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Igbo Relationships PT 2 (Dating, Courting & Marriage Rites)

Igbo people traditionally do not “DATE” or “HANG OUT” we prefer to Court. Courtship is a relationship between a man and a woman in which they seek to determine if it is God’s will for them to marry each other. Under the protection, guidance, and blessing of parents or mentors, the couple concentrates on developing a deep friendship that could lead to marriage, as they discern their readiness for marriage and God’s timing for their marriage.

Dating tries to answer the question, how can I find the one who will make me happy? Courtship strives to answer the question, How can I honor God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?

Dating vs Courting

Courtship is a choice to avoid temptation and experience the blessings of purity. It is a choice to not emotionally give away your heart, piece by piece, to many others through casual dating relationships and instead to give your whole heart to your life partner.

Igbos believe in “COURTING WITH A PURPOSE”.

Courting truly is an “ACQUIRED TASTE” meaning its only meant for when you have reached a level of mental maturity (man to show signs he is ready to be married). The main difference between dating and courtship involves the goals to be reached by spending time with a potential marriage partner. Men and women who choose to date often have no commitment to consider marrying the other person. Maturity and readiness for marriage are not considerations in the decision to date. Instead, couples usually date with the selfish goals of having fun and enjoying romantic attachments. In contrast, courtship is undertaken only when both parties are prepared to make a commitment to marriage. Dating tries to answer the question, how can I find the one who will make me happy? Courtship strives to answer the question, How can I honor God and discern His direction regarding my life partner?

In a dating relationship, there is little if any accountability for the couple and little or no interaction with family members. The dating couple is merely attracted to one another in some way and often pursues an exclusive relationship that is independent of others’ influence or counsel. Since the boundaries of the relationship are self-determined, the couple may easily succumb to temptation and fail to consider their responsibility to honor each other in purity and genuine love.

A couple participating in courtship seeks the accountability of their parents or other mentors. As they establish guidelines for their relationship, they can more easily recognize that God also holds them responsible to honor one another. Receiving God’s grace and the support of others strengthens them to maintain their commitment to purity

This is where the fear of marrying an Igbo person comes from especially for those who are outside of the community. In terms of what it takes to take a bride from any of the eastern states in Nigeria, it is said to not be a walk in the park. 

Igbo Marriage Process or Rites

Step 1: Introduction

An Igbo Introduction is very different to that done within the Yoruba community. When an Igbo man has found his potential wife he will have to introduce her to his family as a way of getting their impression of her as well as its an opportunity for her to find out for herself where here future husband is coming from and to see things like how close is he to his family. Typically they would travel to his village/ family home and meet his parents and siblings. Up until now unless they have been school friends this would be the very first time she would have meet his family. After this visit once she has returned home he will then make his intentions know to his family members for them to assist him with the next phase. However at this phase his family from their observations might not think she is a great fit for their family and might chose not to accept his decision which could result in the end of the courting process.

This is where the fear of marrying an Igbo person comes from especially for those who are outside of the community. In terms of what it takes to take a bride from any of the eastern states in Nigeria, it is said to not be a walk in the park. 

Step 2: Knocking on the Door (Iku Aka N'Uzo)

At this phase the Groom-to-be travels to meet the Bride’s family typically going to her village compound or family home (for those who now live in the cities). The Groom normally gives his Bride-to-be a heads up about his visit just so she can gently inform her family members to make sure the house is ready to receive visitors (to ensure they are available and not travelling, that the house is cleaned, they have food and drinks to offer etc)

Unlike western culture the Groom does not make the journey alone to his future in-laws alone. Typically he would be accompanied by his older male relatives (his Father, Uncle, Brothers or Best Friends) who will act as his representatives. Within the Igbo community your representatives say a lot about you and your character so it is always worth investing in people that really know you and can sell your value to your future in-laws. When the Groom-to-be arrives at the bride-to-be’s compound it is customary to brings gifts of Kola-nut and Palm Wine, as this is a sign of cultural respect.

The Proposal is done by Intermediary’s meaning the Groom does not ask directly for the Brides hand in marriage it is asked for by his representatives. Who typically will say something along the lines of “There is a Beautiful Girl her by the name of Ngozi that we have been told lives at this compound and we want to make our intentions known that someone want to marry her”. Please note that at this stage the Bride-to-be is not present during this phase.

On hearing these intentions the bride-to-be’s family must first respond to the proposal. Before they respond they might ask the representatives some questions about the groom-to-be such as his career, where is he from, what type of family does he comes from. There is no limit to what types of questions they can ask but the groom and his representatives must be ready for anything.

Once the bride’s family has given their response the bride-to-be is then invited into the room (for the first time) and she is asked if she is happy to accept his Proposal. If she says yes this initiates the Inquiry process. Because of this traditional Igbo proposals do not have engagement rings which a lot of western engagements now incorporate.

STEP 3: Investigation Process

This is also referred to as the Inquiry phase. During this phase both families start the investigation on their in-laws. One or multiple members of each family will take time off and travel down to their future in-laws to source further information that might not have been revealed during the knocking to door phase. Typically information about the groom and his family will be gathered from their neighbors, people in their village and people who know them.

Family members are mainly looking for answers for the following:

  • Family History

  • Genealogy

  • Social Standing of the family

  • Medical History

  • Strange deaths (life expectancy)

  • History of infertility

  • Criminal Acts

  • Titles

  • Family worship

  • Family Wealth

  • In general are they Good people

This process can last for months especially if it is hard to locate the groom’s compound or family members. This phase is so important to a lot of families because they know it can be very easy for people to show you only their good sides, but this person might have bad intentions or habits (such as gambling, or heavy drinking) therefore it is in their child’s interest to really take this section seriously. Please note that during this phase if one or both families are not happy with what information they have come across the courting process can be called off.

STEP 4: Probation Period

During this phase the Bride-to-be is now re-invited to go and spend some quality time with her future in-laws. Here is her first real opportunity to bond with her future in-laws (especially her Mother In-Law) and his female siblings after all she will become another daughter and sister to them so it is important they can find common ground to start building their own relationships. During her stay which is around 1-2 weeks she is typically set household tasks to test her (set by mother-in-law and sister-in-laws) such task as cooking, cleaning, shopping etc.

To the outside world this phase might seem weird or “slave like” but it has a much deeper purpose. For what her in-laws are really checking is her ability to complete many household tasks (especially her temperament and ability to follow orders) after all once she is married she will be expected to do these tasks, and they also want to check how well she copes with pressure (don’t worry not everyone gets tested in this way). For the bride-to-be (especially those who have been raised culturally) this is really her opportunity to demonstrate how domesticated she is, which is often a testimony to how well her mother has raised her. As well this is as an opportunity for her show case her cooking and entertainment skills

The most important element of her probation period is that before she gets married she is also be given the opportunity to learn from her in-laws how to cook native dishes that her Groom to-be is accustomed to (to see how their recipes differ from hers) but also to learn new dishes that she might not have had growing up because they were not popular in her state. If successful at the end of this phase she is typically presented with many gifts from the Grooms family to return home with. This is a sign/symbol to her family that her in-laws are happy with what they have seen. These gifts are to be given to her mother as a symbol of appreciation for raising such a wonderful woman.

STEP 5: Bride Price

Once the bride has returned back from a successful probation period and both families are happy with their inquiries the bride price and list is generate by the Bride’s Family.

A rough date is also booked for delivery of the items on the list (typically the wedding date/ feast date). Upon payment and delivery they are now considered to be traditionally married (pre-Christian religion)

Most people have a fear of the “Bride Price” but usually the bride price is a very low amount to emphasis the woman is “NOT BEING SOLD”. The Bride price is what would need to be returned back to the Groom’s family if they were to every filed for divorce (not that they would ever want it to happen).

STEP 6: Bride List

This is where the fear of marrying an Igbo person comes from especially for those who are outside of the community. In terms of what it takes to take a bride from any of the eastern states in Nigeria, it is said to not be a walk in the park. The Igbo tribe take pride in their daughters and don’t hesitate to show any potential suitor how ‘highly rated’ she is. The Igbo bride’s traditional wedding list is probably one of the most discussed topics whenever a man indicates interest in taking an Igbo wife.

The “Bride List” is simply seen as a gift/reward for raising such a beautiful and talented daughter that should be shared among those that helped in raising and nurturing her (typically her compound).This list factors in all of the achievements of the Bride such as education, career, progression etc. Items can be negotiated (Top-tip is to have a good negotiator on your side) The list can be modified depending on the family of the bride, i.e. the bride to be can negotiate on behalf of the groom’s family so that the list is trimmed. Just like every other traditional marriage in Nigeria, The Igbo traditional paying of dowry is very important and the process/lists differ from state to state or clan to clan. It is an obligatory part of completing the Igba Nkwu (traditional marriage) as the items on the list are said to be symbolic, covering different part of the marriage.

Example of a Bride List

Section A: UMUADA (All Kindred Daughters)

– Wrappers and Blouses (Nigerian Wax/Hollandis or George)

– Jewelry (Gold plated earrings, necklaces)

– Head ties and Shoes (a pair each, different colours.)

– Hand bags and wrist watches (Different types and colours)

– Toiletries (Body creams, bathing soaps, detergents, etc.)

– Beverages and food items

– Cash gift (not specific)

– Ogwe ego Drinks (Malt & Minerals)

Section B: NMANYA UKWU (Big Wine) UMUNNA (Kinsmen)

The items in this category will be shared amongst the heads of the extended family of the bride to be.

– Bottles of Seamans Schnapps (millennium brand)

– Kola nuts

– Gallons of Palm wine

– Cartons of Beer,

– Malt and Mineral drinks

– Heads of Tobacco with potash

– Rolls of cigarettes

– 1 goat

– Cash gift (not specific) Ego Umuna

NB: Items in Section A&B are usually in 3 pieces or in cartons, cannot be negotiated by the groom’s family except the bride’s family is lenient enough to cut down the items, or the numbers of items to be presented in these sections.

Other cash gifts that may be demanded during the course of the ceremony Ego nfotu iteö

(cash to bring down symbolic cooking pot)  – 1,000

– Ncha kishi udu  (Toasting of wine) = 1,000

– Ego Ogo cherem  (money for the in laws) =  50,000

– Ego maternity  (money for future maternity) =  1,000

– Ego Onye Eze  (money for village chief) = 1,500

– Ogwe Ego  (lump sum) = 5,000

 Section C: NMEPE UZO (General list/Opening of Gate)

– 30 tubers of Yam

– 2 bags of Rice

– 2 bags of Salt

– 2 cartons of Star Beer

– 2 cartons of Guinness Stout

– 2 cartons of Maltina

– 6 crates of Minerals

– 3 bottles of Seamans Schnapps (millennium brand)

– 30 bulbs of onions

– 1 gallon of red Palm oil (10 -25 litres)

– 1 gallon of Groundnut oil (25 litres)

– A basin of Okporoko (Stockfish)

– 2 pieces of Goat leg (Ukwu Anu ewu)

– 25 loaves of Bread

– 1 carton of Tin Tomatoes

– 1 carton of Tin Milk

-1 carton of Tablet soap

– 20 Pieces of canned facial powder

-1 gallon of Kerosene

– 20 heads of Tobacco

– 10 packets of cigarettes

– 5 pieces of George/Hollandis/Nigerian Wax

– 3 pieces of Umbrella

– 1 Big Box (Apati)

– 2 Big Basins

– 2 pieces of Igbo Blouse

– 2 pieces of Headties

– Gold necklaces and Wrist watches (minimum of 2 pieces)

– 1 piece of Lantern/LampôIkpo

– Onu Aku Nwayi (Bride price) Non-negotiable, though some families makes it very minimal and almost insignificant. (Reason being that they are not selling their daughter).The things we do for the ones we love.

Ultimately the reason the list is so long is because the bride’s family know that once she is married her commitment is now to her husband and his family. All the kids she will have will automatically belong to him and his family, even when she dies and is buried she is buried in his compound. The list represents all the gifts and support they would have received if she was to stay with them and not get married.

Marriage ceremonies in Igboland can be a long and expensive undertaking, but they are usually worth every kobo, naira, dollar or pound.

[FINAL STEP] STEP 7: Igbo Traditional Wedding (Igba Nkwu Nwanyi)

Birth, marriage and burial are considered the three most important family events in most cultures, and Igboland is not an exception to that. It is common to get invited to a traditional marriage (Igba nkwu) and certainly worth witnessing one. Marriage in Igboland is not just an affair between the future husband and wife but also involves the parents, the extended family and villages. First the groom asks his potential partner to marry him. Assuming that this is affirmative, the groom will visit the bride’s residence accompanied by his father. The groom’s father will introduce himself and his son and explain the purpose of his visit.

The bride’s father welcomes the guests, invites his daughter to come and asks her if she knows the groom. Her confirmation shows that she agrees with the proposal. Then the bride’s price settlement (Ika-Akalika) starts with the groom accompanied by his father and elders visiting the bride’s compound on another evening. In the final stage of the traditional marriage rites, the groom will go to the house of the bride-to-be with his immediate and extended family, villagers and town’s people with the above items. Host families will prepare different kinds of indigenous dishes to entertain their guests.

The wedding day is again at the bride’s compound, where the guests welcome the couple and invite them in front of the families. First the bride goes around selling boiled eggs to the guests, showing to both families that she has the capability to open a shop and make money. Then, the bride’s father fills a wooden cup (Iko) with palm wine and passes it on to the girl while the groom finds a place between the guests. It is the custom for her to look for her husband while being distracted by the invitees. Only after she has found the groom, she will kneel down and offered the cup to him and he sipped the wine, according to our customs once the cup is empty the couple is married traditionally. The parents and elders in the family of both the bride and groom will pray for the newlyweds and for the success of their marriage. During this ceremony, there is also the nuptial dance where the couple dances, while guests wish the newlyweds prosperity by throwing money around them or putting bills on their forehead.

When the ceremony is over, the bride will go home with the family of the groom signifying that the two are now husband and wife. In some communities in Igboland, “Idu Uno” is practiced.  Idu Uno is when the family of the bride officially goes and visit the home where their daughter will be living. Note that the previous ceremony and meetings took place in the bride’s family home.

The bride’s family buys cooking utensils, bed-sheets, boxes, sewing machine, bed, pillow cases, plates, clothes and other things newly married couples need to start a life and family.

Also, the bride’s family along with their extended families sets a date to visit the couple with all the goods they bought. On “Idu Uno” day, the wife’s family will give the newly married couple all the things they bought for them. This is usually done to give newly married couple a head start by defraying some of their expenses.

Marriage ceremonies in Igboland can be a long and expensive undertaking, but they are usually worth every kobo, naira, dollar or pound.

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