Weddings in Nigeria

This is a second article in a series of articles about Africa. The article has been written following numerous  requests on more about African culture  from my blog followersin Nepal. This article was written by Udoka a law student from Nigeria. The first article was on  Uganda Weddings. This article focuses on Wedding ceremonies by the Igbo community of Nigeria

The average Nigerian experiences 2 to 3 ceremonies before they can be accepted as man and wife in the eyes of their communities, their religion and even the law; or as we like to put it – the traditional wedding, the Christian (white) or Muslim wedding and the court wedding. Every ethnic group and tribe has their own unique traditional wedding ceremonies; some even differ from one community to the other.

The Igbos, or Ibos for better pronunciation, are the indigenous people located in the South East geopolitical zone of Nigeria. I hail from this community.We celebrate when one of our own gets married, and we celebrate even more when one of our own passes away and one must bear in mind that a traditional Igbo celebration, especially our weddings, does not just involve only the potential bride and groom, but their immediate and extended families, friends and the entire village.

No Igbo marriage truly begins without what we call “Ikwu Aka” or, the “knocking”, but popularly referred to as The Introduction. This is where the families of the potential bride and groom are officially “introduced” to each other; where the family of the bride are made aware of the intentions of the groom.  Depending on traditions observed, this might either take one to several visits by the groom and his family to that of the bride’s. When my sister was getting married, my brother in law  and his family paid a visit our home to meet  with my sisters male relatives ( father, unlces ,brothers and male cousins) to ask her hand in marriage.

Gifts were  are not required at this point, but that did not stop my soon to be brother in law’s family from giving them. Such gifts may include but do not exclude kolanuts, wines (alcoholic/non-alcoholic) and wrappers (Nigerian/Holland prints).

My brother in law to be and his family were  asked questions about their background, livelihood, lifestyle, habits and other issues that  our  families ( brides family)  might feel affect their daughter if and when she would be married to the seeking groom. This is usually done by the male members of the bride’s family and has a tendency to be gruelling and time consuming.

After he had married my sister , my brother in law told me that during the introduction,  he felt like he was being investigated for a murder.

After this, assuming both parties are satisfied with the other, they would happily congratulate each family on the intending nuptials and progress into eating and drinking as a pre-celebration of the main event: the Igba Nkwu.

After the familes come into agreement during the Ikwu Aka preparations for the main event commence. The “Igba Nkwu” or traditional wedding is usually held at the paternal family home of the bride to be. In my sisters case, because we were born in Lagos and lived in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria for most of our lives, this meant that we had to journey to the South eastern part of the country to our ancestral home.

The Igba Nkwu is done primarily for the acknowledgement of one’s indigenous community that their daughter or son is married. The whole village is invited, or more aptly, the entire village may invite themselves for the event, depending on the communal standing of family. And depending on this, your wedding may either become a family get together or a community event. In addition to being a very prestigious officer in the Nigerian Army, my father was a Chief in our community and was a much respected man in our state. It is safe to say that my sister’s wedding went beyond a community event.

An Igbo traditional wedding has the reputation of being quite expensive. Several reasons give it this bad reputation which oftentimes may be why some shrink from the thought of marrying from the south east. After the introduction, the intending groom would have been handed a list of items to present at the traditional wedding. The list usually is an obligatory part of completing the Igba Nkwu and failure to meet the requirements might mean disaster for both parties. Like most aspects of an Igba Nkwu, the list is symbolic and addresses different aspects and groups present at the wedding.

UMUADA (ALL KINDRED DAUGHTERS)

Wrappers and Blouses– (George/Hollandis/Nigerian Wax)

  • Jewellery
  • Head ties and Shoes (Different types and colours)
  • Hand bags and wrist watches (Different types and colours)
  • Toiletries (Body creams, bathing soaps, washing detergents, etc.)
  • Beverages and food items
  • Cash gift (lump sum) –Ogwe ego
  • Drinks (Malt & Minerals)

The Umuada (All Kindred Daughters) comprise of the female members of the community. The list above depends from village to village. In our town, Nando, the women were given money instead of gifts; while in some communities, the list above may not even be enough for them to let the bride to be come out of father’s house. This also applies for the Umunna (All Kindred Brothers).

NMANYA UKWU (BIG WINE) – KINSMEN (UMUNNA) To be shared amongst the heads of the extended family of the bride to be

  • Bottles of Seaman’s Schnapps (millennium brand)
  • Kolanuts
  • Gallons of Palmwine
  • Cartons of Beer, Malt and Mineral drinks
  • Heads of Tobacco with potash
  • Rolls of cigarettes
  • 1 goat
  • Cash gift (Lump sum) – Ego Umu’Nna

N’MEPE UZO (OPENING OF GATE) – GENERAL

  • 30 tubers of Yam
  • 2 bags of Rice
  • 2 bags of Salt
  • 15 cartons of drinks (alcoholic and non alcoholic)
  • 30 bulbs of onions
  • 1 gallon of red Palm oil (10 -25 litres)
  • 1 gallon of Groundnut oil (25 litres)
  • A basin of Okporoko (Stockfish)
  • 2 pieces of Goat leg (Ukwu Anu ewu)
  • 1 carton of Tin Tomatoes
  • 1 carton of Tin Milk
  • 1 carton of Tablet soap
  • 1 gallon of Kerosene
  • 5 pieces of George/Hollandis/Nigerian Wax
  • 1 Big Box (Apati)
  • 2 Big Basins
  • 2 pieces of Igbo Blouse
  • 2 pieces of Headties (Nchafu)
  • Ikpo Onu Aku Nwayi” (Bride price) – Negotiable

The list above may vary and in some cases, the bride’s family may waive them and only insist on meeting the requirements of the first two lists.

There are several stages to an Igba Nkwu. One of which is the groom’s party arrival. They arrive in fanfare: drummers beating vigorously at traditional drums to the tune of the oja (small wooden flutes), in turn to the beat of the ogene (small metal gongs) to the quick but sure rhythm of the dancers steps and, announcing their arrival to “pluck the beautiful flower from the grounds”. The dancers are there to entertain the crowd for the groom’s benefit and attempt to outdo each other.

The groom wore a pullover shirt called ‘Isiagu’ or ‘Ishi Agu’, patterned with Lions heads and could be short or long sleeved, over a plain coloured trouser (preferably black). In recent times, especially where the groom is not Igbo, the intending groom may choose to wear any other embroidered material including Brocade, Jacquard or Lace over a plain coloured trouser. You can accessorise your attire with the traditional Igbo men’s hat ‘Okpu Agu’ (a red or black hat), coral beads and a fashionable walking stick.

The Bride with her bride maid in contemporary dresses

After the groom’s arrival, the bride and other female members of her family come out into the compound to greet the guests and the groom and his party. She would either be dressed in the more contemporary style of sewn or tied African wax (Ankara), Hollandis (Holland Wax) or George worn as a strapless dress above her knee or in the more traditional maiden style, tied as a skirt with another piece of material covering her bosom, revealing only a glimpse of her stomach. For her accessories, she would be adorned with ‘Jigida’ (waist beads), ‘Ihe Olu’ (coral beads), ‘Ihe Nti, Ihe Aka’ (wrist chains, rings and earrings – could be made of beads). And armed with this attire, the bride makes an entrance to greet her future husband and family.

After the groom and his party takes a good look at the future bride, male members of the bride’s family and the groom’s family go into the house to discuss privately the urgent matter of the “Ikpo Onu Aku Nwanyi” (Bride price).

The bride price used to have the dubious reputation for being the most expensive thing about an Igbo wedding, especially for the groom in question. But in modern times, most families only recognise the Bride Price as a symbolic and ceremonial aspect of the Igbo culture. In fact, my sister’s bride price was a total of One Thousand, Eight Hundred and Eighty Five Naira (1885) only, using one of all the Nigerian denominations. This of course depends on the bride’s family and from one community to the other.

The bride gives the groom some palm wine

After this very important aspect of the Igba Nkwu has been decided upon, next is where the playing begins: The Palm Wine Chase. Here the bride to be is given a cup of Palm Wine, a local drink tapped from Palm Trees, to go and search for her husband. Her mission is to go amongst the crowd accompanied by her handmaidens and identify her husband from the guests present. In theory, if she picked a man who was not her intended, then technically she would be married to him. To make it more difficult, the groom would be hidden within the crowd and whenever the bride to be came closer to him, he would move to another location amongst the guest, until somehow he would be trapped, tracked and given the cup of palm wine. If he accepts and drinks all the wine in the cup, he declares that he is willing and ready to become her husband.

And finally, when all has been said and done, the real celebrations begin!

As evening approaches, the new bride must gather her things to accompany her husband and his family to his village or house, for she is no longer her father’s daughter and therefore cannot stay in his house any longer. She now, in a sense, belongs to her husband and is a member of his family.

The list above may vary and in some cases, the bride’s family may waive them and only insist on meeting the requirements of the first two lists.

There are several stages to an Igba Nkwu. One of which is the groom’s party arrival. They arrive in fanfare: drummers beating vigorously at traditional drums to the tune of the oja (small wooden flutes), in turn to the beat of the ogene (small metal gongs) to the quick but sure rhythm of the dancers steps and, announcing their arrival to “pluck the beautiful flower from the grounds”. The dancers are there to entertain the crowd for the groom’s benefit and attempt to outdo each other.

The groom wore a pullover shirt called ‘Isiagu’ or ‘Ishi Agu’, patterned with Lions heads and could be short or long sleeved, over a plain coloured trouser (preferably black). In recent times, especially where the groom is not Igbo, the intending groom may choose to wear any other embroidered material including Brocade, Jacquard or Lace over a plain coloured trouser. You can accessorise your attire with the traditional Igbo men’s hat ‘Okpu Agu’ (a red or black hat), coral beads and a fashionable walking stick.

After the groom’s arrival, the bride and other female members of her family come out into the compound to greet the guests and the groom and his party. She would either be dressed in the more contemporary style of sewn or tied African wax (Ankara), Hollandis (Holland Wax) or George worn as a strapless dress above her knee or in the more traditional maiden style, tied as a skirt with another piece of material covering her bosom, revealing only a glimpse of her stomach. For her accessories, she would be adorned with ‘Jigida’ (waist beads), ‘Ihe Olu’ (coral beads), ‘Ihe Nti, Ihe Aka’ (wrist chains, rings and earrings – could be made of beads). And armed with this attire, the bride makes an entrance to greet her future husband and family.

Learnn more about the author and her thoughts on Women Empowerment on her World Pulse Journal

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About YAOtieno

What you see is what you get.
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One Response to Weddings in Nigeria

  1. Pingback: Somali Weddings | Slice of Life in Nepal

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