By Muyiwa Adetiba
An article appeared in the Daily Times of the late 70s that struck a chord in me. It was written by one of Nigerians’ most celebrated columnists. Mr Peter Enahoro, writing as Peter Pan, wrote an article titled: ‘Let Papa Die’. It was an incisive commentary on a major social issue of that time.
This, you must remember, was the period of the oil boom and the country’s noveau riche, especially of the Southern persuasion, craved creative ways to celebrate their new wealth. One area that caught their fancy was man’s eternal fascination with the dead. Many chose to remember—and rebury—a father that had been long dead. Many suddenly remembered that they had not done the final burial of a departed mum or aunt. And why not? The money was there now and they could indulge.
The Daily Times, which was the newspaper of the times, made an industry of it. It wrote letters to those who had done obituaries a year ago to also do a one year anniversary; or those who had done a five-year anniversary to also do a ten-year anniversary and so on. The result was that the paper became very bulky with ‘Obituaries’ and ‘In Memorials’.
Mr Enahoro, who must have been the Editor or Editor-In –Chief at the time, was certainly high up enough in the hierarchy to know that part of the newspaper’s considerable income came from the people’s new-found romance with the dead. Yet, it did not stop him from acting his conscience and urging the nation to stop this morbid revelry. He urged that people should allow their loved ones to die with dignity and stay dead rather than ‘unearth’ the dead as it were, with carnival-like activities.
Today, more than three and a half decades after, I feel compelled to re-echo his sentiments. Not at obituaries this time, but at weddings. The amount of emotional and financial investments that goes into getting our children to say: ‘I do’ are getting out of hand. Last week, a massive traffic hold-up took place along the popular Ozumba Mbadiwe Street in Victoria Island, Lagos because the children of rich and influential parents were tying the knot, and all roads led to the high-brow hotel where the wedding was taking place. Those who went—I changed my mind at the last minute, thanks in part to the traffic-talked about the opulence and the press of people at the event.
One friend said she particularly enjoyed the ‘old school’ music that was played. ‘Old school’ music? Why should the music of the 70s be the dominant music at the wedding of children who were not even conceived at the time the songs became hit songs.
The answer is simple; the party was for the parents and their friends and the wedding just served as a good reason to call friends together for a good time. One parent insisted on having King Sunny Ade at his daughter’s wedding. It took the tearful objection of the bride and the entreaty of the mother to make him change his mind. The reason he even thought of it at all is because parents paid the piper at weddings and therefore dictated the tune: literally.
Just a week before, it was an engagement party that packed an event centre full. Only that over ninety per cent of those at the hall did not witness the engagement which had taken place at a more private location. In fact, those who came at 2.30 pm when the event was supposed to have taken off and left at 6.30pm might not have seen either the bride or her mother. But they would have enjoyed good food and drink while indulging in small, social talk.
It could have been a promotion party, a birthday party or any other party for all they cared. There was no connection at all to the solemn coming together of two families for a life time union of their children which had taken place earlier. That was, it seems, another occasion for another place at another time. And you wondered what this party was all about.
My appeal today is to our generation of parents to let our children marry in their own way. We should stop indulging in our fantasies. I wonder how many parents actually ask their children what they want before embarking on these grand schemes. Most of us financed our weddings during our time and the marriages were none the worse for it. Most weddings were simple church ceremonies and the receptions were over in an hour.
The best you got were lunch packs. Yet the marriages fared better on the long run than what we have today in spite of the millions of naira in wedding investments. But more importantly, the weddings were by us, for us. The parents and their few friends came as guests. It is the other way round these days where only a symbolic couple of tables are reserved for the friends of the marrying couple. I remember one that took place in 1978. There were just six of us. Yet the three children of the union are successful parents today.
We must question the rationale in spending millions on a wedding when one of the couple hasn’t found a job. We must also worry at the pressure we are putting on the marriage itself. Many cracks which later on widened into chasms started during the frenetic and totally unrealistic preparations for grandiose weddings. Many parents make unnecessary demands and transmit their frustrations to the children. These frustrations seep into the young marriages and become toxins in their homes. It would have made more sense if bigger weddings meant more successful marriages. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be the case as marriages of the children of the rich hardly outlast those of their poorer cousins.
Let the young be free. Free to find love and build on what they find. Let them be free to determine their expectations and realities. Let them grow and mature together on their own terms and in their own ways.
Many daughters depend too much on daddy’s broad shoulders rather than discover the strength in their own husbands’. Many parents state too openly that their daughters could always come home if they found their marriages too uncomfortable. That was not the case in our time. You made your bed and were made to lie on it. Besides, what does not break you can only strengthen you.
Marriage is a tough institution. Let’s stop sugar coating it. It is also a life-time institution. Let’s stop making it look like a nine-day wonder. The more time we spend preparing our children for the emotional and financial challenges of marriages rather than the frivolities and extravagancies of weddings, the better for our children.