A man and/or woman isn’t considered married among the Igbo, if (s)he hasn’t completed all of the rites required by the prevailing culture (Odibendi) to do. Hosting a lavish wedding party, following a solemnization in church or a Nikkah by Muslim faithfuls, or even at the registry is totally besides the point, as it is only when the couple in question have fulfilled what they are expected to do traditionally, will they be accorded the respect (Ùgwù) due to married people in the homeland. Igbo Traditional Wedding include one of the aspects of Igbo culture that the advent of Christianity to the Southeast of Nigeria couldn’t relegate, such that even officiating pastors or priests would like to know if intending couples had done it, before presenting themselves to be Wed in the church or if they plan to do it after their “church wedding”. Members of clergy who ask these of their members who are Igbo, do this because they know the importance and significance of the Igbo Traditional Wedding.
Sadly, the misconception out there, is that Igbo traditional weddings are expensive, and that the brides family see it as an opportunity to milk the groom and his people, the most they could, as they may never get the opportunity in a long time to come. It is easy to think so if one takes a cursory look at the list of demands made on the groom as requirements for the traditional wedding, however and most importantly is the fact that it goes beyond the list, and only those who’ve been present where negotiations are made know that a list that could amount to a million Naira to fulfill for instance ends up costing the groom just a minimal fraction of the whole (or else we wouldn’t be seeing the not too wealthy of the Igbo nation getting married), due to the negotiating ability of the grooms’ people. I have used the word “negotiations” above because that is what exactly happens in the real sense of the events at which the families involved agree to terms for which their children will be joined in matrimony traditionally. It doesn’t loosely mean “haggling” as my feminist friend Helen Sylph would so have it, in deriding the payment of “Bride Price” and “Dowry” (which isn’t much practiced in Nigeria), as vestiges of a patriarchal and misogynistic society, that considers women as property, on sale by her family to her suitor who may have made the highest bid, as the one that is capable (Onye Aka Ya Lu’u Lu), the disagreement of which led to my getting blocked by her on Facebook.
Behind the Igbo traditional wedding system, is the belief that marriage goes beyond the mere union of two people or friends, rather that a family has begun a relationship with another family, to span generations. What happens with the fulfilment of the requirements outlives even the lifetime of the couples involved, as you will see with the illustrations that will soon follow. Allow me to throw some light on this, using what is obtainable in the tradition of one of the kindreds in Ifitedunu, in Dunukofia Local Government Area of Anambra State. Of course, you should know by now that no assembly or gathering of the Igbo is complete or can even start with “Kola” and the breaking of it. The visitors (Groom and His Family/People) are offered Kola after prayers (for the health of those present and afar, as well as any other issue as might persuade the one making the prayer to seek divine intervention for) have been offered, usually by the oldest member of the brides’ family. The staple for Kola, will include amongst others, Kolanut (broken into pieces, starting with the number of “eyes” it has after a prayer has been said), Garden Eggs, Groundnut Paste/Peanut Butter, a Naira note of any denomination, which is to be shared by the visiting entourage. Once the mouth is set running with the presentation, the visitors also present their Kola, with drinks usually two crates of beer, one crate of malt, and a crate of soft drinks/minerals (optional), which is instantly descended upon while the visitors state their reason for coming.
This first visit is called the “Knocking Visit” (Iku Aka N’Uzo), and the intention, once the visitors have been accepted by the host family, is the collection of The List (after paying the fee of a thousand Naira only) of requirements for the traditional wedding. The suitors family/people may decide, depending on the depth of their pocket/purse to do some or all of the requirements on the list, and most times the hosts would’ve been duly informed of these, to the end that it will determine the size of the delegations on both sides. For instance, knocking alone will require very few participants unlike when there’s prior notice that the suitors intend to go farther than just knocking. Once the suitors receive the list, they will be offered an “Interpreter” (regardless of whether both parties have linguistic similarities or not) from their hosts. His job mainly is to smoothen the path for the visitors, as negotiations for the Bride Price and other sundry kick in. The major components for which negotiations will be made, and agreement arrived upon include the following subheadings on the list:
👉 IME EGO NWAYI (BRIDE PRICE)
👉 EWU UMMUNNA (GOAT FOR THE MEN OF THE BRIDE’S KINDRED)
👉 INYOM EWUNNA (FOR THE WOMEN OF THE KINDRED)
👉 IGBA NKWU NWAYI (WINE-CARRYING CEREMONY)
👉 IGBA NKWU NWAYI – INYOM (WINE CARRYING CEREMONY – REQUIREMENTS FOR WOMEN OF THE KINDRED)
👉 ITU NKWU
Time and space will allow me to deal only with the Bride Price part of the above list for now, while the rest will be dealt with subsequently in future instalments on this topic. Once the visitors have agreed to go beyond just knocking, a select number of people from either sides will leave the larger group, with the interpreter from the host joining the visitors to go to discuss the Bride Price separately. The highlight of this stage is the presentation of Three Broomsticks to the visitors, the symbolism of what they represent being Compulsory (OMAGOL’OWELI). The broomsticks represent three goats, of which only one which is castrated (AWANI), is to be presented to the kindred (as part of the list of EWU UMMUNNA). The other two will be presented in the event of the death of the woman in future (See 👉 THE IGBO AND FUNERALS (6): https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/the-igbo-and-funerals-6/), as the in-laws bring her body to lie in state before taking her body to bury, where her death isn’t deemed controversial.
The next stage is the payment of the Bride Price proper. In this part of Anambra State, Bride Price is between ₦10,000 and ₦15,000. Now, assuming that after all said and done, it is agreed that the Bride Price should be ₦12,000, a sum of about ₦2,000 is returned to the in-laws, who will in turn give their hosts the sum of ₦1,200 to signify that an agreement has been reached (EGO NKWASI ONU AFIA also referred to as “Witness Fund“) and the groom has successfully wedded his betrothed/wife. ₦200 is given back to the grooms’ people as their share. Should the union not stand the test of time, and the couple opt to divorce following irreconcilable differences and/or the likes of all that makes a marriage unsustainable in the future, the woman’s family will be compelled to return that ₦1,000 (i.e. of their share of the ₦1,200 Witness Fund) in their keep to their in-laws. At the end of the proceeding, the ₦10,000 that’s the actual amount from the payment of the Bride Price is given to the father (or any one standing in his place, in the case where the father is late, or the Bride is adopted) of the Bride. Once the payment of the Bride Price is concluded, those who were sequestered for that purpose will then rejoin the others after sharing the remnants of monetary accruals besides that due to the father of the Bride, resulting from the negotiations. This heralds the beginning of the other aspects of the Igbo Traditional Wedding.