Traditional marriage in Nigeria involves four main parts namely, (1) Introduction, (2) Family requirement, (3) Taking a date and (4) Bride price payment and handing over of the bride.
Introduction is the first step to traditional marriage. During the introduction visit, the suitor and his family openly inform the family of the would-be wife of their intention or purpose of coming to visit them.
Family Requirement or List of Marriage Requirements
If the introduction is successful, and the would-be wife agrees to the purpose of the visit, her family gives a list of what they require for the marriage, to the family of the suitor. The suitor and his kin are expected to get the requirements ready before the marriage comes up. The list could be written or verbal. And if the requirements in the list are too many or some of the items are too expensive, the family of the suitor can negotiate or plead for reduction/adjustment.
Choosing a Date
After preparing themselves ready with the items required for the marriage, the suitor and a few family members would go to the family of the would-be wife to take a date for the marriage. In some communities in Nigeria, there are days that are accepted for marriage (as some days of the week are regarded as sacrosanct), and these are considered, before the marriage date is fixed.
In some cases, if the suitor (or even the would-be wife) lives afar, and the family of the would-be wife is not argumentative or insistent, both the presentation of the marriage requirement list and the taking of date could be done on the day of the introduction.
Bride Price Payment And Handing Over Of The Bride
On the appointed date, both families (of the suitor and the would-be wife) gather for the payment of the bride price. During this occasion, the items required of the suitor are presented for cross-checking or if they had been earlier presented behind the scene, a confirmation is given by a representative/spokesperson of the bride’s family that the marriage requirements have been met.
In some tribes like Urhobo, Ishan, Edo, Ijaw and Itsekiri, it is during this occasion that the agreed bride-price (which is the most important item of the ceremony) is presented, and the bride is called to give her final/open consent for the marriage, before the ceremony is declared to be successful.
Following this, the father of the bride or a male family representative gives blessings to the couple, and the bride is handed over to the groom.
Depending on the circumstances and the family arrangement, a few members of the bride’s family, are appointed to escort the bride with her luggage to her husband’s home.
In some cases, the bride is taken to the family home of the groom for a short stay and familiarization, before going to settle down with her mate elsewhere. In some other cases, the bride is taken directly to her husband’s home to begin a new life right away.
Marriage Ceremonies in Different Parts of Nigeria
Findings reveal that traditional marriages are celebrated almost the same way in different parts of Nigeria. The only noticeable difference is the amount of money spent, and the list of marriage requirements given.
In Northern Nigeria where the Hausas predominate, bride price is low. The price starts from the minimum amount called “Rubu Dinar” in Hausa (an Arabic phrase translated as “quarter kilogram of gold piece”) to the highest amount the man can afford to pay. The preference is for the bride price to be as low as possible because Islam teaches that less amount paid as bride price produces the most blessed marriage.
Bride price is evidently highest among the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria. There, the lists of items for traditional marriage which are categorized into four sections of ‘Umuada or Kindred Daughters, Umana or Kinsmen, N’mepe Uzo or Opening of Gate and General Cash Gifts, run into hundreds of thousands of Naira. It is generally believed that because the high bride price demanded in Igboland cannot be afforded by many bachelors, that is why there are more mature spinsters there than elsewhere.
Among the Yorubas in Western Nigeria, bride price is low, but it is the reception/merriment which accompanies it, that takes more money. As a tribal group known for jollity, the Yorubas can spend a fortune on marriage reception, especially if one or both families are rich.
Conclusively, bride price is lowest among the various ethnic groups of South-South Nigeria. For example, on the 27th of September, 2014, this writer attended a traditional marriage in Abraka (Urhobo) in Delta State where the sum of N120.00 (One Hundred and Twenty Naira) was paid as pride price. Again, he attended another traditional marriage at Ebhosa (Ishan) in Edo State on 27th December, 2014 where only N60.00 (Sixty Naira) was taken by the father of the bride, as bride price!