Igbo Traditional Marriage
The south-eastern part of Nigeria is the home of the Igbo speaking people. They constitute almost 100% of the population of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo States, and about 30 to 50% of the population of Delta and Rivers States. Because Igbo people are highly mobile and itinerant, they can be found in significant numbers in all major cities of Nigeria, as well as in other parts of the world. In North America, the population of Ndi Igbo is probably in the millions in the US, and in the thousands in Canada. The Igbo language itself is highly dialectical. Thus one can expect variation in certain rites and practices from one part of Igboland to another, and even from one town to another. Birth, marriage and death are rites that are held in great esteem amongst Ndi Igbo.
There are a number of principles that underpin Igbo traditional marriage that are worth reiterating. One of them is that marriage in Igboland is not between one man and one woman. Rather it is between families and to a great extent between clans or even villages. Another principle is that marriage is regarded as sacrosanct. Divorce or separation is not common. However in extenuating circumstances (which include flagrant abuse and neglect, promiscuity, acts likely to cause illness, death or embarrassment to member(s) of the family), the marriage may be set aside in accordance with rules and practices prevalent in the locality. The introduction and practice of Christianity in Igboland have helped to preserve the sanctity and reverence of Igbo marriages. A third principle of Igbo traditional marriage is that dating or any kind of relationship between the man and the girl before they get formally married is not encouraged.
Finding the Right Partner:
Both the man and the lady normally attain the appropriate age before they enter into marriage. Underage marriage is very rare among Ndi Igbo. For the man in particular, he needs to accomplish a number of well defined tasks before he is judged to be ready for marriage. In most parts of Igboland, there are defined rites of passage. These include initiation into the masquerade and age grade societies. In parts of Udi LGA in Enugu State, the rite of manhood called “iwa ogodu” was what a son and his father had to do to indicate that the boy has come of age. This ceremony involves the father buying a cow and the son parading the cow in the market place. At the right moment, the son being initiated would be expected to cut off the tail of the cow with one stroke of a well sharpened machete.
Following the initiation to manhood, the ready to be husband is expected to have acquired the infrastructure and the skills necessary to make a living for himself and his would be family. Such infrastructure includes a house for himself separate from that of his parents. His skill set would include the ability to successfully and profitably farm a sizable plot of land for crops such as yam, cocoyam, corn, beans, cassava, peanuts; and the ability to tend palm trees either for the wine or for the palm fruit. These days, farming, fishing or palm tree tending skills are no longer adequate to demonstrate the readiness of the young man for marriage. Getting formal education at least to the secondary school level, (but preferably to the post secondary level) is necessary, coupled with landing a permanent, good paying job. Another alternative is for the young man to undergo many years of apprenticeship and establish himself firmly as an artisan (carpenter, mason, plumber, painter, motor mechanic, electrician, welder, etc), or as a trader in a specialty area such as clothing, shoes, electronics, building materials, hardware, jewellery, foods, etc.
For the girls, the right of passage is not as well defined as for the boys. However, acquiring culinary, child care and home management skills is mandatory. In addition, most families these days would strive to educate their daughters to the secondary and even post-secondary level. Girls also strive to acquire professional skills through formal education, and some seek to establish themselves in trades such as dressmaking and hairdressing. For a girl aspiring to be married, she is expected to look her best and be of the best behaviour at all times. Some communities would go to the extent of organizing their marriageable girls into dance troupes where the girls do the dancing, while the men and the women provide the vocals and the instrument back up. Learning these dance steps usually takes several years and a great deal of hard work. The outing and showcasing of the dance troupe is widely advertised and takes place over several weeks and in several venues. The dancers are exquisitely decked up to orchestrate their femininity. Within weeks of the launching of the dance, most of the girls are often scooped up by eligible bachelors, some of the men coming from distant towns, but who might have seen or heard of the dance.
Igbo tradition does not encourage girls to go out in search of husbands. Regardless of the status of the girl, she must wait until the prospective husband approaches her family. Thus, it is the man who does the hard work of finding the right partner, while the girl and her family have the easier of task of saying yes or no. The common denominator here is that all members of the respective extended family are involved in this very important task. Often relations of the man identify the prospective bride and inform the man. Once he gives his consent, the relatives will carry out a detailed investigation of the girl and her family history. The investigation will dig into the background of members of the girl’s family going as far back as possible, looking for any incidents of recurring diseases, abominable acts, problems with bearing children, insubordination or other marital problems. Once the background check has been completed to the satisfaction of the man’s family, then the formal marriage rites will proceed. During each of the several steps and stages of these marriage rites, the family of the prospective bride will continue to check out the groom’s family looking for essentially the same undesirable traits. The key concern for the bride’s family would include the ability of the man to take care of their daughter and any children that she would have.
Initial Inquiry by the Groom (Iku Aka):
This is the initial and official declaration to the parents of the girl by the would-be groom that he is interested in having their daughter as a wife. The prospective groom is accompanied by a small group made up of close family members such as his parents, one or two uncles and aunts. The visitors come with kola nuts and a small amount of palm wine. Before the kola nut is broken and shared, the suitor’s party would state their intention to the bride’s family. The prospective bride would then be asked for her consent to accept the kola nut. If she fails to give her consent then the process comes to an end. On the other hand, if she consents, then the kola nut and the wine is accepted and shared. Further visits are then scheduled before the groom’s party leaves.
Second and third visitations (Mmanya Nne na Nna, Mmanya Ikwunne, Mmanya Umunna, Mmanya Isi Ada)
If the initial introductory rite (Iku Aka) is positive, the groom’s party will receive a list of what other steps are involved and what the requirements of the bride’s clan or town are. There are variations from one town to another. With each additional visitation, the size of the groom’s party continues to increase until the apex visitation which is the Igba Nkwu ceremony. The first visitation to the bride’s family is for the purpose of Mmanya Nne na Nna (wine for the bride’s parents). The groom’s party is limited to about 6 to 10 persons, and their gifts will include kola nut, palm wine, beer, soft drinks and tobacco. The bride’s family will prepare food and serve the visitors. The third visitation at the bride’s home is for the purpose of Mmanya Umunna, which is to inform the extended family from the bride’s father’s side that someone is interested in marrying their daughter. For this visitation, the groom’s party may number up to 20, and the number and assortment of gifts and drinks also increases. A goat is often a part of the gifts. The hosts will also prepare assorted meals for the visitors.
In some communities, the rites of Mmanya Ikwunne and Mmanya Isi Ada are also mandatory. The former is to inform the relations of the bride’s mother that someone wants to marry their daughter. The latter is for the first daughter of the bride’s father or family. The groom’s party is limited in both cases, and the gifts are identical in scope and size, but they must include kola nuts, palm wine, beer, soft drinks, heads of tobacco and snuff. The consent from all these distinct family members must be secured before the final marriage rites are agreed to and scheduled.
Bride wealth/Dowry Settlement:
This rite may be done as part of Igba Nkwu, but in general, it requires a visitation to the bride’s family. In the past, at the end of the lengthy negotiations which can take a whole night, money does change hands. These days the exchange of money does not take place, but the negotiations do still take place. Because of the difficulty in determining the value of a wife to a man, most families settle for a commitment from the groom that he would take good care of the bride and her children, and that he would assist the bride’s family with the training of the bride’s siblings. At the start of the dowry or bride wealth negotiations, the bride’s family will extol her virtues and accomplishments. Usually broom sticks are used to represent money. Thus, at the start, the bride’s family will present a huge bundle of broom sticks which is what they believe their daughter is worth. The groom’s party will then go out and consult with themselves and come back with a counter offer which is in the form of a much reduced bundle of broom sticks. The bride’s family will again go to their own meeting and agree on a slightly reduced amount. This back and forth session will continue until a final count (amount) is agreed to.
Igba Nkwu/Mmanya Nkute:
This is the final ceremony to consummate the marriage, and it takes place in the bride’s family compound. The guest list from both the groom’s and bride’s families is often unlimited. Depending on the resources of the two families, several hundreds or even thousands of people come to witness the occasion. The entire extended family system, going as far back as they know is invited. Both the groom and bride would normally invite their friends, colleagues and co-workers in addition to members of their respective extend families. As is the case with other rites that come before Igba Nkwu, some communities specify items that the groom must present to the bride’s family. These would include kola nuts, palm wine and other assorted drinks, heads of tobacco, snuff, cloths, jewellery, etc. For the bride’s family, it is also the occasion to show their love and care for their daughter. They would give her presents including cooking utensils for her new home. The bride’s compound is typically decked up for the event with extra chairs and tables brought in for the numerous guests expected. Oftentimes, dance groups and musicians are in attendance to entertain the audience.
The Igba Nkwu ceremony kicks off with the arrival of the groom’s party with their drinks and other gifts. They are led to the area reserved for them. Next the bride’s family comes out to greet their in-laws. Meantime, the bride and her maids are inside the house getting dressed. Once most of the guests are settled in their respective places, the bride and her maids make the first appearance. This is primarily to greet the in-laws. They dance regally around the venue while relatives spray money on them. Following the appearance of the bride, the groom’s party presents their gifts to the in-laws. Relatives of the bride will check the items to make sure that they are in accordance with their specifications. Any shortfall of omission usually means that the groom has to make up for it by cash payment. Once the drinks and other gifts are accepted, the kola nuts are broken and shared.
In some communities, the bride and her party will make a second appearance. This time they will carry boiled eggs in trays. They will give these eggs to the guests who in turn will put money into the trays as payment for the eggs. The significance of this ceremony is to show that the bride is capable of making money by trading. Before the drinks are shared, the bride and her party make another appearance. This time, the bride kneels before her father to receive his blessing. After the blessing, the father pours palm wine into a cup and hands the cup over to his daughter to give to the groom. The groom is usually well hidden among the crowd to make it difficult for the bride to find him. The bride and her party will keep searching everywhere until they find him. Once she does that, she will offer him the cup of wine, which he sips and hands back to the bride for her to sip as well all to the applause of the audience. Both the groom and the bride now go before each of their parents to get their prayers and blessing. Once the blessings are given, the newly married couple will dance together to entertain their guests. While the dance is going on, money is sprayed on them as well as on their parents and other relatives. Meantime, the bride’s family serves assorted food items that have been meticulously prepared to all the guests wherever they may be seated.
These days, Igba Nkwu also features the cutting of a cake by the newly married couple. Once the cake is cut, the couple then takes their seat at a conspicuous location in the compound. Relatives, friends and well-wishers then take turns to present gifts to the couple. The eating and drinking and general merry-making goes on till late into the night. As the party begins to wind down, the family of the groom will by way of a song indicate that they are about to leave, and that they have to take their wife with them. Most of the time there are no issues, and the parents of the bride will present their own gifts to her to take to her husband’s place. The parting of the bride from her family is always an emotional one, but in the end, the bride must join her husband’s party as they make their way back to their place.
Post Igba Nkwu Rites:
These days, the Igba Nkwu and traditional marriage rites are almost immediately followed by church wedding. Sometimes, the church wedding takes place the next day or within a few weeks of Igba Nkwu. This time, the groom’s family is responsible for organizing the wedding and the reception that follows the wedding. Depending on the resources of the groom, the reception party is often lavish and more gifts are showered on the newly weds.
The Church and or Court (Registry) wedding stage: Due to Western influence and Christianity, a wedding ceremony is not completed until the couples are blessed are the church and the wedding is legalized at the court or registry. This is based on individual difference; some couples prefer to carry out both church wedding (the Muslim equivalent is known as Niqqai) and the court wedding while some would go to church or the court alone. The essence is to provide religious and or legal backing to the union.
The reception: This is the last stage before the couple leave for their honeymoon where the guests are entertained. The highlight of the reception is the toast and the who’s next bouquet throwing. At the end of the reception, another couple would have join the train of newly wedded moving on to face the reality of “happily ever after” and endless bliss.
|celebrating with family|
|celebrity for a day?|
|friends and colleagues|
|A life time commitment|
Marriage in African is determined by cultural dictate of the particular society in which the marriage ceremony is taking place. Culture is the totality of people’s way of life and it embraces what people eat, what they wear, the way they talk, the manner in which they treat their dead and greeted their new born, et cetera .
It is often said that each society has different ways of doing things based on the prevalent culture of that particular society such as dressing, eating, burial, festival and even marriage. However, Africa as the focal point of this discourse is a continent that is made up of 1000 ethnic groups which means thousands of different cultures.
With regards to Nigerian wedding ceremonies, such ceremony is also determined by the culture in which such wedding is taking place. Nigeria as a country is made up of about 350 ethnic societies.
African Marriages; Yoruba Wedding Ceremony
At the heart of every wedding ceremony among the Yoruba speaking culture of the Western Nigeria is the family which plays a prominent role in marriage process. For instance, most of the time no wedding can take place without the support (Blessings) of both parent of the couple especially the bride’s parent who would have to give their daughter in marriage to the groom’s family. Secondly, the bride-to- be is not handed over to the groom but to his family especially the eldest in the groom’s family (groom’s father) due to the fact that the young groom is responsible to his family as such any misunderstanding between the couple has to be resolved by the groom’s family.
The contemporary wedding process is divided into four stages namely;
· The introduction stage
· The Engagement stage
· The Church and or Court(Registry) wedding stage
· The reception stage.
The introduction Stage: It is imperative for the couple to receive the “blessings” of their family before getting hitched. Therefore the two families would like to meet each other in order for them to know the kind of family their children are getting married into. The process of introducing the two families to each other is known as “the introduction”. On the day of introduction, the groom and at least five members of his own family would go to his Bride-to-be’s house where the family of the lady would be waiting to be introduced to their in-laws. Most of the time, the wedding date would be agreed to by both parties and the obligation of the groom’s family will be spelt out-this is known as the “Dowry”.
The Engagement stage: This is also known as the traditional wedding. This is the day the bride would be handed over to the groom’s family. The groom would come with all the members of his family and the dowry to ask for the bride’s hand in marriage. It is always a day of fanfare and merriment. The most important feature of the day is the dowry which is regarded as the gift that will open the door of the bride’s family house. The dowry contains;
I. A she goat
II. 2 bottle of Honey
III. 40 tubers of yam
IV. A basket of variety of fruits
V. Keg of Palm oil
VI. Keg of vegetable oil
VII. 2 carton of wine
VIII. A box filled with clothing
IX. Roasted fish
X. Kola nut
XI. A bag of salt
XII. A bag of rice
XIII. 1 umbrella
XIV. 4 crate of soft drinks
XV. A bible
XVI. 4 envelopes of money -1 for the father
-1 for the mother
-1 wives in the family
-1 men of the family
The highlight of the day is when the couple are a brought out each at a time amidst dancing and songs. The groom is first brought in and made to perform certain obligations such as prostrating with his friend to the bride’s family three times and each time prayer is rained on him concerning the new quest of marriage. Subsequently, the bride dances out to come and meet her husband while the two families would pray for her for fruitfulness in her matrimonial home. Finally, the couple are prayed for and released to the care of the husband’s family.