The Levirate Custom of Inheriting Widows among the Supyire People of Mali: Theological pointers for Christian marriage

Date:
2011
Abstract:
The Supyire people of Mali practise levirate: when a woman is married, she permanently joins her husband’s family, and the marriage is not terminated by his death. Rather, it continues, with one of the husband’s younger brothers or cousins inheriting her and acting as a substitute levirate husband. The thesis describes how levirate is an integral part of the Supyire institution of marriage, how it gives marriage permanence, supporting the social structure, linking descent groups, determining access to land and providing a milieu for socializing children. The thesis highlights the experiences, positive and negative, that Supyire men and women have had of levirate, as related in interviews. It then begins to construct a practical theology of Supyire marriage by reflecting on it through four metaphors applied to Christ and his mission (redeemer, bridegroom, head of the church and the image of God) and the qualities particularly associated with these four metaphors (mercy, joyful love, permanent unity and respect for human dignity respectively). Despite its imperfections, the Supyire system of levirate gives security to widows and the fatherless, allows them continued access to farmland and thus to a livelihood, and can be a channel for Christ to mediate and teach about his faithful love. On these bases it is argued that levirate should be recognized by the church as a valid stage of marriage rather than treated as adultery or fornication. The thesis also reflects on the negative impact of sin on Supyire levirate and how marriage and levirate could be redeemed, with God at its centre rather than on the periphery. There are concluding reflections on lessons that might be learnt or relearnt that could be fed into a theology of marriage for the global church. An appendix outlines a possible Christian service of blessing for a Supyire levirate union.
Extent:
xv, 504 pages
Table of Contents:
Dedication -- Acknowledgements -- Table of Contents -- List of Figures and Tables -- Glossary -- Glossary: Supyire Terms -- Scripture Citations -- Dissimulation of Names -- Abbreviations -- 1. Foundations for a Practical Theology of Supyire Marriage -- 1.1 The problematic of Supyire levirate in the eyes of the church -- 1.2 The theoretical approach: a practical theology -- 1.3 The nature of revelation: the Spirit at work in culture, Scripture, tradition and Christ -- 1.4 The nature of culture: unity in diversity -- 1.4.1 The relationship between theology and anthropology -- 1.4.2 Creative unity in diversity -- 1.4.3 The relativization of community structures -- 1.5 The nature of knowledge in practical theology: the hermeneutical spiral -- 1.5.1 Introduction: the hermeneutical spiral in practical theology -- 1.5.2 Relationship between the author, the text and the reader -- 1.5.3 The place of the reader’s preunderstanding -- 1.5.4 The fusion of horizons -- 1.6 Theologizing in Scripture: multivocal witnesses to what God has done in Jesus Christ -- 1.7 The nature and location of authority: Scripture and tradition -- 1.8 Practical theology of marriage: the way forward -- 2. Methodology Used to Analyse Supyire Levirate -- 2.1 Introduction -- 2.2 Kinship -- 2.3 Gender roles -- 2.4 Levirate -- 2.5 Introduction to methods used -- 2.6 Source of data: the Supyire people -- 2.7 Interviews. -- 2.7.1 Rationale for semi-structured interviews -- 2.7.2 Language of interviews -- 2.7.3 Interviewers -- 2.7.4 Development of the questionnaires -- 2.7.5 In depth interviews -- 2.7.6 Positionality -- 2.7.7 Interpretation of the interview data -- 2.8 Triangulation -- 2.9 Evaluation of methodology -- 3. The Supyire People of Southern Mali -- 3.1 The Supyire people and their environment -- 3.2 The Supyire world view -- 3.2.1 The Supyire pantheon -- 3.2.2 Cosmology -- 3.3 The Supyire family -- 3.3.1 The Supyire family: introduction -- 3.3.2 The Supyire family: the ancestors -- 3.3.3 The Supyire family: the unborn -- 3.4 Supyire marriage -- 3.4.1 Introduction -- 3.4.2 Marriages -- 3.4.2.1 Choice of a wife -- 3.4.2.2 Excision -- 3.4.2.3 Payment of bridewealth -- 3.4.2.4 The trial year -- 3.4.2.5 The wedding ceremony -- 3.4.2.5.1 Ceremony in the bride’s village -- 3.4.2.5.2 Return to the groom’s village -- 3.4.2.6 Bestowal of a kitchen -- 3.4.2.7 Civil, religious and traditional marriages -- 3.4.3 Expectations of marriage -- 3.4.4 Begetting children -- 3.4.5 Singleness -- 3.4.6 Polygyny -- 3.4.7 Divorce -- 3.4.8 Inces -- 3.4.9 The widow and the widower -- 3.4.10 Maternal in-laws -- 3.4.11 Conclusions -- 3.4.12 Case study: The story of a senior wife -- 4. Supyire Levirate: Traditional Inheritance of Widows and Recent Improvisations -- 4.1 Introduction: Levirate in Africa -- 4.2 An introduction to Supyire levirate -- 4.2.1 Overview of Supyire terminology -- 4.2.2 Inheritance among the Supyire -- 4.2.3 Inheriting a widow -- 4.2.4 Status of a child born of levirate -- 4.3 Case study: Widows in the village of Farakala -- 4.4 Case study: Widows in the village of Niaradougo -- 4.5 Benefits and difficulties of Supyire levirate -- 4.5.1 Widows -- 4.5.2 Inheritors -- 4.5.3 Inheritor’s wives -- 4.5.4 Children -- 4.5.5 Community -- 4.5.6 Conclusion -- 4.6 Trend towards a purely nominal fulfilment of levirate -- 4.7 Reasons for changes over time in Supyire levirate -- 4.8 The philosophy of Supyire levirate -- 4.9 The future of Supyire levirate -- 4.10 Conclusion -- 5. A Christocentric Approach to a Theology of Marriage and Levirate -- 5.1 Church teaching and practice in relation to Supyire widowhood -- 5.2 Christocentric approach to practical theology -- 5.3 Christ as kinsman-redeemer -- 5.3.1 Introduction -- 5.3.2 Old Testament references to levirate -- 5.3.3 Preservation of the name of deceased -- 5.3.4 Widows: their protection and responsibilities -- 5.3.5 Theological implications -- 5.4 Christ as husband -- 5.4.1 Introduction -- 5.4.2 The nature of love -- 5.4.3 The nature of erotic love -- 5.4.4 Theological implications -- 5.5 Christ as head of the body -- 5.5.1 Introduction -- 5.5.2 Head and body -- 5.5.3 Submission -- 5.5.4 Submission and headship within the Godhead -- 5.5.5 Theological Implications -- 5.6 Christ as the image of God -- 5.6.1 Introduction -- 5.6.2 Humans in the image of God -- 5.6.3 Male and female in the image of God -- 5.6.4 Community aspect of the image of God -- 5.6.5 Theological implications -- 5.6.5.1 Implications for the philosophy of kinship -- 5.6.5.2 Implications for human rights -- 5.6.5.3 Implications for the local church -- 6. A Framework for a Supyire Theology of Marriage and Levirate -- 6.1 Some objections to levirate -- 6.1.1 Levirate is not a proper form of marriage -- 6.1.2 Levirate extends marriage beyond death -- 6.1.3 Levirate is a form of slavery -- 6.1.4 Levirate runs counter to scriptural teaching on monogamy -- 6.2 An assessment of levirate in Africa -- 6.2.1 Redemption -- 6.2.2 Love -- 6.2.3 Permanent unity -- 6.2.4 Identity in Christ -- 6.2.5 Conclusion -- 6.3 A framework for a Supyire theology of marriage -- 6.3.1 Levirate promotes faithfulness and community cohesion -- 6.3.2 Supyire view of God’s involvement in marriage -- 6.3.3 Supyire view of tensions involved in levirate -- 6.3.4 Relativization of the Supyire family -- 6.3.5 Fresh Perspectives -- 6.3.5.1 Fresh perspective on Supyire widows -- 6.3.5.2 Fresh perspective on Supyire marriage and levirate -- 6.3.5.3 Fresh perspective on Supyire children -- 6.3.6 Conclusion -- 7. Practical Theological Engagement with Supyire Levirate -- 7.1 Pastoral issues -- 7.1.1 Care of widows in the Scriptures -- 7.1.2 Care of widows among the Supyire Christians -- 7.1.2.1 Older widows -- 7.1.2.2 Younger widows -- 7.1.2.2.1 Widows with unbelieving inheritor -- 7.1.2.2.2 Quasi-polygynous households -- 7.1.2.2.3 The challenge of AIDS -- 7.1.3 Choices for the inheritor -- 7.1.3.1 Taking on the full role -- 7.1.3.2 Taking on a limited role -- 7.1.3.3 Taking on no role -- 7.2 The church’s engagement with Supyire society on the future of levirate -- 8. Conclusions -- 8.1 Towards redemption of Supyire levirate -- 8.2 Characteristics of Christian marriage -- 8.3 Possible loosening of constraints on traditional Christian marriage -- 8.3.1 The constraint of mutual consent -- 8.3.2 The constraint of monogamy -- 8.3.3 The constraint of spiritual compatibility -- 8.4 Implications for a theology of marriage beyond the Supyire context -- 8.5 Limitations of study and pointers to future study -- Appendix: A proposed Christian service of blessing on a Supyire levirate union -- Bibliography -- Primary Sources -- Anthropological and Linguistic Research -- Conferences and Sermons -- International Legislation and Reports -- Interviews -- Maps -- Personal Correspondence -- Secondary Sources
Subject:
Widow inheritance
West Africa
Supyire
polygamy
marriage
Mali
levirate marriage
Christian ethics
Christ as redeemer
Christ as image of invisible God
Christ as head of church
Christ as bridegroom
Country:
Mali
Subject Languages:
Content Language:
Nature of Work: