By Josephine Ofoegbu
In Igbo land, marriage is taken very seriously. A woman whose bride price has been paid is treated differently especially, when a situation arises from another woman who just packed in with a man. For example, respect is accorded to a woman who was married properly whereas a woman who just moved into a man’s house is treated with little or no respect by the man’s family. This is why every parent wants his/her daughter to be properly married.
What then is involved in the traditional marriage? When a man meets a girl he believes will make a good wife for him, he first proposes marriage to her. If she accepts, she will go to her parents and inform them that someone has asked for her hand in marriage. Usually, the parents will ask such questions as ‘which village is he from’, ‘which family is he from’, ‘what does he do for a living’ and so on.
However, it should be noted that it is not only the bride’s family that ask questions. Questions will be asked the groom by his parents when he tells them of his plan to marry a particular girl. They will ask such questions as ‘which village and family is she from’, ‘is she a troublesome person’, ‘can you live with her for the rest of your life’. The mother will ask ‘is she a neat person’, ‘can she cook’ and so on.
Even when the bride and the groom gives satisfactory answers to their parents, further investigations will still be made. The bride’s parents will send people to the groom’s village to go and ask questions about the groom’s family while the groom’s parents will also do same. The people sent will bring reports on how the parents in question live. Are they living together or are they separated? Do they eat from the same pot? Are they in peace with their neighbors? Are both families related by blood in some way?
These steps are taken by the parents on both sides because they have the responsibility of making sure their children marry the right person. If the reports brought back are good, then a go-ahead is given to the children. But, if a bad report is brought back, it is then left for the parents to advice their wards. For example, if the investigation reveals that both families are related by blood, then the parents will advise their wards to look for another person to marry.
However, in the absence of any bad report, a date is fixed by both families for the first visit. This first visit by the groom and his parents is called Ịku Aka N’ụzọ in Igbo and it means to knock on the door. On this visit, the groom’s family will present a bottle of Schnapps and a keg of palm wine to the bride’s family. The purpose of this visit is for both families to meet each other and for the groom to collect the list of requirements to be fulfilled before the bride can be handed over to him.
O n the list are things to be bought for the bride’s parents, the brides kinsmen and women, the single ladies in the village, the children in the family and the most senior son in the extended family. It has been said that the enormous requirements to be met by the groom is the reason there are increasing number of single ladies in Igbo land. However, it should be noted that these requirements varies from one village to another and is usually contested to a lower cost.
The groom with a few members of his family and a few friends come on the second visit to fulfill the requirements in the list. The parents of the bride send out invitations to their kinsmen and women prior to that day. It is either the groom buys all that is in the list or he buys some and then pays for the rest in cash. Once the bride’s people are satisfied, a final date is fixed for the main marriage ceremony called Ịkporo Nwanyi in Igbo.
The traditional marriage ceremony (Ịkporo Nwanyi) starts around 8pm and can end towards midnight. After both parties arrive and are seated, kola nut is given to the guest and the oldest amongst the guest says the prayer. The kola nut is then broken and passed round amongst the men to be eaten. Representative of the groom’s family called onye aka ebe in Igbo and meaning witness meets with that of the bride’s family to know how much is to be paid as bride price. Communication to both sides is done through the representatives. When the bride price has been paid, the bride then comes out dancing with her maidens to greet her would be husbands people. She is dressed in a one piece wrapper tied at her chest and in her hand she holds a container of powder which she pours into the hands of her guests as a way of greeting. After that she goes in again.
The second time she comes out is to show everyone the person that is her husband. She is handed a gourd of palm wine by her father which she carries around to look for her husband. When she finds him in the seated crowd, she kneels before him, drinks a little of the palm wine and gives the rest to her husband to drink. This is greeted with applause from the crowd. After this they come out dancing and kneel before the bride’s father to be advised and blessed. When he finishes, he hands his daughter over to her husband and the crowd explodes with cheers.
As the couple dance with their well wishers and refreshments are served, the gifts bought for the bride by her family to help her start her own family are brought out for all to see. Varieties of household items like bed, foam, stove, pots, box, pestle and mortar, plates, baby things, e.t.c are given to her. A hen and a tuber of yam are equally given to her. The hen is to keep her company until her own children come while the yam signifies fertility. With these, the bride is sent forth to her husband’s house.
It should be noted that nowadays, people have the option of conducting what is known as Ịgba Nkwu which is also a marriage ceremony. The only major difference between the two is that Ịgba Nkwu starts in the afternoon and ends in the evening.
As the husband and his people prepare to go home, the bride is also preparing to leave with them. Goodbyes are said. She is now a married woman and belongs with her husband and his people.
Traditional Marriage in Igbo Land is as published in EXECUTIVE TRAVELS NIGERIA MAGAZINE, ISSUE NO. 19, 2010. EDITED BY: GODWIN EIGBE