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Marriages In Nigeria

Two major types of marriage exist in Nigeria: monogamy, a marriage of one man to one woman, and polygyny, a marriage of one man to two or more wives. In most cultural groups in Nigeria, traditional marriage is usually an arrangement between two families as opposed to an arrangement between two individuals. Accordingly, there is pressure on the bride and bridegroom to make the marriage work as any problem will usually affect both families and strain the otherwise cordial relationship between them. In most Nigerian cultures, the man usually pays the dowry or bride-price and is thus considered the head of the family. Adultery is acceptable for men, but forbidden for women. Marriage ceremonies vary among Nigerian cultures.

Idoma marriage. The Idoma people live in central Nigeria, in the Benue State. The myth of their origin states that they are descended from the Zulu tribe of South Africa. They are mainly warriors. Some of their subgroups are the Adors, Otupas, Ogbanibos, Apas, Ofokanus and Owukpas. Marriage in Idoma land is considered a lifelong state, although divorce is possible on the grounds of A Nigerian bride and groom at their wedding ceremony.In most cultural groups in Nigeria, traditional marriage is an arrangement between two families rather than an arrangement between two individuals. KERSTIN GEIER/CORBIS adultery or other concrete reasons. When an Idoma man is at least twenty-five years old and has the financial and physical capacity to maintain a wife and children, he searches for and finds a woman of his choice, who is at least eighteen years old. He reports his findings to his family, which then chooses a go-between, a person who is familiar with the girl's family. The go-between investigates the family of the prospective bride to ascertain that the family has no history of mental disease, epilepsy, or similar problems. If the result of this investigation is positive, the prospective groom's family visits the woman's family with gifts of kola nut and hot drinks. After the first visit, another visit is scheduled for the woman to meet her future husband, after which a final visit is scheduled for the future groom and his family to pay the bride-price and offer other gifts. If the woman refuses to marry the man after these gifts have been provided, the groom's family keeps them (Omokhodion 1998).

On the wedding day, in addition to the bride-price, the groom must pay a dowry first to the bride's mother and then another dowry to the father; this involves a significant amount of bargaining. Also every member of the bride's mother's family must be given money, with the groom's family determining the amount. The bride's age group and her more distant relatives also are given money, with the amount varying with level of the bride's education and productivity. Then the groom's family gives the bride a rooster and some money. If she accepts these gifts and gives them to her mother, she indicates her acceptance of the groom, but if she refuses, she signifies her refusal. If she accepts him, she is showered with gifts and money, and the two families eat and drink together. Before the bride is finally handed over to her husband, however, her age group will pose as a mock barrier to those who want to take her and extort money from the anxious groom's family. The bride's mother buys her cooking utensils and food because she is not expected to go to the market for the first five market days after her marriage. At the end of the eating and drinking, the wife is finally handed over to her husband's family. (Omokhodion 1998).

Ideally the bride should be a virgin at marriage, which brings pride and joy to her family. If she is found not to be a virgin, she is taken to the husband's family' ancestral shrine for cleansing. After this the Ije is put on her to invoke fertility on her. This marks the beginning of married life among the Idoma tribe.

Marriage in Okrika land. Okrika is located in the eastern part of the Niger Delta of Nigeria, in the Rivers State. The Okrika clan is made up of nine major towns and more than fifteen villages.The fifteen villages are known as Iwoama (new towns). Okrika is the largest town with the largest population and is the administrative and traditional headquarters of the clan. In the Wakirike area, there are two main types of marriages—the Ya or Iyaye and the Igwa.

The Ya marriage ceremony involves certain customary functions that precede the consummation of the marriage. Here the bride and groom must come from the same tribe. When the husband is ready, members of the family assemble for the essential marriage rites, including the tying of the knot. The man is required to produce three to five pieces of kano cloth or Ikpo, one piece of real India cloth, or injiri, four yards of raffia palm cloth sewn together (okuru), and another separate yard of the same material. If the husband is wealthy, he adds additional kinds of cloth. He also provides three or four large pots of palm wine and twenty-two or twenty-four manila. These offerings are placed in the shrine of the family ancestors, and an elderly person in the family takes up the single yard of raffia cloth and ties the knot. The husband and wife stand before the shrine, side by side. The elder then ties the raffia cloth round the waist of the wife seven times, each time uttering some words that invoke blessings on the couple. Palm wine is poured into a drinking cup, and the bride and groom drink from it simultaneously. The knot has thus been tied, and divorce becomes virtually impossible. The single yard of raffia cloth is the essential thing to make the marriage binding. In case of unavoidable divorce as aresult of adultery on the woman's part, the parents of the wife are bound to return double the cumulative expenses of the husband (Ikiriko 1984).

The second system, Igwa, means mixed; the woman and the man may marry even though they are from different families. A woman married under the Ya system can be married under Igwa if the Ya husband is not living with her as husband and wife under the same roof. All offspring of this second marriage belong not to the biological father but to the Ya husband, who by custom is regarded as their legal father. If the woman has not been previously married to any man under the Ya system, children from the Igwa marriage belong either to the lawful husband of the wife's mother or to her brothers. However, the once unchangeable custom of the possession of children born under the Igwa system of marriage is relaxing under the pressure of modern times. Many adult men and young people engage in Igwa marriage if their previous marriage produced no children (Omokhodion 1998).

Marriage among the Ibos. The Ibos are a very class-conscious group. They have a caste system and encourage endogamy. In the Ibo society, the castes include the Nwadiani, who are the upper caste of freeborn and land owners, and the Osu, who are the lower caste and descendants of former slaves. In the past, the Osu were used in human sacrifices. (Though the Osus are no longer slaves, yet they are still discriminated against by the free-born, who will usually oppose any of their children marrying an Osu.)

Within the Nwadiani are three groups:

  1. The freeborn, who are able to trace their lineage to the founder of a segment of the community.
  2. The Omoru, whose ancestors came from elsewhere to settle and become attached to the founder of the community. Their descendants are accepted as full members of the village or town because of their freeborn status in their place of origin.
  3. The descendants of the autonomous groups who lived in the area before the founders of the state arrived and incorporated them into the structure of the community, which they established.

Intermarriage among Nwadiani has united these three categories in a closely knit kinship system. All the lineages in the village were believed to have descended from one ancestor or the other. Kinship links were sometimes invoked to create special relationships with neighboring village groups or village. Owing to their close kinship ties, men had to find their wives outside the village. One kind of link is between villages and village groups. Villages in a group, as well as neighboring villages, were linked by bonds forged by marriage alliances.

Endogamous marriage seemed to have served to perpetuate the Osu status, which is inferior. At Oguta, Osomari, Onitsha, and Abo, Osu could only marry an Osu because of their outcast status. They are thus despised by the freeborn. This discrimination was carried further at Osamari where the Osu class had their exclusive residential quarters (ebo) in each division. This also gave the servile quarters a sense of corporate solidarity in opposition to the "Freeborn" quarters. Through the intermarriage between members of different Ogbe, Ebo and the Osu of a community they have developed a web of kinship similar to that, which characterizes the Nwadiani. However, permitted intermarriage between Osu and Nwadianins and children born of such mixed marriages are allowed to have the status of Nwadiani. (Note that though this caste system is historical, the descendants of these castes have inherited their ancestors' classes and are therefore stratified along that line even today.)

Marriage ceremonies in traditional Ibo society are elaborate affairs celebrated with much fanfare and merriment. The couple must have had some period of courtship during which the prospective groom informs his parents of his intention to take a woman of a certain village as wife. The parent of his intended wife must be known to his parents, and the courtship requires the prospective bride to pay at least one courtesy call on her potential inlaws to enable them to get to know her. After getting acquainted with the woman, the parents of the bridegroom will give their approval if they are satisfied that their prospective daughter-in-law has an unblemished reputation. Such courtships usually become public knowledge. The day of the marriage must be mutually agreed upon by both families (Omokhodion 1998).

On the day of marriage, the bride proceeds to her future spouse's village, accompanied by her mother, many girls of her own age, and her mother's female friends. An Ibo bride may also carry with her a "bride's dowry," which usually consists of kitchen utensils, mortar, palm oil, cassava, locust beans, and other condiments. The bride's dowry is usually contributed by her parents, their friends, and her own friends. The bridegroom and the two families, including friends and well-wishers, sit in their compound to eagerly await the arrival of the bride. When she comes, several young, unmarried women of the host village attend to her as a sign of welcome. An Ibo bride is usually colorfully decorated and given a beauty mark and other embellishments to set her apart. Jigida, which are waist beads of different colors (as many as fifteen or eighteen), adorn her waist. The young women dance in a circle around her, while her future husband and in-laws occasionally break through the circle one or two at a time and stick money on her forehead. As the money falls to the ground, one of the young women picks it up for her. As she dances, the jigida that covers her waist and the upper part of her buttocks jingle. After the feasting, the mother and others from her village return home, while the bride remains in her husband's village.

Marriage in the Hausa culture. The Hausas live in northern Nigeria. They are also found in Ghana, Togo, and Benin. The Hausas generally attach great importance to premarital chastity. A Hausa husband who discovers that the girl he has married is not a virgin will proclaim her shame to the entire town by breaking a pot outside his house. Among most Fulani, and other subtribes of the Hausa, custom forbids sexual intercourse between young people who are betrothed. Other tribes, however, view premarital intercourse as a kind of trial marriage. The Piri suitor cohabits with his fiancée for a period of four months in her mother's compound. Some of them may bear children before marriage, depending on the length of courtship. The young men are usually happy to marry these young mothers. Among tribes who accept premarital sex, no stigma is attached to the young woman girl who bears a child before marriage. The child is claimed by the girl's family, except where the father of the child is the girl's betrothed and has paid the bride-price in full. Kona boys and girls who are betrothed may cohabit. If the girl conceives, the boy has to make additional payments to her father, presumably on the ground that her fertility has been proven.

Some tribes practice the custom of placing young women under the care of their betrothed before they reach marriageable age; this is common among the Kona, Margi, Mumuye, and Mumbake, as well as the Mosi tribe. The objective appears to be twofold (Omokhodion 1996, 1998). First, the responsibility for the girl's upbringing and chastity is thrown on the fiancé's family, and second, the appropriation of the girl by her betrothed is clearly signified. As a result of pre-nuptial relations, a man can repudiate his betrothal at any time without the payment of damages in Hausaland.

Types of marriages in Hausaland. The Hausas practice various kinds of marriage. They include junior levirate marriage, whereby a younger brother may marry his late senior brother's wife or wives, and sororate marriage, whereby a man may marry his late wife's sister. Other types of marriage in Hausaland include cousin marriage known as auren zumunta, whereby a man or woman may marry anyone from a second cousin onward. Polygyny is also very popular, while many of the women, especially among the Muslims, are kept in the harems. The Hausas also practice a special type of polyandry that is a counterpart of concubinage. Among the Fulani pagan nomads, "wife lending" to a husband's brother or son is regarded as an act of reciprocal hospitality. The Munshi, Amgula, Yergurn, Rukuba, and Lungu practice marriage by "wife abduction." Other types of marriages in Hausaland include "marriage by purchase" (women are seen as transferable property) and "marriage by exchange" (one man gives his sister or daughter to a friend for a wife in exchange for a wife for himself). Marriage can also be by "capture," in most cases with the girl's consent, or by elopement.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsNigeria - Families In Nigeria, Marriages In Nigeria, Marriage Ceremony, Conclusion