There has been a lot of assertions that Igbo Marriage in Eastern Nigeria is expensive.
· While this is widely believed, a lot people do not also know what is required to get married in the East
· This article seeks to show that bride prices in the east do not cost much.
· It provides a generally accepted must-know info of what is considered to be bride price.
For an Igbo girl, it is when you come of age, that you start hearing stories of how Igbo bride price is costly. Guys, Igbos and non-Igbos, now seem to weave their delay in marrying their Igbo girlfriends with explanations/excuses of wanting to save more to accommodate the cost. To me, it’s a myth; one that most people find interesting and do not want to disabuse their minds from.
These days, lots of Igbo brides are getting married and no one is breaking into the bank to do so. Men are marrying Igbo women according to their means. So why does this assumption persist? I know my husband did not have to get a loan or save for a trillion years to get married and I was there for my traditional marriage to see that no one was wailing about spending all of his life’s savings in marrying me. I was there! I have also attended lots of Igbo traditional law and custom marriages to know that the groom did not spend everything he had to get a wife and that is why I write this.
The Igbos are the predominant occupants of Eastern Nigeria. They are a very industrious people with an estimated population of 33 Million as recorded in 2016. They are spread across Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, Imo, and some parts of Delta state.
They have a very rich traditional heritage with a long-standing respect for culture and tradition in every aspect of their day to day lives. When it comes to marriage in Igbo land, there is a process involved before the bride and the groom are pronounced as husband and wife according to the native law and custom generally known as the igba nkwu nwanyi.
Recognized steps to paying bride price
Courtship (knowing each other)
When a man is interested in an Igbo lady, the usual practice is to get to know each other’s likes and dislikes before making intentions known to the family of the lady. This process is common to all tribes in Nigeria. The courtship period will also afford the man the opportunity of knowing where the lady hails from and what some of their traditions are. In Igbo tradition however, a man’s family may handpick a girl they like and arrange for marriage on behalf of the man. This is common with mothers who want their successful sons to marry girls they choose. I call this protecting your investment; infact, most mothers do this.
Knocking at the door
This is a serious stage, more like a semi marriage ceremony with the whole works. These days though, most people do it on a low-key level due to costs, circumstances or so that people with evil intentions won’t foil wedding plans. When a man’s intention has been known and he is serious in having an Igbo lady’s hand in marriage, the first process is to undergo what is known as knocking at the door, called iku aka n’uzo.
This ceremony is done thrice and it is accompanied by the carriage of palm wine. These three times must coincide with three market days. If the first iku aka n’uzo falls on an Eke market day for example, it means the man will repeat the second and third iku aka n’uzo on Eke market days. If it falls on Nkwor market day, same process is followed. Mine was only done once though. The three visits were discarded due to distance and convenience.
The man must come with at least two members of his family to see his future bride’s family and specially inquire for the hand of that particular lady. In the olden days, palm wine used to be the main drink that was used in coming for this mission, but modern life has seen the use of beer and hot drinks in carrying out the iku aka n’uzo ceremony. Though, some still stick to that tradition. When you come for this ceremony, you will be asked series of questions by the girl’s people.
Your future in-laws will then make their own investigations about where you come from and your family lineage and background. This is done to avoid marriages between closely related families and to same blood lines. It is also done to uncover if there is a history of madness, or any taboo related occurrence. After the iku aka n’uzo, if the investigation is not favorable, the family of the girl will disapprove of the union.
What Igbo bride price contains
After the third iku aka n’uzo, the man’s family will request for a list containing all the items for the traditional marriage rites. Most times, the list is gotten after conferring with the family elders. In circumstances where the girl comes from a royal or highly respected family, the Eze or chief compiles the list.
Before the list is given to the man’s family, a bottle of hot drink is given to the eldest man of the lady’s family. A sum ranging from N1000 to N2000 is given to the secretary who is usually member of the girl’s family. The secretary will go through the list and then give the man’s family a copy.
Details of the list
The father of the girl has his own part in the list that must be fulfilled. These items must be bought according to how they appear on the list.
· Walking stick
· Traditional cap
· Native dress that has been sewn
· Pair of shoes
· N20,000 to N30,000 cash depending on the family
The bride’s mother also has items to be bought for her on the list. These include:
· 1 big basin
· 1 big covered basin
· 1 George wrapper
· 2 Abada (Ordinary wrapper popularly called Hollandis)
· 3 blouses which have been sewn
· A Set of earrings and necklace
· Wrist watch
· 3 big head ties
· Pair of shoes
· 20 tubers of yam
· 2 big stock fishes
· 1 bag of rice
· 1 bag of salt
· Carton of tin tomatoes
· 20 liters of Tin groundnut oil
· N2,000 to N5,000 cash
After settling the list for the father and mother, next you get to the list for Umunna. Their list also contains items that must be bought and presented to them before the marriage rites are approved.
· Head of tobacco
· A roll of cigarette
· 20 gallons of palm wine
· 4 cartons of beer
· 4 cartons of maltina
· 6 bottles of Hot drink
· N10,000 cash
The women’s group is not left out. They have their own list which must be fulfilled.
· 20 tubers of yam
· 1 tin of 20 litres kerosene
· 1 bag of salt
· 1 carton of bar soap
· 1 carton of Lux soap
· 4 big containers of talcum powder
· N10,000 cash
Some of the above listed items can be monetized by the groom in agreement with the girl’s family to make it convenient for them in cases where the location of the ceremony is a bit far. After settling the father, mother, Umunna (men) and Umuada (women), the next and crucial stage is the payment of dowry which is regarded as bride price. This is not done outside, but inside the room. The man and two members of his family will go inside to meet his father in-law and discuss the bride price (dowry).
On the cost of Igbo bride price
In the East, there is no fixed amount for bride price, each family determines what their son in-law pays. Some parts of Abia state set the bride price at 30 shillings – mine, for example. The irony is that if you provide all that is stated in the list and neglect to pay the 30 shillings, you are not yet married. I tell you this, because hubby was unable to give the ’30 shillings’ and despite the list completed, my dad at various moments would say, ”you’re still not married, so…,” But I digress. I also know that some things we could not bring due to distance were covered with the cash that we could afford and they let us be.
On the other hand, apart from the aforementioned, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi and Imo states do not have any particular amount known as bride price. The prices vary, I dare say, “as the spirit leads”, when it comes to this. As regularly observed, parents of the bride will decline accepting the bride price, stating instead that the list for the Umunne be fulfilled and to go ahead and live in peace with their daughter. Even more notable in some cases is parents collecting a particular amount for bride price and then returning it back to the groom with the instruction/advice to take care of their daughter. They always assert that their daughters are not for sale.
The government price for dowry is N60 (Sixty Naira) which is boldly written on the government stamp that is given to the groom’s family. Most families in the East do not make huge demands for bride prices because they believe they are not selling their daughters. So no matter how much one pays for dowry, what is officially given as evidence is the N60 government stamped receipt. After the dowry has been paid, the father of the girl or elder brother, elder in the family will then place the girl’s hand in that of the boy’s father. The father of the boy will then bless the couple and as soon as the girl is handed over, there is jubilation and singing by both families. If the bride has a little sister who is not married, she will follow the couple home and stay for about a week before going back home. They will buy things for her when she is returning.
On Igbo marriage
In the case of serious disagreement, if the woman is no longer interested in the marriage, she will return the dowry to her husband through her family. This must be done before the woman is free to marry another man.
In the East, once the dowry of a woman is paid, you both become one. If she dies, her corpse is usually taken to her husband’s place for burial. In extreme cases, where the woman has complained to her family about maltreatment by the man before she dies and the man goes ahead to bury her in his place, her corpse can be exhumed by her own family for reburial in her own village.
Is Igbo bride price cheap?
In summary, the dowry paid for the average Igbo lady cannot be pegged because it differs from family to family, but it is generally small. What consumes a lot is the traditional marriage expenses in tagged ‘lists’ and this discourages a lot of eligible bachelors from taking an average Igbo girl’s hand in marriage. A rough estimate of a million naira is usually needed to accomplish all the various rites before the actual dowry is paid and both partners are declared as husband and wife according to the standard Igbo tradition.
On the other hand, most of the items on the lists could be monetized according to the pockets of the prospective grooms all depending on the understanding among all parties involved so men need not shy away from proposing to their Igbo sweethearts.
By Chacha Wabara