The Changing Face of Traditional Marriage

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A bride in company of friends for the first outing

Traditional marriage in Nigeria undergoes systematic transformation following the encroachment of western culture in its celebration

|  By Chinwe Okafor  |  Nov. 25, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

TRADITIONAL marriage is fast losing its ancient complexion and originality in many societies in Nigeria. It changes form everyday as families struggle to outdo themselves by adding new dimensions to the event. For istance, Ify Okwundu, a soon-to-be bride, said she wanted her traditional marriage ceremony in Agulu, Anambra State to be not only a success but unique. “I want my Igba Nkwu to be something to write about,” she said with so much excitement. She had prepared so hard to make the day worthwhile and successful. On that day, Okwundu, the beautiful bride, was seated in a room, where she was being dressed and adorned in her traditional attire with some maidens. No man was allowed to enter the room without paying a token.

An Igbo bride kneeling before her husband to present a glass of wine
An Igbo bride kneeling before her husband to present a glass of wine

It was so much fun during this traditional interplay as the groom with his friends and relatives dialogued with her handmaidens that were stationed outside the room for a fee so as to be allowed to enter and pay homage to the bride. After a while, the groom was allowed to pay a short visit and then leave to await his bride. The bride comes out with her maidens and heads to where her father or any elderly member of the family is seated to take a cup of wine which she will use to search for her groom.

The climax of the traditional wedding ceremony came when the bride went out in search of her husband-to-be, in order to present the cup of wine. As the search continued, different men present at the ceremony vied for her attention, calling out to her to give the cup of wine to them. When she finally found her beloved, she knelt down before him, with the glass of wine, sipped from it and gave it to him as a sign of her love. He, in turn, accepted and drank the wine to signify that he accepted her love too. The couple danced to meet the bride’s father with the wine cup filed with wads of naira. They knelt down before him for his prayer for them. The couple stood up and continued dancing alongside friends and well-wishers with lots of Naira rain.

The Igbo traditional marriage ceremony is an occasion usually filled with splendour, drama and cultural display. Generally referred to as ‘Igba Nkwu nwanyi’, it’s the climax of marriage in Igbo culture. Extended families, kindreds, friends as well as well-wishers on that day would officially know that the girl has been given out in marriage and people also get to know the husband or groom. On same the day, the bride is officially handed over to her husband and the two become husband and wife traditionally. Her colleagues, who are yet to get married, would assemble with their music to entertain and send her off.

Some elders exchanging pleasntries in a traditional wedding
Some elders exchanging pleasntries in a traditional wedding

The traditional marriage takes its place as an important ceremony in the Nigerian wedding ritual. It is the only rite which is observed and acknowledged by elders and family members to join a couple before the western way of marriage became very popular. Marriage in Igboland is not just an affair between the future husband and his wife but also involves the parents, the extended family and villagers. The introductory part of the proposed union involves two stages, depending on the Igbo community involved. Originally, the intending groom makes two visits to the bride-to-be’s family.

In the first stage, the intending groom, accompanied by his father or any family elder or close family friend will visit the father of the bride to be formally introduced as the prospective husband. They will then agree on a latter time to meet with other members of the bride-to-be’s family. In the return visit, the intending groom’s family, which is not limited to the parents, will meet with the bride-to-be’s family to restate its intention. Before the visits, both families have ample time to investigate each other’s family and must have reached a conclusion on the proposal. The prerequisites for this visit vary from village to village, but, basically some of the key items offered as gifts to the host family include kolanuts, wines and wrappers among other items. Money is usually not offered at this point in order not to be misrepresented.

Some items presented to the kindred during the traditional marriage
Some items presented to the kindred during the traditional marriage

After this first stage of the marriage, a date will be fixed for the occasion which will be agreed by both parents to be held at the paternal home of the bride-to-be. The bride’s family, during the introductory ceremony, gives the intending groom a list of items to present to the Umuada and Umunna on the traditional wedding day. The list usually is communicated after the introduction and is an obligatory part of completing the traditional marriage rites.

The items on the lists are usually symbolic and cover different sections of the ceremony. Usually, the Umuada and Umunna’s are quite a number in each clan and a minimum of three pieces/cartons per item contained in the list will be demanded before the bride-to-be is led out of her father’s house on the wedding day. More often than not, their demands are non-negotiable but can be influenced by the bride-to-be’s family.

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