Sunday, 13 November 2011 03:10

Igbo Marriage System: A Discourse on Endogenous Stages and Meanings

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Abstract: This article is set to discuss Igbo endogenous marriage system, stages and meanings. It highlights love and why people marry - and it further seeks that people discuss unique beliefs and practices in their communities for Nigerian heritage education and development insights.    

Introduction 

A valued heritage of a cultural community is commonly shaped by veteran beliefs and practices. It is such that social and cultural beliefs and practices essentially hold well and endure for a society’s particular way of life such as marriage. Marriage (ilu di – for a woman and ilu nwanyi – for a man) is a strong and powerful tradition. In other words, customary marriage rule is highly valued in Nigeria, particularly among the Igbo. Igbo society is culturally adhesive and enduring due to its lasting endogenous marriage system as a cultural heritage – and is therefore admired and envied by other societies in Nigeria and beyond. An Igbo woman properly raised in Igbo culture is a prized builder of a stable family and society. 

A female or a male who is of ripe age to marry is faced with a critical moment to do something about it. Age not withstanding, once a person is considered mature and is able to carry the responsibilities involved, marriage can be endorsed or encouraged. Parents, siblings and even close friends will mount pressure on the person to marry. Marrying and bringing pressure on someone to marry counts more as a cultural obligation for the continuity of the group. Marriage begins with the seeking stage, expands into the culturally approved social exchange transactions and it ends with the rite of taking a wife home to settle down and begin to live life according to the expected kinship roles and alliances. Marriage in this society therefore finds its foundation in the predominant folk theory of kinship, which brings culturally-designed exchange symbols, beliefs, and gender aspects greatly into play. 

Unlike mating, which is biological, marriage is chiefly cultural and symbolic. Marriage accords social honour in ways that indigenous ceremony accompanying marriage is rarely compromised or played with. My goal in this brief article is to give insight into the endogenous sequences of marrying in Igbo society and bring to the fore the symbolism of this tradition with regard to communities in Mbano of Imo State of Nigeria. Traditional marriage is essentially focused on family – and kin-relationships, and to assure this, the communally attentive marriage system allows for deep celebration of marriage ceremonies. These ceremonies, I contend, help to establish a strong sense of involvement, acceptance, connection, comfort, and protection for the Igbo and their neighbours. As straightforward as I see this essay worked out, I explain two of the several sequences in Igbo marriage tradition and hope that our growing children in towns and in the diaspora will benefit from the present discourse – namely the stages and meanings in the plural and enduring cultural context of Igbo marriage heritage. 

Igbo people are pentecostally and catholically religious, friendly, culturally resilient and politically adaptive. They live in all parts of Nigeria, Africa and beyond. Their forebears predominantly settled first in east-central and south-eastern Nigeria – geographically expressed as Igbo land area. The marked out Igbo area is surrounded by competitive ethnic neighbours such as Delta, Efik, Urhobo, Idoma and Igala. Marriage values shared are typically influenced by the penchant high migration of which the Igbo live by – mainly for economic and social enterprise, development and cooperation. In all circumstances, the Igbo are creative, respectful and are either deemed confident, arrogant, feared or envied given their high spirit of adaptation and ambitious culture of collaborative existence. Igbo population is currently quoted to be about 50 million which is exponentially significant in the size of tolerable modern family, societal unity, transformational democratic politics and nation building. This article is not focused on modern and changing dynamics of Igbo marriage in the global time. So just do not bother asking this writer why I did not discuss the modern dimensions of Igbo marriage which another article will look into. 

Why do people marry? 

This is a simple question as it looks but it is richer than we think in order to answer it meaningfully. Marriage is not first of all conceived of as a union for the single purpose of sexual pleasures alone. Marriage is deeper in approach, meaning and application to individuals and society. That is why responsibilities are culturally and biologically ascribed to mating and to all expressed and symbolic forms of female and male intimacy. Marriage is associated with life and society far beyond the individual components of selfish desires. People marry therefore for companionship, procreation, care and support for one another, security and protection of each other, honour and continuity of kinship and community. It involves contributing to society and sustaining the same. As marriage is a Godly injunction entrenched in the holy bible for Christians, it is equally a cultural injunction authenticated by customs and traditions of a community group. As such, to marry is an obligation to live a good life – have children, raise them, expand human society, create alliances with in-laws and marriage sharing neighbours. Marriage helps to cause, fight or stop wars among inter-marrying neighbours. 

Often we talk about love as if it is a simple thing. Love relationship is a complex biological and psychological dimension of life. No one takes or gives love to himself or herself. Love must come from someone else to another. It is given, received and shared. I am not concerned with forced or commandeered love here – such as casino, kidnapped, military or police love in a given time and place of war or turbulence. One of the premises of exercising love is in marriage and friendship. To direct love well and reduce its abuse, marriage is founded as an institution to systematically channel and stabilize sexual needs as important function of love. Furthermore, in marriage, love is said to be sacred to it and apparently a home of contribution and sacrifice to members of the love-bonded family. Marriage can be good or bad, sweet or sour, long-lived or short-lived, successful or unfortunate. Family as an institution of love is a sacred business centre of husband and wife, including their children. Singular culture or intercultural participants have ways to find whom to give their love and receive love. This brings me to the question: how do people seek out for those to love and in turn become loved? How many love letters or phone calls do people write or make to win love? How many love-gifts – exchanged or wired – including endless dating and outings can truly win love and secure it? How many individuals do people approach before connecting and hooking up? What shortcuts do men and women apply to secure their heart desires and live by it comfortably? How do people display consequential love behaviours in order to be considered serious and good enough to be trusted before being handed love to behold and protect as their own? The love-thing is emotional, and indeed, is not a material asset we can see and take it home just like that. It must be sought for, given, received, appreciated, tolerated and jealously guarded, secured and protected. To admire and express love is not a crime. But cheating in love is said to be a moral lapse – yet a social curiosity and palaver-game. Love can give peace or trouble, progress or failure. It can build or destroy.

No other situation enables love to flourish and endure than in marriage happenstance. Let us say that marriage is the last angle of chasing love and tying it up. We corner it and in turn it corners us. Thus it becomes a pulling together of all there is in life and society.  People marry to please themselves, others and God. It is aimed to confer maturity and responsibility. It ushers in cultural honour, and never a cultural loss. It is dreamt of, facilitated, discovered, cherished, and carried shoulder high. Some buy love with wealth. But this prototype of love in itself soon flies away when wealth – its harbinger, is not flowing down any more. Everything people in love do, they do it principally, I am told, for the love of romance, being, living and dying. A society like the Igbo take love and marriage seriously because its marriage tradition is determined by its reason d’être.

I personally think that people marry for celebrity, personal, religious, communal, social status, economic and political considerations or reasons. One reason is not enough to determine why people marry but the most important factor is the need to connect, belong – care and get cared for, love and get loved; or even so, sample others and get sampled by others; marry someone and get the someone uplifted or down-lifted. It also includes but not limited to being bonded or unbounded, voiced or de-voiced, married or divorced, empowered or disempowered, enriched or impoverished, spiritualized or bedeviled, abused or respected and vice versa. To channel sexual health and responsibility into the promise to multiply and occupy the world for God and society consist in the central factor why societies argue about getting their daughters and sons at the right age and time to embrace and engage in marriage ceremonies as unavoidable heritage.

 

To marry, technically and culturally speaking, is to build a love bank and love safe for the love partners - male and female; and all other variables or partnership selections and combinations to engage in making love deposits and love withdrawals as they build up and build down, move from youth to old age until grave time with lasting memory in family heritage. Marriage brings into place a home for culturally negotiated and endorsed love talks, love meals and responsibilities that go with love at home and outside. Endogenous Love Bank matters for lovers but more importantly for a culturally married family. We can tease out the question about understanding heritage education more by asking to know if "you are culturally married?" By being culturally married, I mean how societies compel or ritualize wife givers and wife takers to embrace their beliefs and values associated with marriage for honour and respect, protection and continuity in the alliance relationship. 

Let us now return to the Igbo and examine how partners are sought for and show the meanings the stages or processes in place produce for them. 

Looking out for a partner: Ije di na Ije nwanyi 

            First, one has to grow up, get all the required education, employment, leadership capacity and all else and then express readiness to settle down. Unlike in the west where lovers live together in one house or apartment before starting a marital life, the Igbo will frown at any form of co-habitation before marriage. Co-habiting before marrying is viewed as immoral and intolerable prodigality, especially on the part of the male. When a male is ready to marry, his family initiates the search for a bride. This search often follows a circle of relations beginning with ego and proceeding from inside to outside or asking close relations (iju ikwu na ibe).That is, the search begins with some close kin and valued friends, and then moves to other kin, neighbours, and villages or towns. A bride is only searched for from outside when the close kin circle fails to provide or endorse a bride. Upstanding and successful women in the village are approached first, and asked to introduce sisters and close relations as candidates for marriage. Of course, a less than ‘upstanding’ woman would not be approached in the same way.

The search for a wife begins when a young man is considered mature in that he has been initiated into the masculine skills considered necessary for survival. Girls, on the other hand, are considered mature when they have mastered hygienic, household, andsocially-related feminine chores.Males, with the help of their families and relatives, make known to their friends their intention of finding a ‘good’ girl to marry. Markets and ceremonies are visited with the purpose of observing and inquiring about marriageable girls (icho nwanyi). Usually, several girls will be selected for closer observation until the suitor settles on one through a process of iju ajuju (inquiries surrounding the selection of a bride and determining marriage suitability). The girl’s family will also make similar inquiries so that they can refuse a suitor if they are not satisfied that their daughter would be comfortable in the groom’s family. This refusal may occur even after the formal approach with palm wine and kola nuts has taken place and the intention to marry has been declared. This refusal is referred to as ekweghi na ije olulu a, literally meaning, ‘we do not accept this proposal.’ Metaphorically, it also means ‘the road did not go’ for the suitor (uzo ekweghi oguga). Emphasis is placed on the compatibility of families as a major issue when considering the suitability of marriage partners. In the event the girl has received important gifts such as unused wears, jewelries, money, and pictures, it is expected that she will arrange to have them returned, and keeping them would weigh heavily on her conscience. 

If it is the man who decides that he is no longer interested in marrying a family’s daughter, the process for withdrawing is different; any subsequent traditional market days of ‘wine carrying’ (ibu mmai ogo) cease, and no excuses are made for withdrawing. No apology is made, no efforts are made to reschedule the event, and the indication of the man’s intention to discontinue the courtship is clearly understood by the girl’s family. 

Marriage inquiries are directed toward different issues of individual and collective importance and also serve to officially inform the parents and the girl of the suitor’s intentions so that they can accept or reject his advances (igwa nne na nna and iju nwata nwanyi ma okwere ekwe). Soliciting acceptance, both privately and publicly, from both the man and the woman is a task performed by kin-people prior to payment of significant expenses constituted in the bridewealth commencing. On the one hand, the groom’s family concentrates on looking for a morally, physically sound, and appealing agboghobia (bride). On the other hand, the bride’s family focuses on securing a financially-capable suitor who will be able to pay out a rich bridewealth as equally noted by Iroegbu in 2007, Okehie-Offoha in 1996 and Nnoromele in 1998 respectively. The families’ divergent hopes and expectations are played out depending on the number, and category, of suitors that approach the girl’s family with the intent to propose marriage. Once the contact is established and intention considered, visiting begins with respect and this amounts to ije nleta, going to view a husband’s homestead.  

Exchanging Marriage Visits: Ije Nleta

After the investigative process (ohia ajuju—brush of inquiry), the next phase of traditional marrying consists of the young woman paying a visit to the groom’s home. This phase, however, is not rushed. Proper care is taken to ensure that all efforts are made by the families to familiarize themselves with, and assess the important features of, both the young man and young woman involved. This phase occurs only after the engagement (nkwekota) is enacted and witnessed by representatives of the wife-giving and wife-taking lineages. A market day (orie, afo, eke, and nkwo being the traditional days) is selected as the day when the visit will take place. On the appointed day, the girl chooses two or three girls and a woman from her maternal home to accompany her. Sometimes the girl’s baptismal sponsor (nne-ukwu aha mmiri nso) will escort her to the groom’s home. This first visit is called iga nleta ije di (going to view a husband’s home). The obligation to provide listed gift items and money is fulfilled on this day, and each person accompanying the bride shares in whatever is realized from this celebrated visit.

The groom invites his friends and relatives to exuberantly welcome his proposed wife and bestow on her the highest appreciation.This serves as a means for the bride to evaluate the strength of the solidarity the groom enjoys. In addition, she is offered clues through jokes and discussions that arise from the payment negotiations that occur during the ‘washing of hands,’ which the bride and her companions engage in before eating food. Courtesy requires that the bride have her hands washed and paid for before she eats the food that is provided (ego isa aka or ikwo aka). Symbolically, this common rite emphasizes cleansing and purity, and also serves as a declaration of cheerful hearts and bodies at the commensality provided in the groom’s home. Invited friends and kin-people contribute various amounts of money as a show of appreciation and support for the visit, and to signify their solidarity in welcoming and accepting the bride into their fold. The combination of all these practices aid the bride and her entourage in assessing the ‘team spirit’ of the groom’s kin-group, and help her to decide whether events will continue to progress toward a marriage celebration, or be brought to a close. 

Following this ‘one day road knowing visit’ (imata uzo) is a four-day trial visit in which the bride lives with the groom’s family (ije di abali ano). And, following that, if she wishes, she may remain with them for another eight days (ije di abali asato). In some cases, there may be another visit that lasts for sixteen days (izu ano—four Igbo market weeks). Each of these visits affords the bride the opportunity to become acquainted with her in-laws and them with her. In addition, ‘viewing visits’ (iga nleta) provide opening for the girl to become acquainted with other members of the family. She is told stories and taken to visit farm lands, local streams and markets, and churches and festivals as a demonstration that she is welcome. 

The bride’s visits to the groom’s home, besides allowing her to view and evaluate his situation, also provides a moment for her indoctrination into the local gender and marriage beliefs of the lineage. Elder women and the most recently-married wives of the lineage take it upon themselves to expose and impart the implications of accepting bridewealth gifts and blessings in order to impress upon the bride the fact that marriage is a serious issue, and that any bride who loves her life and her family would not play games or act irresponsibly. In this way, the bride is instructed in the gender rules of showing respect, displaying loyalty, and working hard. The women who do the instructing often point to themselves as good examples of these virtues. Also of significance is the instruction the bride receives on invoking the local deities and oracles as a part of the daily life of the lineage. The terms of relationship that a new bride must adhere to within the lineage in order to be blessed in her marriage will also be emphasized. Equally, the dangers that await a bride should she refuse the marriage or attempt to run away after the bridewealth processes are fulfilled are accentuated. Educating the bride on issues of proper living and cooperation is the privilege of elderly men and women, the most recently married women, and the groom’s father and mother. Daughters of the lineage (umuada) also play a role in the orientation of the new bride.

Over all, the orientation of the bride is a gradual process that is effective in assisting the bride in the process of adjusting to married life in the patrilineage. Until the involved payments and services are settled, both the bride and groom are said to be “staying on the road.” That is, during the whole period of marriage negotiations and visitations, the bride and the groom regard each other as being ‘on the road’ (ino n’uzo alulu). The bride, in particular, terms her movement between her natal home to her future (husband’s) home as ino n’ije di (staying on the husband’s road). For that period, she travels from one home to the other on a regular basis. In like manner, the groom regards his travels to his wife’s home as ino n’ije nwanyi (staying on the wife’s road). For him, this period is characterized by his preoccupation with paying bridewealth. All of these references and metaphorizations will come to an end when the bride is finally escorted, with gifts and blessings, to the dwelling of her husband, where—assuming all goes according to plan—she will live in the patrilineal home for the rest of her life. 

Paying Bride Price Ceremony and Taking a Bride Home 

Europeans, Americans and Canadians, for example, laugh at African people who marry their wives with payment of money called bride price and by extension bridewealth. The point Igbo children in Europe, America, Asia, etc., need to know is that marriage of all forms involve small or big expenditure. The monies and services being expended or encountered are called different names by different societies. But whatever it is called the bottom line is every genuine marriage is carefully blessed with ceremonies appropriate for a society. That way, a heritage or tradition is followed for the moral universe of the population group. 

In Igbo, usually, a separate day is selected for negotiating the bride price and, when this is settled, the marriage is concluded with a traditional wedding or blessing known as ihe nkporo or ihe atu, which is parallel to the modern Christian wedding. The amount of the bride price is paid in money or goods,[i] depending on the social standing of the bride’s family and of the bride herself—educated or skilled and highly-resourceful girls tend to attract a higher bride price. Bride price may take the form of material goods such as cows (ehi, obu aku). A cow is symbolic in its equation with a bride’s worth in that cows are the most valuable domesticated animal in the area, and the traditional use of a cow in paying bride price exemplified the extreme value of the bride.

The pattern of negotiating the bride price differs from one locality to another, and is also influenced by the ability of the marriage witnesses or ‘go-betweens’ (ndi ebe). Negotiations are prolonged deep into the night, and the bride may be asked to present herself so that she may be praised (ija ya mma, itu ogo) by the wife-givers and appreciated (ina-bata ya, iri ya mma) by the wife-takers, thereby motivating the wife-takers to make a higher offer. While some groups negotiate orally, others use counting sticks called a bundle (ukwu nkpa—burden). A bundle is used in such a way that the wife-givers will pass a bundle of, for example, 100 short sticks to the wife-takers. The sticks may be cut broom-sticks, or chewing sticks. For that reason, an informant stated, the bundle is nick-named ihe atu (chewing stick, or measuring stick). The bundle signifies a measurement of the bride’s value. Regardless of the material used, the sticks convey both metaphoric and symbolic nuances.The wife-takers receive the tied bundle, count it, remove a certain number of sticks from the bundle, and return it to the wife-givers. The returned quantity signifies how much they have agreed to pay. With the wife-takers and wife-givers taking turns adding and removing sticks, the negotiations continue in that fashion until an agreeable sum is reached and endorsed.

The pattern is sometimes dramatic, and so symbolic that the Igbo express strongly that marrying is, in deed, the negotiation, in which the use of expressive powerful proverbs and speeches make the transaction one that serves to strengthen their ties and reveal the potentials of the parties involved. With the intensification of the Christian religion, ihe nkporo may still be conducted separately or on the night prior to the wedding day. Receptive forces of change from within and outside of the culture have incorporated this into the ‘bachelors’ eve,’ during which the groom’s peers facilitate and participate in the dedication and blessing rite. 

Fertility Cock and Vagina Yam

In Mbano area of Imo State, age grade system is a powerful social institution and groom’s age mates will accompany him to bring his wife home. This offers the opportunity to storm the wife-giving family and village in an act of solidarity with a demand that they be given a number of yams—symbolized as ‘vagina yam’ (ji ikpu)—from the groom, and a healthy live cockerel—‘vagina cock’ (okuko elu ikpu)—from the bride’s family. With these items the bride and groom are ‘given ngozi’—that is, ritually blessed to succeed. The metaphor of igba ngo—literally, mixing up sexual body fluids or sleeping together and having sexual intercourse—is captured and highlighted through calculatedly positioned fertility jokes and affirmative responses chorused in unison at the instant the blessings are being bestowed. The blessing wishes include the expectation for the new couple to succeed in bringing forth a child in the next nine months (onwa ito olu) —a bouncing baby to the community of the patrilineage.

This ritual raises some obvious questions: why do the Igbo choose yams and a live-cockerel as items to represent the feminine sexual organ? Further, why is the penis silenced in comparison to the attention given to the vagina? The answers to these questions need to be unraveled in order to bring out the underlying cultural idioms, metaphors, and symbols associated with male and female sexual relations at this stage of the marriage. 

The Igbo regard yam (ji) as a male crop—as opposed to cocoa yam (ede), which is considered a female crop. The Igbo yam deity is known as ahiajoku or ajoku, from which many Igbo names, such as Njoku and Nwanjoku, are derived. These names convey specific meanings to both those who call them and those who answer to the call. Many ritual ceremonies revolve around the planting, tending, and harvesting of yam—a major crop in Igbo—and key ceremonies, such as bridewealth and other forms of individual and collective events, are dignified with yam. This highly respected root crop is a symbol of prestige associated with masculine features. Using yams in the ritual of taking a bride home is deterministic because it constitutes part of the cultural scope of bestowing masculinity on a man at the moment in which he settles social debts through honourific rites. Furthermore, since the suitor, from the onset, pays out bridewealth as a show of attainment and masculinity, it follows that the yam, rather than cocoa yam, bestows honour and dignity upon the groom’s maleness. It is inferred, the Igbo marriage rites include yam and not cocoa yam. Cocoa yam enters the picture only after the payment processes are over, when a bride’s family may resettle their daughter with various farming crops that include cocoa yam. As I was explained this by Igbo elders, I realized that the yam symbolizes obtainment, holding, getting, keeping, and continuing. In that sense, using the yam in marriage rituals is entirely appropriate as the yam sows the root of obtainment and progression. That is why yam is called ji (get and hold). Various forms of yam go with this semantic appropriation of gendered crops as a cultural yardstick. Secondly, the yam resembles the penis in its shape and thus conveys an expression of the power of the husband. During the going-home blessing rite, the groom’s age grade will usually invoke the shape of the yam while referring to the groom’s sexuality and power of igba ngo (intercourse). 

As food, yam is very nutritional and consumed regularly by the vast majority of people. It is also a social food that embodies respect and honour, and delight is taken in serving it. Important ceremonies are marked with yam delicacies—either cooked or uncooked. In contrast, cocoa yam (ede) is rarely involved in public ceremonies, which suggests that Igbo rites of passage such as marrying are, in a sense, the crowning of the male conqueror – of the female. Cocoa yam is associated with the female buttocks (ederi, ike), similar in shape to the low mounds of cultivated soil the crop is planted in. Yam, in contrast, is planted in high, pyramidal mounds, signifying the protruding penis of masculinity versus the coco-yam shape of femininity. Calling the yam ‘vagina yam,’ in context with the marriage-blessing ritual, suggests that masculinity focuses on penetrating femininity with the power of the sexual muscle and invokes the bone imagery of strength—man being the bone factor and woman the flesh factor. ‘Fertility cock’ or ‘vagina cock’ is another fascinating imagery of fertility in the blessing rite. It refers to the sexual appetite and the skills embodied in the cockerel (okeokpa). The Igbo leave their domestic fowl free to roam about and cater for themselves. Thus the sexual lives of these fowls are openly witnessed on frequent bases. Usually, the cock pursues a hen and displays its sexual skill before it grabs the hen and mates with it. Onlookers are excited by such demonstrations (although older women often chase the fowl away), and it offers them a chance to talk openly about the skill and insatiability of the cock’s sexual habits. Similar imageries, such as those inspired by dogs (nkita) and Billy goats (nkpi), apply in the same way. As part of regular discourse, this cockerel sexual imagery (okeokpa nchu) is also appropriated to male sexual power and skills. ‘Vagina cock,’ therefore, is used in reference to the frequent displays of sexual interest and fertility that are, for the most part, common to all men. 

Both vagina cock and vagina yam are metaphoric and symbolic of male and female sexual responsibilities. The sexual advances incorporated in the cock imagery are representative of the expectations a groom places on his wife, and vice versa. When considered together, the imagery of the vagina, yam, and cock is appropriated as a reflection of gender relations and power, fertility, and birth, which conjures sensitivity to marriage and rites of empowerment. Yet, when the Igbo refer to the vagina, they speak about elu (above) rather than ime (inside). These particular binary opposites are also representative of the bride and groom’s possession of one another—both inside and outside of their marital lives and their everyday experiences. Where the use of vagina cock and vagina yam is highly pronounced, it is enjoyed relative to gender relationships through sexual jokes evoked by this custom.[ii] Through this figurative rite of taking a wife home (ihe nkporo), it signifies the final take over of a bride by the groom and his people. Unique in this rite is that the bride’s family provides a ‘fertility cock’ rather than a ‘fertility hen,’ which, in a biological sense, would appear more logical. The groom, on the other hand, provides the ‘fertility yam.’ Viewed in this light, the bride assumes to be both vagina yam and vagina cock and so ties together the locus of belongingness and patrilineage for continuity and growth.The rite of ihe kporo is also marked by a significant shedding of tears as a mark of final emotional respect, ibe akwa ila ebe di. Failure, to shed this tears, of which is viewed as running to her marriage or husband – is a ridicule. 

Conclusion 

The tradition of marriage amongst the Igbo is a strong one. Men and woman alike consider it a grand event and engage in negotiating the best marriage opportunity for their children. Not only does marriage offer the opportunity to fulfill kinship obligations, it also fosters social solidarity and gender inclusion. The processes of negotiating bridewealth have been discovered to be multifaceted, each stage illustrating the dignity and honour involved in sharing and building alliances. Marriage is, in no way, viewed as a loss. Rather, it is the mutual creation and sharing of honour. To negotiate marriage is to create a powerful covenant, and all kinds of secrets are excavated in order to ensure that trust is built into the solidarity between wife-givers and wife-takers. Although modernism has influenced the Igbo society in various ways, a very strong cultural continuity exists to secure a good marriage as a part of the abiding relevance of kinship. Fertility cock and vagina yam are significant in that they emphasize the degree to which sexual bantering is relished and valued in everyday life. They also symbolize the importance of gender relations and sexuality in the functioning of families and society as a whole. 

Now take a look into your own community and join in answering these questions: are there some unique marriage rites, beliefs and practices that can be shared from your community in highlighting our real and symbolic cultural heritages? Is there any reason why marriage culture as a heritage celebration cannot help in building and promoting cultural transformative meanings and applications in Nigerian heritage education and development?


[i]The bride price is a monetary gift given to the father or guardian of the bride. Bride price has been interpreted as compensation for the loss of a worker in a mercantile world, but it is also a way of maintaining prestige and covering wedding expenses (cf. C. Delaney 1991. The Seed and the Soil: Gender and Cosmology in Turkish Village Society, p. 119. Berkeley: California University Press).  

For more information on the cultural and ritual issues involved in Igbo Marriage as a heritage, see Patrick Iroegbu’s book: Marrying Wealth, Marrying Poverty: Gender and Bridewealth Power in an African Society – The Igbo of Nigeria (2007).  Available online: www.amazon.com & www.trafford.com  

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Patrick Iroegbu Ph.D

Patrick Iroegbu is a Social and Cultural (Medical) Anthropologist and lectures Anthropology in Canada. He is the author of Marrying Wealth, Marrying Poverty: Gender and Bridewealth Power in a Changing African Society: The Igbo of Nigeria (2007). He equally co-ordinates the Kpim Book Series Project of Father-Prof. Pantaleon Foundation based at Owerri, Nigeria. Research interests include gender and development, migration, race and ethnic relation issues, as well as Igbo Medicine, Social Mental Health and Cultural Studies.

Website: www.igbomedicine.webs.com