This article seeks to explain all there is to know about the process of traditional marriage in Igbo land. Whether you intend to get married to an Igbo lady or are curious to learn what an Igbo traditional marriage entails, read this piece to the end to satisfy your search intent. We’ll begin with the introduction ceremony where the would-be groom would announce his interest in marrying an Igbo lady up to the point she would be officially given out in marriage upon completion of all the required rites.
The process of traditional marriage in Igbo land is explained below:
Step 1: Iku Ika or Iju Ese (Door Knocking)
The first step of every Igbo traditional marriage is the introduction ceremony. This is when the groom along with his family members and friends visits the family of the Igbo lady he intends to marry to officially seek her hand in marriage. The first part of the introduction is known as Iku Ika, which is translated as: “door knocking”. Sometimes, Iju Ese; meaning ” to ask or inquire”, Is used interchangeably with Iku Ika.
As earlier stated, the groom is expected to visit his intended bride’s family, of which he would be accompanied by his parents, family members, and friends (optional). The purpose of this visit is to make his intention known to the parents of the bride-to-be. According to the customs of the Igbo people, the groom-to-be is expected to come with some discretionary gifts such as a gallon of palm wine, some kola nuts, and alcoholic drinks or wines.
Although it is during this visit the intention of the groom to marry the bride would be announced, he wouldn’t be the one to disclose the information, instead an elderly person who accompanied him would act as his spokesman. The spokesman could be his father, uncle or any other relative of the groom who is elderly.
Upon announcement of the intention of marrying the bride to her parents, she would be called upon to give a response in the presence of everyone present at the gathering. If she responds in a positive by giving a “yes”, the gift items brought by the groom’s family will be accepted and shared. However, the parents of the girl would be asked to either accept or deny the proposal, regardless of what reply the bride gave. But when the bride rejects the proposal by replying with a ” no”, the meeting comes to an end.
After the bride and her parents have accepted the marriage proposal of the groom, the groom and his family will be given the traditional marriage list and bride price document. At this juncture, the groom-to-be and his family would be expected to state how possible the traditional marriage ceremony would be before they depart.
Step 2: Approval from the Bride’s Extended Family
After the acceptance of the marriage proposal by the bride and parents, the extended family of the bride will have to give their consent for anything else can be done. But before their approval for the traditional marriage rites can proceed, secret emissaries would be sent to investigate all there is to know about the would-be groom, including what he does for a living and his family background, among other things.
Upon completion of the findings and the extended family is confident that their daughter would be well taken care of in the family she’s planning to get married to, the groom and his family would be invited for a second visit. As with the first visit, some discretionary items such as kola nuts, palm wine, beer, soft drinks, and a goat are to be brought along.
In this second visit, the extended family of the bride, consisting of the elders will give their consent. In addition to their approval, the groom and his family would be given additional information on the customary marriage requirements to be met. It is at this point that the dates for the other traditional marriage rites and ceremonies can be scheduled.
Step 3: Ime Ego: Bride Payment
This is the third and final aspect of the introduction phase before the actual traditional marriage ceremony (Igba Nkwu). During this visit, the groom’s family and the bride’s family will engage in negotiations on what the dowry should be. The bride’s family would usually start with a high amount, based on her virtues and accomplishments. The groom’s family, on the other hand, would counter the offer. This goes on until both parties agree on a fair amount.
After both parties (that is, families of the bride and groom) have agreed upon the bride price, the groom’s family will present the bride Irice (that is, Ime Ego). The bride’s payment is symbolic and does not determine the real worth of the woman. With the dowry paid, the groom’s family would fix a date for the traditional marriage ceremony where the engagement items would be presented to the bride’s family and the final rites performed.
Step 4: Igba Nkwu Ceremony
Igba Nkwu means “bride’s wine carrying”, and it is a major part of the Igbo traditional marriage rites. Remember, this date would already have been fixed when the dowry was paid. The couple would be required to announce the date to whoever they want to be in attendance. This can be done by printing and distributing invitation cards to inform guests to keep the date in mind. Social media is another avenue for announcing the date of the Igba Nkwu ceremony. The Igba Nkwu ceremony is usually performed in the bride’s family compound in the village. However, in recent years, some Igbo parents have allowed the Igba Nkwu ceremony to be held outside their hometown.
This ceremony could be elaborate or simple, according to the financial capability of the couple and their families. If the couple decides to make it a low-key event, it will consist of a few people from both sides of the bride and groom’s family in attendance. In this case, the Igba Nkwu ceremony is usually done indoors. On the other hand, an elaborate traditional marriage ceremony will involve decorations of the venue, hiring of a traditional music band and dancers, and much more.
Irrespective of whether the Igba Nkwu ceremony is elaborate or simple, the rites to be observed are the same. The event begins with the presentation of the marriage list items. Remember, the groom and his family would have been given the list of items to get for the Igba Nkwu ceremony during the preliminary visits to the bride’s family. The bride price would already have been paid before now, however, some people may pay the dowry and present the customary engagement Items on the same day.
Although the engagement list differs from one Igbo family to the next, the items usually include the following:
(A) Gifts for the Umu Ada (to be shared among all the grown daughters in the bride’s extended family)
- Wrappers (George or Ankara – brands like Hitarget wax, Nigerian wax, Vlisco Hollandis, ABC English Wax, etc.)
- Igbo-style lace blouses
- Gele head ties of assorted styles and colours
- Shoes and bags of assorted designs and colours
- Jewellery such as necklaces, wristwatches, earrings, etc.
- Toiletries such as bath soaps, body creams, perfumes, etc.
- Lump-sum cash gift
(B) Gifts for the Umunna (to be shared among the men/heads of the bride’s extended family)
- Kola nuts
- Gallons of palm wine
- Bottles of hot drinks
- Cartons of assorted drinks
- Tobacco snuff
- Rolls of cigarettes
- A goat
- Lump-sum cash gift
(C) General gifts (Nmepe Uzo)
- Bride price – negotiable
- Tubers of yam
- Alcoholic beverages
- Bags of rice
- Bags of salt
- Cartons of beer
- A gallon of palm oil
- A gallon of kerosene
- A basin of stockfish
- Meat (goat leg)
- Loaves of bread
- A carton of tin tomatoes
- A carton of tin milk
- A carton of tablet bar soap
- Several pieces of big-size talc face powder
- Big basins
- Sets of George or Ankara materials
- Gele head ties
- Gold necklaces
- Large suitcase
(D) Cash gift (this is to be presented during the Ime Ego ceremony)
- Money to bring the pot from the fire (ego nfotu ite)
- Money to open the wine keg (ego ncha kishi udu or ego nkwupu udu)
- Money for in-laws (ego ogo cherem)
- Money for maternity bill (ego maternity)
- Money for the village chief (ego onye eze)
- Lump-sum cash
After the presentation of the engagement items, the next aspect of the traditional engagement ceremony is for the bride to search for the groom in the crowd and feed him wine. As everyone is seated, the father of the bride begins pronouncing marriage blessings on his daughter, after which he gives her a glass of palm wine to pick out the man she has agreed to marry from the crowd present.
The bride would have to take the glass of palm wine to the groom who typically hides within the crowd. Once she set her eyes on him, she would offer him a glass of palm wine to drink. The groom accepting the drink from the bride signifies to everyone present that he is the one she’s accepted to marry. Thereafter, the parents of the couple would bless the bride and groom and pronounce them to be man and wife.
With the couple officially recognised as man and wife, refreshments and entertainment will follow. But before then, some couples may cut their traditional cake and later engage in an open floor dance. Family members and well-wishers usually join to dance with the new couple to share in their joy. Thereafter, food and drinks would be served to those in attendance.
In some traditional marriage ceremonies, the couple offers their invitees gifts to appreciate them coming. In addition, there is usually an opportunity for the family members and well-wishers to give the new couple gifts and money, however, this is optional. At this point, the traditional marriage is said to have been complete.
Step 5:Visitation from Bride’s Family (Bia Malu Ulo)
The end of the Igba Nkwu ceremony is not the end of the Igbo traditional marriage process. The final stage of the Igbo wedding process is known as Bia Malu Ulo, which translates to “visitation from the bride’s family”. This entails the family of the bride escorting her to her new home which she will share with her husband. The bride’s parents usually go with gifts for the new couple, such as homeware, essential kitchen utensils, and so on.