In Nigeria, like most African tribes, marriage is more than just the union of two individuals, it is the union of families and their ancestors. This is why you are likely to find similarities in the marriage customs of many tribes.
For the Yorubas, the union of man and wife begins with courtship. First, a man identifies a woman he is interested in. Then he asks his friends or a mutual friend to approach her on his behalf. The go-between person or friend is called an alarina.
Once mutual interest and love has been established, they inform their parents of their intention to get married. The man’s parents would then arrange to pay a visit to the prospective bride’s parents to ask for their daughter’s hand and as well set a wedding date, once consent is granted. This introduction stage is known as “Mo mi i mo e” (know me and let me know you). The payment of bride price is also arranged at this stage.
The wedding day is a day of celebration and feasting. After this glamorous ceremony, the bride is escorted to her husband’s house by family and friends to the doorstep of her new home in a ritual called “Ekun Iyawo” meaning ‘The cry of the new bride’. This is to show that she is sad leaving her parents’ home and signify her presence in the new home. At the doorstep of her husband’s house, she is prayed for and her legs are washed. It is believed that she is washing every bad-luck that she might have brought into her husband’s house away.
The Igbo traditional marriage rites start with an inquiry known as “Iku aka” or “Iju ese” which means “coming to knock or inquire”. The groom, accompanied by his father or the eldest family member of his family, visits the bride’s family. At this meeting, the groom’s father officially announces his son’s interest in marrying the bride-to-be. The bride-to-be is then called out by her parents and asked if she knows her suitor and would want to marry him. If her response is affirmative, they would proceed to the next stage.
The next meeting will be between the groom’s family and the bride’s extended family popularly known as Umunna. This meeting is important because the groom’s people have to restate their interest in marrying from the bride-to-be family, in the presence of her Umunna (direct and extended family, with family elders). Once consent has been secured, dates for the traditional wedding will be set and the bride price list will be sent out. The groom takes a few gifts such as kola nuts, palm wine, beer, soft drinks, tobacco, snuff and a goat which will be shared between the groom and bride’s family.
Following the second visit, the groom’s family can now proceed with the bride price negotiation and payment known traditionally as “Ime ego”. The groom’s family ask for the engagement gifts list which differs slightly from place to place in Igboland.
The money paid for the bride’s price is significantly small as it isn’t an indication of the bride’s worth. It is the extra gifts to be brought that make up the larger part of the bride price, all of which are then presented on an agreed date or on the day of the wine-carrying ceremony. This stage often witnesses lots of back and forth between both families until a set amount is reached.
The final stage is known as the wine-carrying ceremony or Igba Nkwu Nwanyi. The ceremony is done at the bride’s home and her family prepares a large feast for the groom’s family as well as invited guests. At this ceremony, the groom will present the bride price list along with the required gifts to the Umunna before the ceremony begins.
The highlight of Igba Nkwu Nwanyi is when the bride publicly points out the man she wants to marry. The bride’s father or eldest uncle (if her dad is deceased) prays traditionally for the bride, blessing her marriage in future, then he gives her a gourd of palm wine to find the man she intends to spend the rest of her life with. It is the custom for her to look for her husband while being distracted by other men inviting her. Once she finds the groom, she then offers him the drink in her hand while on her knees. If he takes a sip, it signifies to the crowd that he is her husband, acceptance means they are officially man and wife.
In the Hausa marriage custom, physical contact, romance, or prolonged courting before marriage is highly discouraged. So when a man makes up his mind to marry a woman he is interested in, he visits her family with his family and friends. It is oftentimes, always an all-men affair, with the to-be groom’s entourage going with a basket of a few things including fruits and kola nuts and sweets and chocolates.
The groom notifies the prospective in-laws that he has seen something which he likes in the bride’s family; hence this is usually referred to as “na gani ina so” which literally means “I’ve seen [something that] I admire”. If the proposal is approved by the bride-to-be’s family, it is known as Gaisuwais. It is only then that the bargain for the bride price begins.
Usually, the bride price starts from a minimum amount known as ‘Rubu Dinar’ in Hausa, an Arabic phrase which means “quarter kilogram of gold piece”, to the highest amount the groom can afford to pay. It is most preferred for the bride price to be as low as possible because according to Islamic teachings, the lesser the amount paid as the bride’s dowry, the more blessings that will come to the marriage. Payment of the dowry is known as Sadaki.
Also, the wedding date is fixed during this visit, by both families. The process of setting the date is called Sarana. The wedding day itself is called Fatihah, and it is the day of joining the two families.
As part of Hausa tradition, it is the duty of the husband to provide a house for the couple to live in, while furnishing the house is the full responsibility of the bride’s family.