Nigerian humanist leader Leo Igwe, for whom I have booked a two week speaking tour of the United States in July, has performed what he says is the first humanist wedding on the entire continent of Africa. It took place in Ghana, where he has set up refugee camps for the victims of Pentecostal witch-hunting. He explains some of the difficulties:
My field work in Ghana would end on April 30. The marriage was slated for April 12 in the town of Elimina in Ghana’s Central region near Cape Coast. The timing was perfect! It was convenient, very convenient for me. Only one small problem I had never before conducted a marriage ceremony! So, it was going to be a first for me too. That made me nervous. Yes it did. It was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As I say, I had no previous experience of officiating at a Humanist wedding. I was never trained as a Humanist celebrant. I have written articles on the need for such ceremonies in Africa so that Humanists who want to wed can do so in a way that reflects their own beliefs. But this was no longer theoretical. I had now been invited to officiate at one and the last thing I would would want to do is to let my friends down. My only ceremonial experience was as an altar boy and then as a seminarian. I had assisted priests during marriage ceremonies. But that was over 20 years ago. And those ceremonies were religious wedding rites conducted in churches with texts that the couples were not allowed to change. This time I would be conducting a non-religious Humanist ceremony, outdoors on a beach, with a text specially written to reflect the beliefs of the couple.
I contacted the ceremonies unit of the British Humanist Association and they sent me a sample outline text of a Humanist wedding ceremony. I also sent a message to the American Atheist Alliance and Herb Silverman sent me another text which I could adapt. Now there was the issue of legality. I am not a licensed celebrant. And, anyway Humanist marriages per se are not legal in Ghana. So we were confronted with a problem ‘How do we have it legal and have it Humanist at the same time?’.
I contacted the Marriage Registry in Tamale then at Cape Coast. And they agreed to issue Becca and Charles with a marriage certificate. Once they had the certificate they could then go and celebrate the marriage however they wanted. It was great that the officials at the Registry were cooperating and making possible a legal, Humanist wedding.
So on Saturday April 12, 2014, history was made. The friends and families of Becca and Charles joined us for a Humanist wedding ceremony at Ko-Sa Beach Resort, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Officials from the Registry arrived and issued the marriage certificate for the couple and then we could hold the ceremony.
Awesome! I can’t wait to meet Leo and travel with him. There is so much to learn from him.