultural universal, or at least that it is nearly universal. They stress, however, that even if some form of romantic love is nearly universal across cultures, there is a need to understand "its emic manifestations within a variety of cultural settings" (Jankowiak...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A76997888