Traditional wedding ceremony amongst the Igbo of Nigeria

This love for having children is manifested in Igbo names. Let us take a few typical names. One of these is Nwabu-uwa - a child is all the world to me. This name exposes the Igbo man's sentiment and the high-water mark of his ambitions. Other things in life rank second to this desire. Then there are names equally very expressive Nwakasi, a child is priceless, most precious; Nwaka-aku or Nwakego, a child out-values all money, all wealth; Nwadi-aguu, a child is desirable, man is literally famished with the hunger for children. Basden further supports this view with this remark: men and women are mocked if they
remained unmarried. A childless woman is regarded as a monstrosity....". This idea is still present in. the Igbo society today. A childless marriage is universally recognised as chi ojoo. On this Basden again comments: "A childless marriage is a source of serious disappointment and sooner or later, leads to serious trouble between man and wife".

The position of a wife in her husband's family remains shaky and unpredictable until she begets a child. She becomes really secure after the birth of a male child. At this stage she is specially welcome as a responsible housewife in her husbands extended family and Umunna. In fact the birth of the child gives her the title of wife, before this time she may be said to be a wife only in anticipation. The fate of a sterile woman is very hard one indeed. Not uncommonly she is made the object of conversation and ridicule by some of her female neighbours. If an occasion for a quarrel arises, she gets the most painful telling off. Her women rivals would call her Mgbaliga, Nwanyi-iga (lit. the sterile woman, the barren one) sterile monster who has her maternal organs for mere decoration.

Women in this category of childlessness, never get tired of going to the Dibias - native doctors who sometimes can only give a psychological help. They dispose the woman well to take her 'accursed fate' with resignation. She is condemned to a diet of medicinal roots and herbs. In the far distant past childlessness was considered an irrevocable scourge and caused much despair. This is understandable since the fundamental causes were not and could not have been known by the Dibias, ill-equipped as they were with scientific medical instruments. Today, however the cases are better handled in hospitals and maternity clinics spread all over villages in Igbo land.
Not infrequently, a child is born to a woman after much anguish and long years of waiting. In her joy and gratitude she may name the child Chukwuemeka (God has been very generous towards me). On the other hand, she is now a proud mother. Her reproach among men has been-removed.

The child is a practical vindication of her womanhood. As an answer to her critics, this child may be called Ekwutosi (ekwutozina Chukwu) cease your criticising God; or Beatokwu (Benata-okwu) (cut-short-word) meaning, "lessen now your loud-mouthed criticism".

ii) Definition
We are not here concerned with the learned definitions by law students. Rather our problem is: How would two local people getting married define the step they are about to take? What does Igbo custom or tradition call marriage? The present author put the question to several people of different walks of life. Surprisingly enough, some did not consider it necessary to answer the question. An old farmer called it a union of a man and a woman leading to that of the two extended families. Another informant said it is a lasting union between a man and a woman.

Dr. Obi defines it as: "... the union between a man and a woman for the duration of the woman's life, being normally the gist of a wider association between two families or sets of families" (8). This learned definition repeated what my informants who are simple people, have said and added more specification, with regards to the length of time and its social import for the woman.

For the ordinary Igbo, marriage is the lawful living together of man and woman of different families for the purpose of begetting children after some rites have been performed. It is regarded as a mite-stone in the life of a man and a woman, which will enable them to immortalise their remembrance through their children. They regard consent as the most important element. top

iii) 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. top
iv).The Young Man Before Marriage

From all we have seen so far, it is evident that the Igbo does not step into marriage without preparation. It is a step which must be taken with the eyes wide open.
In what therefore does the preparation consist? In other words, what education is a young man given as a preparation for his marriage? What should ho know and how should ho behave himself when ho has grown to the ago of marriage? This stage is well described by Sporndli as follows: "As soon as a boy comes to the age of reason, he undergoes a civic juvenile test by which ho is initiated into the juju cult by iba nammuo (the walk to the spirit land)". By this ceremony ho is initiated into the secrets of "egwugwu" and told of ana-be-mmuo'. These are secrets which, he can never reveal to anyone of the female sex nor to the yet uninitiated of his own sex. This is an age-old ordeal meant to test the psychological balance and the sense of responsibility of the boy. It is a rigorous training in personal discipline and strict preservation of secrets. Any young man who revealed these secrets was counted a big disgrace to his family. In the past he would either be killed or sold into slavery to a distant town. His family would be subjected to the payment of many heavy penalties. Thus the young man must be able to think his thoughts and keep them to himself. Reason above all must govern his emotional life. He has to prove his worth. "As the adolescent waxed into an adult man", writes Mr. Aniadi, "he must now build his own separate hut in his father's compound. He has his own weapons, farm implements and a barn.... It was time to distinguish oneself in competitive activities like wrestling, dancing, fighting, work and skill, especially when girls were among the spectators". Here we have a summary of all he should be doing some years after the initiation in-to the egwugwu society. Of course Sporndli was not very accurate in his estimation of the age for initiation. It takes place years after coming to the age of reason (10-15yrs). After this then the youth begins to learn to tap palm trees for wine. At this stage he performs the ceremonial rites, for official entry into his age-grade. He thus gets into the category of those obliged to pay tax to the state.

Where the men have a lucrative occupation, like the people of Awka who were famous for black-smithing, the young man joins the working group and so begins in time to earn money rapidly. As we have seen in chapter one, "the men of Agukwu Nrí are the priests whose presence is necessary for a valid celebration of the ceremonial rites in connection with the coronation of kings. "They travel far and wide', as Basden explained". in the performance of these priestly functions". Basden also testifies that the men of Umudioka - Dunukofia go from place to place to practice their trade - as they were the renowned experts in the cutting of ichi (tattooing the face, as a sign of mature manhood) or tribal marks. Young men born in these towns on growing up follow the trade of the men and easily make money to build their own houses, pay the bride wealth, and make initial payments in some of the common titles.

It is in place to remark here that what we have described in the last paragraphs belong to the past rather than to the present. All the different cultures have the following qualities in common: dynamism and susceptibility to change. Consequently what is described here is no longer completely true today. For instance, no young man wears the loin-cloth now. Tattooing has long since gone out of fashion, and blacksmithing has been replaced by more decent and more lucrative occupations like mechanised agriculture, carpentry, bricklaying, trading, clerical work and teaching in schools, colleges and Higher institutions. Western culture has been so mixed with Igbo native culture, that some old customs are no longer accepted, while some are accepted only in a diluted form in many towns. The change is very rapid but somehow unfelt by the younger generation

v) The Girl Before Marriage
In the sub-title, love and courtship, we saw that inquiries are made by both parties to the proposed marriage. If the results are unsatisfactory, the marriage is dropped. To be able to pass the test of these inquiries both the youth and the maid have got preparations to make. We have seen the picture of the young man before marriage. About the girl before marriage, Basden has the following comment to make, 'By the time they are nine or ten, they are regularly employed in fetching supplies of water. They take part daily in such duties as the sweeping of the compound, the rubbing of the house, the collection of firewood and the preparation of food. Soon after daylight the women folk leave the house in order to bring in the morning supply of water..... ... On market days, practically the whole female population move to the market place either to trade or to enjoy the general entertainment such gatherings afford... "From the age of four and five, the women are taught to balance tiny pots of water on their heads so that they have a stately carriage. The job that takes precedence over all others is the visit with the waterpot to the stream or spring....". This is the initiation of the girl into household duties and her success in this field counts very much in winning her a suitable husband. The way she went about her duties will recommend her as a suitable and capable housewife. Her family background and the character of the mother have a lot to add or to subtract as the case may be. Since in the past, practically all girls were meant for marriage, parents usually trained their daughters as future house-wives. They have their age-grades and dance groups. The Igbo girl at this stage begins to imitate the other girls of her age group and becomes more self conscious. Girls usually take pride in their physical features, especially where they have been fully developed and well-formed without natural defects, as Mr. Aniadi remarks. No girl would go to the public assembly without first carefully adorning herself. "Wristlets, ear-rings, necklaces and rolls of jigida on the waist were the prominent and coveted ornaments. To these Basden adds the following: "More widespread are the brass leg rings. For the complete outfit these are graduated in size from the ankle upwards, the number of rings depending on the size of the girl. Up to a certain age the rings must finish below the knees, at full age they must extend above the knees... These are worn prior to marriage and never after". Besides these, bracelets of ivory or sections of huge elephant tusks are worn by rich ladies or women of high rank. The anklets are about nine inches in depth by from two to three inches in thickness. It is not at all comfortable to wear these, but the girls have to put up with them as being imposed by fashion. It is not only the Igbo girls that have had to undergo acute physical discomfort to find a husband. It has been known that western women used to wear a steel-framed corset, while in China mothers used to bind the feet of their daughters very tightly in order to achieve the love-fetish and attraction which lay in small and dainty feet. All these are equally of "The village belles take particular pains to attract the attention of eligible young men and do not hesitate to advertise their personal charms. On gala days, every available ornament is brought into requisition. The girls revel in dancing and seize every opportunity of displaying their charms". Some Igbo girls add poise to their erectness by deliberately walking upright and chest-out. Why all this show? One would be inclined to ask. You would not blame them, if you understand the motive. This is the time for silent but vigorous campaign for a good husband. This ambition glows fervently inside every girl and restlessly demands an urgent satisfaction before the teeming full and pointing breasts sag and bow to age.

In the choice of a wife, the Igbo gives preference to a girl with long thin limbs which are regarded as signs of fast growth and hugeness later on in marred life. Whereas ideas of female beauty vary from people to people, the horror of disease or of physical deformity can be said to be universal. Nevertheless, what is beautiful to a European or to an Asiatic may seem repulsive to an African It is all a matter of taste and De gustibus non est disputandum as the old adage has it. For instance in Western Europe, fashion may decide the position and width of women's waists, and corsets be used to emphasize them, while obesity in a woman goes against the established standard of female beauty. However among the Kirghiz of Central Asia and some West African peoples fatness in a woman is regarded as attractive. Also among the Igbos in the past, a prospective wife was set aside in a hut and fed and instructed without much exercise until she was well prepared physically and psychologically to assume the role of house wife and after a short time, that of a mother. This practice which no longer exists today, was referred to "ino na nkpu or npu' (returning to the fattening house). top
Dr. Briffault said of the natives of the interior of Ceylon, that for them, a beautiful woman must have very long hair often touching her knees, a nose as sharp as a hawk's, her breasts must be conical and her hips very wide and her waist so small that it can be clasped with one hand. We do not pretend to swear to the truth of this report, in its every detail but at least it helps to explain why the Igbo have their own canon for the perfect woman. As a general rule, fat young girls with stout brawny joined limbs (called ukwu nchi - grasscutters short legs) are not ranked among the beautiful according to Igbo standards. This is because such usually scarcely ever added an inch to their low stature later- in married life. A huge woman (not necessarily a fat one) is the choice of most people. This has many obvious advantages, for not only that she commands respect and is the pride of her husband, also she will be able to do farm work and in childbearing, she would generate her kind. Furthermore, it has an added social advantage. Such a woman because of her size is easily recognisable in the assembly of women. Given the average skill and intelligence she usually becomes the leader of her dance-group or the president of the women's council

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