During the days of Governor Sam Mbakwe of old Imo State, he called his people to appease them with a project. The meeting was massively attended by men of the land, and in the Governor’s wisdom, he decided to seduce them with the liberty of choosing a project. The amiable governor took the stage to announce that but was suggestive in this smart manners. He went thus:
GOVERNOR: ‘m ga alulu unu ulo akwukwo?’ (Should I build a school for you?)
The PEOPLE chorused: ‘Oloo’ (No)
GOVERNOR: Should I build a hospital?
GOVERNOR: What about the roads?
GOVERNOR suggested other prospective projects, and his goodwill was appreciated by resounding No.
Then, he asked: What then do you want me to do for you?
PEOPLE: si wepulu anyi ego na onu otule (We need a reduction in the cost of the vagina)
MARRIAGE CEREMONIES IN THE ANCIENT IGBO COMMUNITY
From the days of our fathers, taking a wife in Igbo land is an exorbitant venture. Legend has it that the ancestors gave their daughters only to a man that could feed her, hence, the numerous requirement and the extravagancy of Marriage ceremonies in Igbo land.
Existed in an era of polygamy, both traditionalists, my grandfathers surprisingly married just one wife. This inspired my inquisition into why it was so. Lucky enough, my father was there to educate me.
Marriage, he told me, was not as easy as it is these days. Then, every ceremony – as required by the tradition – was done on a separate day, and all that was required by tradition must be provided.
In my area, Umunnachi, there are the ceremonies of iku aka (declaration of intention), iru onu /ime ego (pricing and paying of the bride price), igbu ewu nna (Ancestral Goat killing rituals) and inu mmanya (wine carrying)). These came with separate lists, and a separate feast for each ceremony.
In fact, in the olden days, if a kindred required a goat and you brought a goat that was not big in their consideration, they would reject it. If you presented 5 cocks and one looks sickly, or if your tubers of yam did not meet up to your in-law’s standard, you won’t take their daughter. You and all your kindred must return to your ancestral home with the substandard item you presented, and come back on another day.
Some men of old borrowed to get married, while some were supported by their clansmen. Men that funded their marriages were respected in those days. My grandfather, Obiakor, migrated to Umunya and farmed for a long time before he raised the fund to marry Nwagbasi, my grandmother. There were the privileged whose parents sponsored their marriages – but they were few.
THE REDUCTION OF THE ORIGINAL COST
The world was not as social as we are these days. Some men who had lean means got to 35 years without knowing what it was like to divide the thighs of a woman. If tradition was not altered, if the cost was not reduced, most of you Igbo guys on facebook wouldn’t have tasted the bearded meat by now.
Permit me to add that when a girl has passed the believed age of marriage or was deformed in any way, or had a baby in his father’s house (this differ with clans), the requirements were lowered, and widowers, aged and men that wanted a second wife normally went for such women.
HOW IMPORTANT IS WINE CARRYING IN IGBO LAND?
Perceived as the costliest of all the marital rituals, wine carrying was simply performed to celebrate a successful process. It was and still is the last of all the ceremonies. And unlike the ceremonies before it, wine carrying accommodates women, children, friends, families and extended families. There are lists of marital rituals and who could attend each ritual:
1. Iku aka (knocking on the door/ introduction) – Mandatory
It requires only the intending couple’s nuclear family (the head of the family, the father of the bride-to-be, and her brothers) and a witness: which is an extended family member. One or two members are enough.
2. Iru onu/ime ego (pricing and paying of the bride price) – A Must
Attended by selected male members of the nuclear families of the man and woman, this function is the most dramatic of all the marriage ceremonies. The husband is not permitted to talk. No, the function is for elders. This is the function of proverbs and traditional negotiation skill. The bride will be only invited to give her consent and the elders would continue with their games.
3. Igbu Ewu Nna (Ancestral Goat killing)
It differs with communities: some perform this custom when the father of the girl is deceased, others have it as a must-to-do. This function involves every male member of the girl’s kinsmen who has joined the league of men – women and children never take part in this ritual.
4. Then ibu/inu mmanya nwanyi or igba nkwu –
This could be done by simply providing the requirements in the list. It doesn’t stop a man from living with his wife.
This is what we refer to, this day, as the traditional marriage. It is open to everybody. It is that ceremony of carrying wine and giving to your HUSBAND. You would not just involve every member of both families, you will provide for the girl’s group in the entire village; the youths would come with their list; the mother of the bride must be satisfied and you must provide for ndi nna ochie (the family of the girl’s mother). It was and is an elaborate ceremony.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PAYING OF THE BRIDE PRICE (ime ego)
Customarily, paying the bride price is like a court marriage. Once the bride price was (is) accepted – just as the signing of a court marriage certificate – a man automatically becomes the husband of the woman.
It is only during ime ego that a father collects money (then, it was coweries) from his daughter’s suitor. Custom has it that the father must return part of the bride price as a sign that her daughter is priceless. This returned sum, which would be given back to the suitor by the oldest man in the girl’s family who would say:
jide nkea; malu na adighi anusi nwanyi anusi. (hold this and know that you still owe your in-laws).
Maybe, you missed something in the above statement.
(a dighi anusi nwanyi anusi)
The oldest man, which is assumed to be the wisest, in that statement, refers to the intending suitor as a husband. At that point, once the father of the girl has accepted the money, even without a fixed date for igba nkwu, the two become a husband and wife. To separate both, a divorce ritual must be performed.
In the whole Igbo land, the custom forbade/forbids a woman from taking another husband once her bride price has been paid. Yes, that’s the custom. And once a man paid the bride price, all the children from the woman from the time the price was paid belonged to the man – even if the man didn’t have sex with the woman. Again, the woman could only marry another man when the bride price was (is) returned. This tradition is called in my area ‘ikwu ngo’.
Till this day, the custom and the civil court only request for the refund of bride price (ikwu ngo) when a marriage is dissolved. This made the paying of the bride price the most important and the only binding ritual of Igbo Traditional marriage. Everything done after that is to fulfil all righteousness.
As a matter of fact, the Igbo tradition created a lacuna that permitted a man to cohabit with a woman legally after bride price has been paid without performing the Igba Nkwu. In the deeply traditional region of Anambra state known as Omambala area, a girl could freely relocate to a man’s house and become his wife and raise a family with him once the bride price is paid – with or without the performance of igba nkwu (wine carrying). It is/was called ijee oku (literally translated to going to answer a call)
Some of your ancestors – and your relations today – married wives they paid only their bride prices and it was/is legally in order. The right question to ask is:
if wine carrying (igba nkwu) was that important, why did our custom and the civil society concern themselves only with ime ego?
THE MODERN DAY
These days, a man – in a single day – could bring the ritual goat (Ewu Nna), pay the bride price and carry out the Igba nkwu. Our ancestors wouldn’t have believed that such a thing would ever happen; to them, it’d be an abomination. Marriages lasted in their time because it takes a long time – sometimes years – for a woman to relocate to the husband’s house.
One of the oldest Igbo proverbs about marriage is:
adighi akulu inu nwanyi mgbanu (there is no haste in performing marital rituals).
ime ego nwanyi (paying of bride price) – and not igba nkwu (wine carrying) – is the ritual that unites a man and a woman in Igbo land. That stage is the alpha.
All these theories flying online on the importance of Igba Nkwu are the romantic creations of the authors. Some people till tomorrow have not done the igba nkwu and the custom of Igbo land perceive them as legal husbands as long as they paid the bride price. Whoever asks you the source of your information, tell the person that Ozioma, the great-grandson of Nwankpor, said so.
Governor Sam Mbakwe would later become the first public office holder to call the council of elder to deliberate on the consideration of relaxing some traditional requirements in marrying a woman in Igbo land. Since then, other communities in Igbo land have altered every facet of this ancient tradition.
For reducing the cost of ‘otule’ and amending an ancient tradition, Sam Mbakwe became the most loved and the most celebrated Governor of his time.
Find an elder in your area and put this article to test.
I am Ozii Baba Anieto
And my words are Ajambele