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Love and Courtship in Igbo Marriage

Love and Courtship in Igbo Marriage


Anybody who has the misfortune of having to define love finds himself in a great difficulty. This is because the word 'love',, like 'justice' is subject to many bewildering and often contradictory interpretations or connotations. Many a murder, many an abortion and other crimes and shocking sins have been committed in the name of love. Here our
purpose is not to discuss love and love stories such as are found in many novels today. Rather we want to explain how the Igbo young man and young woman are attracted to each other when about to marry and what keeps them together in married life. In the past young men and young women associated occasionally. "Company keeping' and ",going steady" as a prelude to marriage among Europeans and Americans were unknown. During feasts and dances, women had their group while the young men also kept to their own group. 


The practice of a boy marching up and down the town with a girl did not exist, although it is coming in gradually today. This however does hot mean that the two groups lived in two different worlds or that they were like parallel lines that never meet. On several occasions they meet and talk freely. Moreover, none of them cola ever grow up in a ghetto since, each village usually farmed in a common land, fetched water from the game stream frequented the same market and played on the same play-ground. It must have been this that Dr. Marwick had in mind, when he remarked that "in Africa, the traditional way of life is intensely personal ... one cats and drinks, talks and works and plays and hunts and perhaps fights alongside the same set of people. This constant succession of face-to-face relationship covering all the activities of living gives to tribal life a special quality and makes the rules governing the formal relationships between people particularity important. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of marriage".

His remark applies to the point we are making.
Before marriage, a young man who loves a girl would speak to his parents about her. The parents will examine not only her physical beauty, but also her physical, mental and moral fitness, then her resourcefulness, graceful temper, smartness and general ability to work well. Her parental background must also be investigated. This is as it should be for "Such a tree, such a fruit" tel père, tel fils" as the saying goes, or "by their fruits you shall know them". Parents inquire very meticulously vices like murder, theft, lying, obstinate disobedience, wanton violence and other undesirable qualities would be introduced into their family. If the girl's mother is known to have been lazy, idle, gossipy, quarrelsome, way-ward, insubordinate to her husband, it may be concluded that the daughter would have these vices. This conclusion is based, for what it is worth, on the assertion that daughters usually take after their mothers. "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his". It is necessary to note that the inquiry is done by both parties - that is, the family of the girl and that of the young man.

Once the inquiries have been satisfactorily completed, the two families now look forward to the settlement of the bride-wealth. The details differ but what we set down here is what is common among the Igbos on both sides of the River Niger. Young people about to marry, may exchange visits, which are regulated by custom and supervised by the parents/guardian of either party. This is for them the occasion to know more and be more interested in each other. Basden here makes an interesting observation: "The word 'Love' according to the European interpretation is not found in the Igbo vocabulary". And in his other book on the Igbo he continues : "The nearest approach to the idea is ifu nanya.- that is, 'to look in the eye' in a favourable manner". According to his statement, the word 'Love does not exist in the Igbo language. Later on, he emphatically concluded: "Love, then, usually has no part to play in native courtship". In our submission, this is the height of over simplification of the matter, because, for one thing, Basden does not define what love or courtship essentially means. For another, from his conclusion it is evident that his study of the Igbo people is superficial.

Among the Igbos, the period of courtship comprises the first meeting, other meetings of the two people concerned, the mutual inquiries conducted by both extended families and the state of friendship leading into the actual celebration of the marriage. If by 'Love' Basden means mere sentimental or emotional feeling which sooner or later ebbs away with time, or the number of years of living together, then he may be tight to say that the Igbo husband and wife do not love each other. For the Igbo, love is much deeper, more important than the emotional feigns. For -them love is not merely motivated by physical beauty. They accept completely the saying that: "Marriage, the happiest bond of love might be, if hearts were only joined, when hearts agree". Love is the sum total of the physical, psychological, economical, social and moral attraction which exercises a magnetic influence on the young man and the young lady, on the one hand and on their extended families on the other. Their attraction as we see here is not merely physical. There is in their love mutual trust, confidence and mutual self-giving. Each feels proud of and satisfied with having the other as partner in the difficult but noble task of raising a family. This is what the Igbos of the past and today generally understand by "ifuna-anya" .

Since the people live their lives together and since families are closely knit, courtship is not a private affair. The family of the young man invites the girl several times to stay a native week at time with them. During this time, she studies the man and his family while they in their turn observe and admire her ways.

1 Response to "Love and Courtship in Igbo Marriage"

  1. remy ilona says:
    16 March 2013 at 22:10

    I wrote extensively about the Igbo marriage in my latest book-
    http://www.amazon.com/The-Igbos-Israel-Inter-cultural-ebook/dp/B008N2VHBI

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