Like most southern Ghanian populations, the Abutia Ewe – one of the numerous ‘village leagues’ which compose the northern part of Eweland (Volta region)– have experienced far-reaching transformations in the last century, and nowhere more radically than in their matrimonial practices. In this article, I wish to concentrate on two aspects of these practices, namely the definition of marriage and the incidence of divorce.
Indeed, an adequate analysis of divorce requires some heuristic tools which enable us to decide whether particular couples are ‘married’ or not, a procedure made extremely difficult in the case of Abutia because of the changes in their definition of marriage. In the first part of the article, I shall briefly survey these changes and discuss the definitional problems they raise and, in the second, present the main findings of a quantitative survey which helps to measure the impact of the changes discussed. It also reveals that divorce was in fact common before 1890, when German colonial rule was imposed. In the third and last part I seek to explain this marital instability in ‘pre-colonial’ Abutia.