African American Studies
According to Sobonfu, Some’s The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships, spirituality forms the essence of every aspect of life. Even before a child is born, they are connected to the spiritual world and throughout their lives, they will be in constant contact with their spirituality. In this essay, I discuss two key terms: marriage and intimacy as defined by Sobonfu Some while critiquing their contemporary relevance (practicality). In the ancient African culture, marriage and intimacy are relationships that belong to the spirit world and are best handled in this state and so the idea of marriage and intimacy that exist outside the context of spirituality is unhealthy and unfulfilling.
In the book, relationships and marriages are not private meaning that they belong to the community. Sobonfu stresses the importance of community in marriages. She defines community as the spirit that guides a tribe, enabling people to come together to fulfill a particular purpose, help others achieve their purpose and helping each other. The survival of the community impacts the survival of individuals as well as the survival of marriages. According to Sobonfu, marriage, just like any other relationship is a gift from spirit and the people involved should understand the will of the spirit in such relationships (p. 36).
In Sobonfu’s culture, purpose forms the essence of human life and as such, marriage is an avenue for one’s purpose to be realized. Individuals look around their community to identify with and remember their purpose. Purpose is something that an individual has before being born into a particular community. As such, the community does not assign purpose. Purpose starts with one individual and the community takes up the responsibility of nurturing and protecting the individual so that they achieve their purpose. Marriage also creates a platform for nurturing and protecting a person so that they can achieve their purpose. Marriage involves the coming together of spirits in order to fulfil specific purpose or destiny. Marriage provides the means of offering gifts that individuals carry and so meaningful marriages happen when individuals fulfil their life’s purpose by providing gifts (Sobonfu, p. 56).
In ancient African culture, marriage is seen as the focus of existence whereby all community members meet, including the ancestors, the living, and those yet to be born. Marriage is therefore the basis of the community as it establishes and maintains a family and kinship. Marriage is therefore more of a duty and obligation to establish healthy and supportive communities. Marriage has the capacity to enable individuals understand and explore who they are, where they are coming from and where they are heading. This is in line with the ability to realize one’s purpose. Marriage should involve the community including the living, the ancestors and those yet to be born and in so doing, it contributes to building and preserving the community.
In the African concept, marriage is not a private affair that involves two people. Instead, it involves a set of relationships between two extended families from where the individuals wishing to get married come from. According to Sobonfu, when one marries, they marry the whole family, the whole village, the whole tribe. It is therefore common to find African marriages involving the whole community and family. For example, through marriage, children are born and the children do not only belong to their parents but also to the whole community and the spirit (Helm, and Carlson, p. 197).
Marriages could go wrong if they do not involve the spirit and the community. For instance, Sobonfu says that most romantic relationships in the West go wrong because of control and ego. Involving the spirit and the community would enable one to find and fulfil their purpose instead of seeking personal interests like control and ego. It would be meaningless if people come together through marriage and they are not able to fulfil their purpose. While spirit and community contribute to living a fulfilling life among married couples, it is also important to acknowledge the spirit as the guide. Just like Sobonfu says, marriage is not about seeking personal happiness, but achieving specific purpose.
Sobonfu emphasizes on purpose, spirit and community when defining marriage but one cannot live a fulfilling life without being happy and content. As much as spirit and community are essential in having a healthy marriage, personal happiness and content should also be there. A person is considered the voice of something that is deeper in the core involving the spirit and the essence of the community. The person should feel content in the spirit and community to fulfill their purpose and be content (Sobonfu, p. 62).
According to Sobonfu, when two people get married, they establish an intimate relationship whereby their spirits come together to share. Intimacy is defined as the song of the spirit that invites two people to come together and share their spirit. Sobonfu states that it is a song that no one can resist and that one can hear it when they are asleep or awake, alone or in the community (Sobonfu, p. 78).
In intimacy, there is a desire to enable other spirits to come through while creating a safe and sacred space for spirits to bring gifts and fulfil their purpose. According to Sobonfu, when people acknowledge that they are a spirit in the human body, they are able to appreciate others as spirits. When it comes to intimacy, the human body is scared and sexuality is more of a scared act rather than a means of pleasure. In the traditional African ways, recognizing other people as spirits in human bodies enables one to look at people differently by recognizing the body as a shrine and not a source of physical attraction (Sobonfu, p. 84).
Intimacy does not only involve people, but also the environment, the spirit and the divine. Intimacy is more of a foundation on which every person steps on and creates a relationship from. Intimacy involves searching for the purpose for which one encounters another person. For instance, one would ask themselves what the spirits want to do in a particular situation and so forth. Intimacy is therefore not just about the physical being but it is about something higher, something beyond the human ego (Karenga, p. 233).
In intimacy, individuals should have respect for their bodies as shrines of the spiritual world. When individuals get intimate, the nature of their interaction changes because it involves engaging in a physical and spiritual act. There is also a relationship between sex and spirit as it involves both the physical and spiritual worlds. In sex, people engage in the procreative force that enables all living things to come into being. Intimacy is therefore very powerful. Without involving the spirit, sex dos not serve its purpose. For instance, the “booty call” occur when a person does not engage in their spiritual self and the person they are having sex with. In this situation, sex does not involve the spirit and people reduce themselves and others to the physical, which is known as detached sex.
According to Sobonfu’s sex is a form of intimacy, and it should be taken serious as it involved the physical and the spiritual bodies (Sobonfu, p. 92). Through such an intimate and spiritual act, two individuals can be deeply touched, emotional pain can result, and children can be brought into this world. When individuals consider their bodies as shrines, they can respect their bodies and think differently on how they treat their bodies, how they allow others to treat them, and how they treat others.
In the society, everybody longs to be loved, seen, valued and accepted and with acceptance, people experience something bigger and deeper. Intimacy also involves the search for acceptance in the community and spirit and one should be able to find and fulfil their purpose. Problems arise when people do not feel accepted or valued both in the spirit and the community. Therefore, there should be a framework for individual and group identity with a sense of community acceptance and belonging (Dixon, p. 216).
In the book The Spirit of Intimacy: Ancient African Teachings in the Ways of Relationships by Sobonfu, marriage and intimacy are some of the terms that have been defined and described. According to the book, both marriage and intimacy involve the individuals, the spirit, the community and the environment. People cannot uphold marriage or intimacy by themselves, and so they need the support of the community and the spirit. Marriage and intimacy form the different aspects of relationships that enable people to identify and fulfill their purpose. Therefore, marriage and intimacy are better handled in the spiritual world, and without involving the spirit, and the community, marriages and intimacy could be unhealthy and unfulfilling.