September 13, 2022


This is “Afro-Scope,” and I am Harry Agina. This is edition 4 of our series on “AfroCultural Titbits on Traditional Marriage In Africa.”

I concluded the last edition myself, with the general information on four stages of a typical African traditional marriage. I was only supporting our traditionalist, Udoakpuenyi. I wanted to talk about the variant of my own part of the Igbo tribe of Nigeria, the Nnewi town. As always, we have the link to all the past editions of this series at the end of this blog. I also have a link to our two previous series on “Polygamy in Africa.” A I have the link to another one on “The Holy Communion Nut” of the Igbo people of southeast Nigeria.

Yeah, I know, it has been mostly about the Igbo tribe of Nigeria; right? Well, what do you expect, huh? They do say that Charitity begins at home; don’t they? Of course, they do, and I am Igbo, and my charity on “AfriCultural Exchange” begins with my own tribe. Not to worry; we’re gonno bring you titbits from all over Africa, one little bit at a time. Besides, we do always make some passing comparative references from around Africa even now; right? I do know that the same answer to all my questions is, ‘yes!’

I’m through grabbing power from Udoakpuenyi; so I am handing you back to him, to continue the journey. He will take us through the rest of his story about the specific process of his nephew, Ik. He will then leave all the theoretical dogo-turench (long grammar), to some colorful, entertaining, practical stuff. Udoakpuenyi is taking us through the rest of his story about his nephew, Ik, with a video recording of the grand finale of his marriage. Um huh, we do have a video narrative of some of the traditions, courtesy of BBC Igbo Service. Here is Udoakpueny for ya:

I greet you! I am Udoakpueny. In the last edition, I was talking about my nephew, Ikechuckwu, who is called Ik for short. His mama and papa had been matchmaking him with a young lady that mama had fallen in love with, and desired for him for a wife. Meanwhile, Ik had fallen for a Caribbean lady in the USA. Six months after mama’s melodramatic matchmaking approach to the young lady, Ik returned home for a visit. His parents introduced the young lady to him. Ik dismissed it with a wave of the hand as expected. He eventually departed for the USA without meeting the apple of mama’s eye who he was supposed to marry. But that was only the beginning of the journey for the parents, not the end.

Not long after, Ik went to visit his Caribbean heartthrob in the UK, and something dramatic happened. After all the welcoming pleasantries, the lady left Ik in the living room to fetch something. Just about then, a big rat showed up from under one of the seats, as if it came to greet Ik. He jumped up in hysteria. He had never seen such a thing; a big rat in a living room! He ran outside, and never returned. He took the next flight and returned to the US. Please, don’t ask me why the mere sight of a rat could suddenly dissolve Ik’s love and melt it away, just like that! Devine intervention, maybe!

Anyway, when next Ik returned home, he shared his experience with his father, who laughed almost endlessly. And then, papa took the opportunity to reintroduce the home girl who they had found for him. This time, Ik was ready to listen, and he accepted to meet with Ifeoma for the first time. After three meetings with Ifeoma, Ik returned to his father and said, “I like her. I will like to ‘date her.” Good, his father said, happily. Things seemed to be going his way. He told Ik that he needs to make his ‘dating’ official by going to her father to inform him of his desire to marry her.

“Me, alone?” Ik asked, a little unsure.

“Yes, you alone,” papa responded. He was testing Ik’s conviction and commitment. A few days after, Ik actually got himself some kola nuts and drinks, and went to the girl’s home to meet her father, straight up. He was welcomed, and he announced his intention to the young lady’s father.

“I will like to date your daughter, sir,” he said after the pleasantries.

The girl’s father chuckled. And then asked, “You said you want to date Ifeoma?”

“Yes, sir. I’m here to declare my intention to “date” her, Ik repeated.

There is no such expression as ‘dating’ one’s daughter in my part of Africa. It is either you are all the way in, or stay out of it. The man chuckled again, and then asked.

“Is your father aware of this visit?”

“Yes, sir; he is aware.”

“And he told you to come alone?” asked the baffled man.

“Yes, sir,” Ik responded.

“Okay. I will speak with him later,” the man said, thoughtful, and smiled.

“Okay, sir.” Ik stood up to leave, completely embarrassed and wanting to run away.

“No, don’t go,” said Ifeoma’s father. He must have understood that Ik’s father was up to a trick, so he decided to give Ik a soft landing. He already saw how embarrassed Ik was. “Sit down and finish the kola,” he pleasantly said to Ik. Ik had a bottle of soft drink that was presented to him when he arrived. As he sat back down to drink his soft drink, he realized that his father deliberately sent him on that unusual trip for a reason.

Ifeoma’s father went ahead and received the drinks and kola nuts from Ik, and assured him that he would speak to his father later. Ordinarily, Ifeoma’s father is not supposed to even touch, not to speak of accepting the drinks and kola nuts that Ik offered him. It’s like a taboo to receive Ik without his family. But he took the gifts from Ik because he knows Ik’s father, and he knew that a game must be up. The fact is that marriage is a serious affair in Africa. The “Knocking on the door” (or introduction) trip, is not a one-man affair, least of all, the groom himself. It’s acceptable for the parents to represent the son, but not the son to go without the parents. As explained in the last edition, it is a trip for Ik’s parents and few elderly members of our kindred. This tradition is so important that men who are ready for marriage, but have no elders in their family tend to “borrow’ some elders from elsewhere, especially within the community. The proposed in-laws do not have to know this.

The complexities in African marriage are part of the factors that make divorce a difficult process in most African societies. The family and community involvement tends to hold the bride and the groom accountable. And, close family involvement gives them the second line of mediation if anything goes wrong in the union. When reconciliation efforts between the couple fail, the next option is the intervention of the families of both bride and groom. It is the families that take critical decisions in marriage. Indeed, it is generally said that a wife belongs to the family. The husband is just a caretaker, but the wife belongs to the entire family. Of course, you know that the boundary is drawn around the bed, if you know what I mean. I believe that the expression, ‘tying of the knots” came from Africa because of the intricacies of the marriage process. In the final stage, the wife is handed over to the father or the oldest member of the family, not the groom. Even in a Christian wedding, it is the father that brings his daughter to the church and hands her over to the father of the groom.

Anyway, following Ik’s embarrassing trip to Ifeoma’s house, his father and Ifeoma’s father had their fun and laughter on the phone about it.

“It was so funny to see Ik’s embarrassment when he realized that you were just pulling his leg to send him to me,” said Ifeoma’s father.

“Yes, I wanted to teach him that his ‘dating’ game in America is different here in Africa,” Ik’s father responded between giggles. After they had their fun at the expense of Ik, the two fathers set a date to begin the real process for the union. They had been familiar with each other, and they were both glad for the union between their children, and their families by extension. Though they knew each other pretty well, the traditional process must be followed, albeit just make-belief sometimes, like in this case. Preservation of the tradition is that important! Again, there are minor variations among the various parts of the Igbo land, but the traditions are basically similar.

Harry already took us through the general traditional process of marriage in the last edition. I will do two things here. I will summarize Harry’s discourse, along with embellishment with more detailed application, using my own nephew Ik’s specific marriage. It started with the first step, which is called “Iku aka na uzo,” or “Knocking on the bride’s door.” Comparing two West African countries, Ewe tribe of Ghana calls it Vofofo. This simply means the introduction of the groom to the parents of the bride, at her home, as Harry said about his Nnewi community variant in Nigeria. This is also so among the Anlo people, also in Ghana. They call it volanu. In their variant, the proposed groom offers two bottles of local or foreign gin to the father in-law, and that will be all. But it is not so in the Igbo tribe of Nigeria, where the “Knocking on the bride’s door” is only the beginning of a four-stage journey. In Ibibio culture in South-South Nigeria, this stage is called Ndidiong ufok. This literally translates to, “knowing the house,” the house of the bride, of course. The groom, his parents, and few family and kindred men visit the bride’s home with some drinks. The bride’s father may accept or reject the drinks. If he accepts the drinks and kola nuts, then he has accepted the marriage proposal. If he rejects the gifts, he does not want to endorse the marriage, for whatever reason that he may have.

Back to Ik’s process, with the next stage after the introduction. His family had to inform their extended families about the proposed marriage. The bride’s family did the same for their own extended families, too. In the case of the bride, this is where the list of requirements for traditional marriage will be compiled and released to her parents to submit to the groom. In some communities in Igbo land, the list is huge, ranging from foodstuff, drinks, gift items for the parents, and more. However, there is always the consideration for the economic capacity of the groom. The higher the capacity of the groom and his family, the higher the demands, and vice-versa. These provisions are distributed to the extended family members; village youths; men and women groups. Gifts for the age grade of the bride are very important. All these are compulsory requirements, and most times, they are meticulously inspected to ensure compliance. There are also some local politics involved.

In some cases, the groom and his family are not well off, but the bride’s family is well-off. It is common for the wealthy family of the bride to secretly support the groom’s family, in order to satisfy all the named demands for the various groups of the community. Mind you, if the community knows that neither the family of the groom nor the family of the bride can finance the gifts, the requirements are drastically relaxed. It is not a do-or-die affair. Obviously, it is more important for the marriage to happen, than to fulfill all the traditional requirements. On this note, I leave you to digest all the information so far. On the next edition, I will start with the ending part of Ik’s marriage process, featuring the list of his gifts to the family and community of his bride-to-be. And then, I will take you to the very colorful grand finale ceremony of his marriage with Ifeoma.

I know that Harry’s introduction today says that you will be entertained on this very edition with the video of Ik’s colorful grand finale ceremony. Harry lied to you! He does that few times, just to keep you hooked. But, ssshhh; please don’t tell him that I called him a liar! However, I can tell you that Harry did not lie about the fact that the video that I have in store for you is truly grandiose in cultural entertainment. Let’s keep a date for that on the next edition of NBB’s “AfroCultural Titbits” on Traditional Marriage in Africa. Until then, bye for now!

Written by Udoakpuenyi

Edited and augmented by Harry Agina

Did you ‘hear’ my own man, Udoakpuenyi, gossiping about me and calling me names behind my back?! It’s my turn now to get back at him behind his back, too. Udoakpueny is silly to forget that his secret gossip is not a secret. He forgot that I am the one to introduce and edit this together. Now, I have the last laugh…hahahahahaaaaa!!!


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