The ‘Urhobo’ are one of the many Nigerian tribes, and are the largest single tribe in the present Delta State of Nigeria. They are geographically located within the heartland region of the Niger Delta area of Nigeria, and have an estimated population of 2 million. They have as neighbours, the Ijaw and the Isoko to the east, the Ukwuani to the North, the Itshekiri s to the South, and the Bini to the west. Due to their close geographical location and historical connections over the centuries, there have been intermarriage relationships amongst themselves.
What Do We Mean By Traditional Marriage The Urhobo Way?
Urhobo traditional marriage by definition bears some semblance to the above definitions above. The similarity is only as far as the process of marriage revolves around man and woman. Urhobo traditional marriage is unique to Urhobo culture and traditions. Indeed, marriage in Urhobo worldview is an enduring institution. It is sacred. It looms large enough to tie two independent families together forever.
It is imperative to note that the Urhobo marriage extends beyond the couples directly involved; it embraces the extended families of the spouses. Indeed, Urhobo marriage is a marriage of two families. This is so because the families play very central roles in ensuring the success of the marital relationships from the time of courtship through the marriage negotiations to the contracting of the marriage.
Divorce is rare; Urhobo traditional marriage endures beyond the life of the husband. In fact, it is the wife’s life span. This is due to the fact that on the death of the husband, the wife is passed on to a member of the husband’s family for continued marriage. This custom provides emotional and financial stability, and continuity of the marriage.
The families are also expected to intervene or mediate when there are problems or conflicts between husband and wife, and when the marriage relationship is threatened in any way – this is in total contrast to the western marriage system where family intervention is seen as interference.
The nucleus of Urhobo traditional marriage takes various forms. From time, there have been some distinct processes of marriage proposals or types of traditional marriages. Any of these marriage forms are recognised by our society, as they form key aspects of our customs and traditions.
“Esavwijoto” occurs when parents propose marriage on behalf of their son or daughter at an early age. Pledges of this nature are also made and redeemed, as a result of observed exemplary character of a young girl or boy. It could be made as a reward for exceptional valour. The uses or instances of this concept are infinite. Normally, with this type of marriage, love develops between the couple only after marriage has been officially contracted.
"Ose” - Admitting language limitations in describing one concept by another language. Ose is a form of marriage recognised as binding, but in which the traditional dowry has not been paid and accepted as prescribed. Couples may live together or apart, but enjoy full de facto conjugal rights and exclusiveness but limited customary (legal) rights of husband and wife. Some notable distinctions of this type of marriage are that such husband will not be allowed to bury and mourn his would-be parents in law, like a fully married man.
“Arranged Marriage in absentia”- In this case, the male who is usually abroad or outside the Urhoboland or even Nigeria, would request his parents or family to marry a wife of their choice for him. Both potential husband and wife may not have seen or met each other previously. During the marriage ceremony of this type of marriage, the man’s brother or a nominated relative would represent him as husband of the bride.
The wife may be required to spend some time with the absent husband’s family before being despatched to her new husband. Love may, or may not develop when they meet for the first time. If they like each other, the marriage may be consummated, and is likely to survive. In some cases, either party may refuse to go ahead with the marriage, and call it off.
“Boy-Meets-Girl and Modern Courtship”- This is more or less a modern concept and is not unique or particular to Urhobo culture or tradition of marriage terms.
This process has become one of the current approaches used by modern day boys and girls. In most cases, the parents may not know of the initial courtship until their son or daughter informs them. Both families then get involved. If they agree, marriage plans are then made. The process may first be to do the traditional marriage rites, before proceedings to either the Church marriage or the Registry.
“The Marriage Process - This is the final stage of the traditional marriage arrangements. Whichever of the above routes the process of courtship or engagement may have taken, family consent is imperative before the marriage process is finalised.
The marriage ceremony follows the meeting of both families. Both families would meet at the bride’s home. An advance notice is given to the bride`s family for the visit. On the said day, the groom’s family will arrive at the bride’s home. First the bride’s family will welcome them. Drinks and kola nuts supported with some money will be offered to the visiting family, as is customary in Urhobo tradition. A spokesman for the bride’s family will make the presentation of the drinks and kola nuts with the money to the visiting family. The visitor’s spokesman will accept the presentation on behalf of the groom’s family. After this initial customary entertainment, the visitors are asked the purpose of their visit.
The visitors would inform the bride’s family that they have come to marry their daughter for their son, who may or may not be present at this protocol. If the bride’s family accepts this explanation, they would go through a process of the identification of the bride they wish to marry. The visitors would be told that the family has many daughters; as such, its members do not know which of their daughters their son would like to marry. The bride’s family would then bring out a girl who is not the bride, and parade this girl in front of the groom’s family. The groom would reject this girl saying that she was not the one he wants. This formality would be repeated about three times. Each time a girl is paraded and rejected, the groom’s family would be asked to pay the rejected girl some money. Finally, the bride is presented to the groom to confirm the true identity of his chosen bride.
Once this process is concluded, the bride’s consent would then be obtained. That is, she will be asked if she is willing to marry the groom. The family of the bride can only receive the dowry if she consents to marry the groom. This process is only a formality on the day because in most cases, the dowry amount and all arrangements would normally have been agreed upon. That is, both families would have reached some understanding. The groom or his family would pay a dowry to the bride’s family. The dowry is the price money paid to the bride’s family on account of the bride.
It is worth mentioning here that, it is customary that before the stage of pouring the libation is reached, that the potential husband and his family would pay several visits to the family of the bride to be. The purpose of these visits is to negotiate and to meet certain pre-marriage requirements stipulated by the bride’s family. For example: the dowry would be negotiated and agreed beforehand; the bride’s uncles, aunts and the bride’s father and mother would be bought several gift items, such as walking stick and hat, etc, for the bride’s father; wrapper, tobacco, etc., for her mother, and other items for her uncles, aunts, and other relatives.
Upon acceptance of the dowry, the bride’s father pours a libation. The libation is poured using a native gin (ogogoro) or may be represented by Gordon gin and kola nuts. The bride’s father offers a prayer / blessing for the couple. At this point, the bride sits on the husband’s lap. The blessed drink is handed to the husband who drinks first; he then hands it to his wife to drink. The wife would drink and pass it back to her husband to finish, as a sign of respect. Then only are they declared husband and wife. Both family members present at the ceremony, would then shower the couple with money as gifts. The girl's parents will pray for the both of them and the bride groom will be warned by the bride's parents that he should never beat-up their daughter for any reason whatsoever. The parents of the bride will present her with lots of gifts to take to her new home. She will hug all her friends, her siblings and give them little gifts to remember her by. The bride is escorted to her husband's house, on the way to his house; certain people will stop them on the way and ask the groom to pay some money so that he can take his bride home.
"Esuo” - This term describes the final stage of a full marriage according to Urhobo custom. It denotes the completion of all antecedent requirements necessary on the part of the husband. It is the escorting of the bride by her family with her properties, goodwill, to the head of the husband’s family, and handing over until death of the bride as wife to the groom’s family. A special ceremony is usually performed to invoke the husband’s ancestors to also receive her, and bind her over in fidelity to their son – the husband. The entire women receive the bride, eat and dance in the special room prepared for her till dawn of the following day.
The Marriage List - Settling and Payment of Bride Price and other Traditional Nuptial fees
1. Igho-rẹ- erhu, ubiọkpọ vẹ ogbru (fee to honor the bride’s father, usually intended for him to purchase for personal use erhu ( hat), ogbru (man’s wrapper) and ubiọkpọ(staff or traditional walking stick)
2. Igho-ugbe-rha-re (fee to recognize and to show appreciation for the mother’s labor pains during the birth of the bride)
3. Igho-ru-ughwa -raka (fee required to buy a bag of salt for the women of the bride’s family to compensate them for their services)
4. Emu-ra-aye (bride’s fee negotiated between representatives of the families of the bride and bridegroom’s families and presented by the Head of the bridegroom’s family.
Formalizing the Marital Union
1. The bride is led in surrounded by her bridesmaids to stand before her father or the Ọkpako-r’-orua, the Head of the bride’s family.
2. The Head of the bride’s family calls on the bride and bridegroom, and both of them move forward and knee down before him.
3. The Head of the bride’s family initiates the process of formalizing by presenting a brief account of the lineage of the bride.
4. The Head of the bride’s family now begins the process by holding up a glass of drink and invoking the name of God and the memory of the ancestors in prayers, calling on them to bless the new life now commencing for their descendant or child and the man who has asked for her hand in marriage.
5. The Head of the bride’s family concludes his prayers by pouring libation (offer of drink from the glass to God and in remembrance of the ancestors). He leaves some of the drink in the glass which he offers to the bridegroom to drink. The bridegroom after drinking some, in turn passes the same glass to the bride to drink whatever is left, to signify her consent to the marriage.
Drinking from the same glass is thus the bride’s acknowledgement that the Head of her family has indeed spoken for her, and the signal needed to Indicate that members of the groom’s family are now recognized as in-laws. The bride now returns the glass through the groom to her family Head, a process that essentially declares the couple’s willingness and commitment to live together as husband and wife.
6. The bride is handed over to the Head of the groom’s family, who henceforth assumes responsibility to ensure that the husband and his family will take good care of their new wife. The bride is directed to sit on the laps of her new husband in their first public display of life together as a married couple
7. The public reacts to the display by showering gifts on the newlywed as both remain sitted.
Wedding Dinner and other festivities
Dinner is provided by the bride’s family for the in-laws and their friends who witnessed the occasion before the bride is taken away.