‘Nne, I want my Igba Nkwu to be something to write about’, Ijeoma said to me with so much excitement.
‘Sure, why not? The last time I checked, you made me the sacrificial lamb for a ‘ritualistic wedding ceremony’. Does a man need to rob a bank or be super-duper rich to marry an Igbo girl?’ Adewale cuts in mockingly with his strong ‘britico’ accent.
‘Is it my fault that I am an Igbo girl….eh…Adewale? Why must our own wedding be an issue?’ she snaps back in an angry tone.
‘Enough, both of you’, I quickly chipped in to douse the all too frequent war of words that was about to erupt between the two love birds over the customary Igbo traditional marriage ceremony – popularly referred to as ‘Igba Nkwu Nwanyi’. It means “The Wine Carrying of a Woman” and for many decades has been generally accepted as the Igbo word for traditional marriage.
So what really does an Igbo traditional marriage entail?
Introduction – Ikwu Aka (Knocking)
Marriage in Igboland is not just an affair between the future husband and wife but also involves the parents, the extended family and villages. When you’re planning for the introductory part of your proposed union, you must bear in mind that there are two stages in this process. Depending on the Igbo community involved, the intending groom will be required to make two visits to the bride to be’s family.
First, the intending groom, accompanied by his father or any elder relative or close family friend will visit the father of the bride to be formerly introduced and state their intention. They will then agree on a latter time to meet with other members of the bride to be’s family. No gift is required for this initial visit.
For the return visit, the intending groom’s family (not limited to the parents) will meet with the bride to be’s family and restate their intention. At this stage, it is expected that the bride to be’s family will have had ample time to investigate the groom to be’s family and must have reached a conclusion on the proposal. The prerequisites for this visit may vary from village to village, but, basically some of the key items offered as gift to the host family include Kolanuts, Wines (alcoholic/non-alcoholic) and wrappers (Nigerian/Holland prints). Money (cash gift) is usually not offered at this point in order not to be misrepresented.
Traditional Marriage – Igba Nwku (Engagement)
At this stage, a date has been agreed for the ‘Igba Nkwu’ to hold at the paternal home of the bride to be. The intending groom would have been handed a list of items to present at the engagement. The list usually is communicated after the introduction and is an obligatory part of completing the Igba Nkwu, which could either be a close family event or a big event including the whole “village”. The items on the lists are usually symbolic and cover different sections of the ceremony.
|Section A : UMUADA (ALL KINDRED DAUGHTERS)|
|Wrappers and Blouses– (George/Hollandis/Nigerian Wax)|
|Jewelry – (Gold plated earings, necklaces)|
|Head ties and Shoes (Different types and colours)|
|Hand bags and wrist watches (Different types and colours)|
|Toiletries (Body creams, bathing soaps, washing detergents, etc.)|
|Beverages and food items|
|Cash gift (lump sum) –Ogwe ego|
|Drinks (Malt & Minerals)|
|Section B: NMANYA UKWU (BIG WINE) – KINSMEN (UMUNNA) The items in this category will be shared amongst the heads of the extended family of the bride to be.|
|Bottles of Seaman’s Schnapps (millennium brand)|
|Gallons of Palmwine|
|Cartons of Beer, Malt and Mineral drinks|
|Heads of Tobacco with potash|
|Rolls of cigarettes|
|Cash gift (Lump sum) – Ego Umu’Nna|
|Other cash gifts that may be demanded during the course of the ceremony|
|“Ego nfotu ite” (cash to bring down symbolic cooking pot) – ₦ 1,000|
|“Ncha kishi udu” (Toasting of wine) – ₦ 1,000|
|“Ego Ogo cherem” (money for the inlaws) – ₦ 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: N’MEPE UZO (OPENING OF GATE) – GENERAL|
|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 Seaman’s 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 Morning Rose 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/Lamp|
|“Ikpo Onu Aku Nwayi” (Bride price) – Negotiable|
Usually the UMUADA and UMUNNA’s are quite a number in each clan and a minimum of three pieces/cartons per item above will be demanded before the bride to be is let out of her father’s house on the engagement day. More often than not, their demands are non-negotiable but can be influenced by the bride to be’s family.
The items required in the general section vary from village to village and can be negotiated with bride to be’s family. In recent times, the intending bride’s father waives most of the requirements that ordinarily would be meant for him and his immediate family and request the intending groom to provide only the other items required in the first two sections.
Dress and Grooming
At traditional marriage wedding ceremonies, many have adopted the Igbo equivalent for ‘Aso Ebi’ referred to as ‘Akwa Nde Mbiriechi’. Before deciding on your ‘Akwa Nde Mbiriechi’, consideration should be giving to the type of fabric that would be most suitable for the occasion and will harmonize with the overall theme of your ‘Igba Nkwu’ (traditional marriage).
You can either choose the olden attire Igbo maidens adorn at special occasions. You will be beautified in ‘Nzu’ (white clay) painted on your body, while covering your upper body and waist areas with pieces of ‘Akwete’ cloth (African print).
You can equally attend your own ceremony dressed in a contemporary ‘Akwete’. This is a traditional wrapper that some refer to as ‘Abada’ which usually is made up of 5 yards of either a Nigerian Wax fabric (Ankara), Holladis (Holland WAX), or the popularly used George (Mirror George) material and a puffed sleeve blouse sewn with 1½ yards of any laced/hand-cut fabric. You can even choose to wear both options on your special day.
Accessories: An Igbo bride isn’t fully dressed without adorning some complementing accessories such as ‘Jigida’ (waist beads), ‘Ihe Olu’ (coral beads), ‘Ihe Nti, Ihe Aka’ (wrist chains, rings and earrings - could be made of beads or Gold plated), ‘Akpa Aka’ (clutch bag), ‘Nchafu’ (headtie) and ‘Akpukpu-Ukwu’ (foot-wear) that will match the overall ensemble.
Back in the days, the groom wore a pullover shirt called ‘Isiagu’ or ‘Ishi Agu’ (patterned with Lions heads and could be short or long sleeved) on a plain coloured trouser (preferably black). In more recent times, particularly where the groom is not Igbo, the intending groom may choose to wear any other embroidered material including Brocade, Jacquard or Lace over a plain coloured trouser.
Accessories: You can accessorise your attire with the traditional Igbo men’s hat ‘Okpu Agu’ (a red or black hat), coral beads and a fashionable walking stick.
Other party paraphernalia such as catering, decoration, video and still photography, music and a lot more side attractions you get these days at weddings also feature at a traditional Igbo ‘Igba Nkwu’. The most important thing for the prospective couple is to plan out these details in line with their set budget. Just like any other wedding outside Ndigbo, marital expenses are mostly optional. No amount can balance the value of the man or woman you choose to marry, regardless of your race, culture or tribe.
Contributed by Susan Adirije