are traditionally arranged by family members rather than either
the bride or groom! This practice is particularly
prevalent in the rural areas. Kola nuts, a
bitter nut from a tree, are formally sent
by the suitor's family to the male elders
of the bride-to-be, and if accepted, the courtship
This is all woven together in community prayers for the
marriage. Although Islamic law gives the father the choose
his daughter's husband, without her consent, this is no longer
widely practiced among the MNK. Once the father and elders
agree to the proposal, the young woman is told.
Polygamy has been practiced in this area since pre-Islamic
days. Within Islam, men are legally allowed up to four
wives, so long as he is able to care for each of them equally.
luckiest young woman is the one who is the first wife of
a man usually 10 years her senior. It
is not unheard of for a girl of 17 to
be married to a man in his 50s or 60s.
Can you pick out which is wife #1, #2, or #3 in the picture
Wives are expected to live together in
harmony, at least superficially. They share work responsibilities
compound, cooking, laundry, etc., but little else. Often
the first, second, or third wife won't know of the impending
arrival of a new wife until the morning she actually arrives.
Resentment simmers just below the surface. The crowning
glory of any woman is the ability to produce children,
||Passage Into Adulthood
associated with the physical act of circumcision, the Mandinka
practice a rite of passage which marks the beginning of adulthood
for MNK children.
Boys and girls, ranging in age from four to fourteen (pre-pubescent),
are circumcised separately. In years past, the children spent
up to a year in the bush, but that has been reduced now to
coincide with their physical healing time, between three and
four weeks. This group of children form a special, internal
bond, one which remains throughout life.
During this time, they learn about their adult social
responsibilities and rules of behavior. They learn secret
songs which teach them what it is to be an MNK. These songs
teach them how they are to relate to members of the opposite
sex, including their parents, their siblings, their relatives,
and eventually their spouses, as well as their elders and
their peers. They are cared for and taught by elders of
the same sex; these persons become their life-long sponsors,
a very special relationship.
Great preparation is made in the village or compound for
the return of the children. A huge celebration marks the
return of these new adults to their families. The children
are given new clothes and treated with new respect by their
elders. Boys and girls are honored with a dance.
very important rule was learned in the bush: never reveal
you learned in the bush to a member of the opposite sex.
At this point, the lives of men and women separate.
a result of these traditional teachings, the Biblical concept
of men and women uniting as one in marriage is totally
foreign to the Mandinka mindset. A woman's
loyalty remains to her parents and her family; a man's
to his. What is his is his; what is hers is hers.
Islam does not teach that the marriage union has a spiritual