Discussing marriage in Edo land would definitely require a definition of the Edos, especially in view of discussions that are taking place right now. Who are the Edos?  Where are they located? Where did they come from? A lot of theories have been propounded by different scholars and academicians in this regards.   Put briefly, the Edo-speaking people are the people who founded an empire on the coast of West Africa, stretching through the "whole of the then Midwestern part of Nigeria, parts of the southwest region of modern Oyo, Ondo, Ogun, Ekiti and
Lagos states. The eastern end stretched across the Niger River into the commercial region of Onitsha.  It was bounded in the north by the Igala kingdom now Kogi state on the confluence of the Niger and Benue.  This empire was bounded in the south by the Atlantic Ocean, and as far west as the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, now known as the Republic of Benin, “(Introduction in IBOTA: A Collection of Folk tales from Benin By Ademola Iyi-Eweka) This empire spilled into the Izon (ijaw-speaking areas) of Bayelsa and River states of Nigeria especially Ogbaland and DIOBU areas of modern day Port Harcourt and Ghana (the Gas).

Remember that the second son of the Enogie of Brass in modern Balyesa state became the Iyase of Benin.  He is fondly remembered as IYASE NE OHENMWEN.

Chief Egharevba took a shot at the origin of the Edos.   He simply concluded and agreed with the theory of Rev Samuel Johnson, author of the History of the Yorubas, who desperately trying to write the history of the yoruba with UNITY in mind, simply crafted the history of the yorubas in the form of the HAUSA/FULANI FLAG BEARER THEORY.   Chief Egharevba was wrong.   In reaction, the Edo nationalistic politician, Chief Oronsaye tried to undo what he termed as Egharevba's damage.   He too went overboard.  Chief Oronsaye taking the RELIGIOUS ROUTE, simply compiled what looked liked fairy tales, without any proof whatsoever, and turned it into the history of the Edos.

Here is my comment about Chief Oronsaye's theory in the introduction to OKHOGISO, A COLLECTION OF FOLKTALES FROM BENIN, NIGERIA by Ademola Iyi-Eweka:

“This brings us to the question of who the Edo people are and where they came from.  Although some contemporary historians tend to associate the Edo people with the migration theory of people who came from the Middle East, we have to point that there is no evidence in Benin or anywhere else to support that theory.  Again, Chief D.N. Oronsaye, apparently using religious motifs, lumped the EDO with the Greeks, Persians, Medes, Egyptians, Nubians, and the Sudanese.  He linked the Edo religion to the ZOROASTRIAN TEMPLE of ancient Persia, the BROTHERHOOD OF BABYLONIAN (CHALDEA), and the secret cults of the 5th and 4th century B.C. Greece.   There is the tradition that Benin City is the CRADDLE OF MANKIND, the center of the universe, or a place where the creator God sometimes came down in a chain ladder to get involved in the affairs of mankind.    This is shown in the title borne by some chiefs.    There is a sizeable group, though, who can trace their origin to UHE which is identified as modern day ILE-IFE.   They came with legendary Oranmiyan (Omonoyan) , the father of Oba Eweka I between 1000 AD and 1200 AD." This group is represented by the CHIEFS EDIGIN OF USE, BAMAWO OF BENIN AND ELAWURE OF USEN.   Infact Edigin is a corruption of the yoruba word OLIGI-THE HEAD OF THE FIREWOOD CUTTERS in Oranmiyan's entourage.   They were left to take care of the infant boy who became Oba Eweka I.

And I commented further: " We have to point out again that the appearance of similarities between Edo religious thought  and practices to that of ancient civilizations of 5th to 3rd centuries B.C or older time is most likely a ere coincidence.   The Edo language according to linguist belongs to the KWA group of the Niger-Congo family.  The greatest influence on Edo religious thought and practices could be traced to the Portuguese, Spanish Roman Catholic Missionaries and European traders who were very active in
Benin Religion, wars and political systems between the 14th and 19th centuries A.D."       Besides, religious concept spread like wild fire.  You do not have to be conquered or occupied for neighboring communities to copy religious practices of one another. You do not also need a wave of migration.

R. Bradbury, the author of BENIN STUDIES was right when he wrote the following: " There are many villages in the Benin Kingdom whose inhabitants have no tradition that their ancestors came from elsewhere.   Some informants speak vaguely of general migration from the east and others trace everything back to IFE---a tendency which may simply follow from the fact IFE is the accepted origin of the present ruling dynasty.   In Benin City, certain wards claim to have been on the spot from the beginning, but of the remainder say that their founders came from Ife as followers of the father of the first Oba or at a later date.

Therefore, despite the diggings by archeologists in and around Benin City, none had said with certainty that the Edos came from Egypt, Sudan or elsewhere.  We have the EDO ORE ISI OGHE AGBON (Edorisiagbon) school and the UHE school of thought. The Mid-east theory is an attempt to link the African tribes to the biblical ADAM AND EVE.
The Edo-speaking people of West Africa, especially in Southern Nigeria, have lived where they are now,  for THOUSANDS OF YEARS.    The beginning of Edo history is lost in antiquity-in mythical time frames work. Edo history did not begin from the 7th century A.D.  People have moved in and out.  The Edo people people did not migrate en-masse from Sudan, Egypt, Babylon, or Greece.  It is doubtful if they even emigrate in waves.  Chief Jacob Egharevba in chapter one of his book BINI Titles (1956), quoted his
Source as P Amaury Talbot,” According to P.Amaury Talbot in his Book “The Peoples of Southern Nigeria," Vol.II Chapter. Paragraph 6 and 7: “Considerably later, perhaps about the seventh millennium B.C., a further wave of Sudanese People began to pour in, first the Edo (Benin) and EWE (Popo) and then the Ibo, followed may be about the second millennium the earliest Yoruba."    Then he gave his own interpretation-" Perhaps in a more correct phrase, " The Sudanese, therefore come first-Yoruba, Popo, Edo (Benin), Ijaw and Ibo, then the Semi-Bantu Ibibio, Ukelle and other tribes of the Northwest followed by the Boki, Ekoi, and Bafumbu-Bansaw; and finally the Bantu."   Almost every African tribe came from the Mid-east.

For thousands of years, Edos have been getting married.   It is unfortunate that , there is no more powerful corresponding word in Edo lexicon than ORONMWEN,  that captures the meaning of the word MARRIAGE,  as in the anglosaxon sense.  The closest word we have is ORONMWEN    All we have are descriptive phrases about marriage- " Okhia ye omo ye oronmwen,"-he wants to give the daughter away in MARRIAGE. " Okhia rie Okhuo,"- he wants to marry a woman. " Okhia romwen odo," she wants to marry a husband But sometimes an Edo man/ person would say, " Ma khia du ugie oronmwen," we want to perform the festival of marriage.

Before 1897, girls were generally regarded as ready for marriage between the ages of 15 through 18.   Courtship can begin among the individuals during the trip to the river to fetch water or during the moonlight play-EVIONTOI. But sometimes parents actually go looking for a wife or husband for their children. This led to the BETROTHAL SYSTEM where marriage were conducted with or without the consent of the individuals involved.  Sometimes such betrothal, took place when a baby girl was born.   Suitors would begin to approach the parents by sending a log of wood or bundle of yams to the parents of the child.   You are likely to hear statements such as -" Imu' Ikerhan gboto"-I have dropped a log of firewood.    When a boy decides toget married and the parents have accepted the bride as a prospective daughter-in-law, messages go up and down between the two families.  This is called IVBUOMO-SEEKING FOR A BRIDE.   Series of investigations are conducted by families-about disease, scandals and crimes which may affect the families.   The term of the marriage which of course may include the DOWRY would be settled in some families. Gifts for mother of the bride and IROGHAE- members of the extended family would be part of the settlement. Then a date would be set for the ceremony which would take place in the home of the woman's family.   This was called IWANIEN OMO in the old days the go-between for the two families must be somebody well known by both families. There would of course be a lot of merriment on the day of
marriage when the bride and the bridegroom are presented openly to the two families.    Kola nuts and wine are presented The OKA EGBE of the woman's family would normally preside over the ceremony. Prayers are said and kola nuts broken at the family shrine.

Rituals vary from family to family. The woman always sits on her father's lap before she is given away.    Amidst prayers, laughter and sometimes tears, the woman would be carefully hoisted on the lap of the OKA EGBE of the bride's family.  Many years ago, the woman would be sent to the bridegroom house about thirteen days after IWANIEN OMO and gingerly hoisted either on her husband's lap or the OKAEGBE of his family.    They are done immediately nowadays in the home of the bridegroom. The bride, now known as OVBIOHA would be led by her relatives to the husband's house with all her property   meanwhile the family and friends of the bridegroom are feasting, drinking, singing and dancing while waiting for the bride to arrive.   As the family and friends of the bridegroom awaits the OVBIOHA, messages will arrive suggesting that there are
UGHUNGHUN -barriers on the road.  The bridegroom has to remove the barriers by sending money to the party, bringing the wife to him or else the wife will not arrive

As they approach the house of the bridegroom, you can hear the echo of OVBIOHA GHA MIEN ARO-ARO, meaning “Bride! Be proud/ the Bride is proud." Arrival at the bridegroom's house is immediately followed by the ceremony of IKPOBO-OVBIOHA-washing of the bride's hands.  A bowl of water with money in it would be brought out. A woman in the bride's family, sometimes his senior wife would bring out a new head tie, washes the hand of the Ovbioha in the bowl and dries her hand with the head tie.  Both the new headtie and the money in the bowl belong to the bride.  

A few days later, the bride would take to the family altar and prayers are said for her.  She undergoes what is called the IGBIKHIAVBO ceremony-beating of OKRO on the falt mortar.   This would be followed by a visit by the bride's mother-in-law and other female members of the family to the newly wed, if they are not living in the same house.    She would demand the bed-spread on which they both slept when they had their “first sexual relationship “after the wedding.    If the bed-spread was stained with blood, the bride was regarded as a virgin and she would be given many presents including money.    If it is proven that she was not a virgin, then the preparation for the ceremony of IVIHEN-OATH TAKING ceremony would be set in motion. First, she has to confess to the older women, the “other men “in her life before she got married. The husband would never be told any of her confessions.  Then,  she would  be summoned to the family shrine early in the morning , without warning to take an oath of  FIDELITY, FAITHFULNESS, TRUSTWORTHINESS, HONESTY ETC,  to her husband and family. This ceremony is the equivalent of the oath people take in the church, mosque or marriage registry.  Once the oath taking ceremony is over, she would be fully accepted into the family.    She immediately becomes married not only to her husband but to the family and sometimes to the community.

Christianity, Islam and Westernization has already weaken the Edo traditional system of marriage  The traditional ceremony,  is sometimes done the same day with many of the rituals avoided in the name of Christianity or Islam. Many women would rather die than take the oath we described above.  It was the oath that kept our women out of prostitution for many years. Edo women were regarded as very faithful, trustworthy, honest with strong fidelity to their husbands. Neighboring tribes wanted them as wives. It made
divorce on the ground of adultery, less common in those days. The scourge f prostitution which has eaten deep into Edo women's life (as reported in the news media) should be placed on the shoulders of Christianity, Islam and Westernization.

Ademola Iyi-Eweka

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