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Igbo Wedding Traditions

by Ijeoma Akubue of igbostudy

The Igbo people, or Ndịigbo, can be found in the south eastern part of Nigeria, east of the river Niger and south of river Benue (https://igbostudy.com/blog/). They are one of the major ethnic groups in Nigeria and indeed, Africa.

The Igbos have a rich cultural heritage and this is classically seen in the marriage rites. There are some differences between communities and the ceremony can happen at any time but the month of December is a particularly busy period for brides and grooms. This is due to the fact that friends and family travel to the villages at the end of the year to reconnect and celebrate life. As such, it makes for a good time for celebrating marriage. Any excuse to have a party during this period is welcome.

The bridesmaids and the bride dance their entrance

This generation typically meet and agree to get married prior to informing parents. It was not so in the past; the parents especially the fathers would have arranged bride or groom for their son or daughter as the case may be.

So how is it done these days?

Meet the parents

The boy takes the girl to meet his parents and get their blessing. The boy also goes to see the girl's parents for their blessing. Then the formalities begin. There are 2-4 phases of the marriage rites depending on the community. Meanwhile both parents go on a fact-finding mission ('ịjụ ase') about the other family to ensure their child is marrying someone from a decent, honest family.

Ịkụ aka/Ohi mmaị (Introduction)

The boy goes with his parents taking some drinks usually hot drinks/spirits and palm wine to formally make an offer of marriage to the girl's parents.

During this meeting, the boy's parents are given a list. This list outlines what the boy needs to provide. In some communities, there are two lists: one for the men, another for the women. The items on the lists are to be provided in the next stage of the rites.

Ivu efere/Ịme ego

At this ceremony which involves larger extended family called umunna, on both sides and designated members from the village; those items on the list are presented.

A sample men's list from one of the Igbo communities in Imo state:

These items are shared between the bride's dad and the village men.

The women have a longer list.

It is important to note though, that the bride's village marriage committee which is usually in charge of producing

the list, will normally tailor it to the groom's means. In other words, if you have the money to splash, your list will be different from someone who has less to splash.

In addition, you can negotiate and it is often the case that the groom's family end up bringing a fraction eg 50% of the items or they bring some items complete as listed and bring less of other items. In any case, the negotiations are fun to watch. At some point , all concerned will usually come to the agreement that; 'anaghị alụcha nwanyị alụcha', meaning 'the marriage is ongoing and the rites do not just end on that day'.

Women's list from this same sample community:

Or N150,000 (£312 / US$416) in place of all the above items on the women's list

There is usually a mini celebration at this stage, there is food and drink and camaraderie.

When the inlaws (groom's family) are going home, they would usually be sent home with lots of cooked food eg fufu, jollof rice, fried rice, egusi soup, onugbu soup, oha soup, local snacks made from melon etc.

Note that other communities may have less on their required items as this is just a sample community.

Items like the blouses, handbags, Ankara goes to the girl's mum, the rest she shares with the village women.

The actual bride price is usually a token eg N200, may be less.

Ịgba nkwụ

This phase is optional. This is just a party for your invited guests and the villagers to come eat and celebrate ; that is the wedding reception. At the previous stage, obviously there would be food and drink for entertainment and you may choose to stop there. However if you are really buoyant and happy to spend more, why not?

There is lots of food, drinks, music and some invite comedians to keep people in stitches.

The bride would usually come out at least twice with different attire each time accompanied by 'ụmụ agbọghọ', her girl friends/family. The first time, to greet the guests and the second time, to offer a drink to her husband as described below. The attire may be a lace blouse, George wrapper and 'Ịchafụ' (headtie) or George wrapper tied up to the chest with lots of beads on the neck, waist beads (jigida) and a bead crown in place of headtie.

The celebrations involve the bride receiving palm wine in a cup from her dad and going among the guests to find her husband who pretends to hide. When she finds him, she offers him the drink while on one knee or stooping. The groom collects the wine and drinks amidst applause. They would then both go back to the bride's parents and kneel for prayers. After this, it is dance, dance, dance!

At the end, the bride goes home with the husband. If this step was skipped, the bride would go with the husband at the end of the 2nd stage.

Idu ụlọ / Ị mara ụlọ

This happens weeks or months after the above ceremony. The girl's parents along with chosen members of extended family, 'ụmụnna´' will visit their daughter to formally see her new home. They would go with lots of gifts to help them start their family. These include, pots, mortar, pestle, sewing machine, cooker, coolers etc.

This is done by some communities, not all. In some communities, they would do 'idu ụlọ' during the church wedding. Most would do a church wedding following the traditional rites.

The marriage process in Igboland extends well beyond the two people in question: the inlaws become part of the extended family [more details].

Have you been to one of these ceremonies before?

If not, try and attend if you can, it is fun, exciting and filled with drama, in a good way ...

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