By Ugwu Lawrence Enenche with additional information by Ameh Comrade Godwin
The Idoma people live in north central Nigeria, Benue State by the south eastern flank.
In most cultural groups in Nigeria, traditional marriage is an arrangement between two families rather than an arrangement between two individuals.
Marriage in Idoma land is considered a lifelong state of union, although divorce is possible on the grounds of Infidelity.
When an Idoma man is about twenty-five years old and has the financial and physical capability to maintain a wife and children, he searches for a woman of his choice, who must be at least eighteen years old. He informs his family of his desire and they will in turn choose a go-between (a person who is familiar with the girl’s family).
The go-between (ogbo’onya) investigates the family of the prospective bride to ascertain that the family has no history of specific ailments e.g. mental disease, epilepsy, and/or similar problems. If the result of this investigation is positive, the prospective groom’s family visits the woman’s family with gifts of kolanut and drinks.
After both families had reached agreement, a certain amount would be paid to indicate that she has been taken. This is called (achi’osechefu).
After much deliberation, an acceptable date is reached by both families.
Then, the bride price. The Idoma community remains the best place to marry from due to their hospitality. During the bride price negations, the father of the bride would not be on ground. The go-between (ogbo’bonya) and some members of both families would sit and the bride family’s representatives will call an outrageous amount considering her academic qualification after which the groom’s family will negotiate. Both of them will now go for separate secret meetings (ujuju) and after this the will come to a conclusion on the amount to be paid.
At the end of the day, the groom’s family will present the amount with them with a promise to pay in full in the offing. The go-between will now present the money to the groom’s parents and a kindhearted father would probably take out N300 for himself and N200 for the wife- (bride’s mum) totaling N500 (five hundred naira only) and ask the groom to use the rest to take care of his daughter and never to allow her go hungry.
On the same day, a list of required traditional items to be brought to the girl’s family on the D-day is given to the man. The items differ from ethnic group to ethnic group.
For example, in Owukpa, Ogbadibo basic among these items are:
1. Cloths for the Father of the girl
2. Cloth for the Mother of the girl
3. Some tubers of Yam
4. One or two bags of Salt
5. Two she goats for both mum and dad
6. Two basins of rice
7. Drinks (both alcoholic and non alcoholic)
8 A Suitcase for the wife to be, et al.
The bride’s mother buys her cooking utensils and food because she is not expected to go to the market for the first five market days after her marriage.
Before the bride is handed over to her husband, her age group will pose as a mock barrier to those who want to take her and extort money from the anxious groom’s family.
Also every member of the bride’s mother’s family must be given money, with the groom’s family determining the amount. The bride’s age group and her more distant relatives also are given money, with the amount varying with level of the bride’s education and productivity.
Then the groom’s family gives the bride a rooster and some money. If she accepts these gifts and gives them to her mother, she indicates her acceptance of the groom and is showered with gifts and money, but if she refuses to marry the man after these gifts have been provided, the bride’s family will return everything.
At the end of the eating and drinking, the wife is finally handed over to the go-between (ogb’onya).
The father of the bride would hand down some vital information to the go-between for the groom such as:
- We don’t kick our women
- She’s not for sale
- Return her corpse whenever she dies. She must not be buried outside
Ideally, the bride is expected to be a virgin, as it is a source of pride and joy to her family.
However, in a case where the girl takes in before the wedding, traditionally, both families will have to wait until the girl puts to bed before the marriage rites commence. In some parts of Idoma land, especially Owukpa, if a man impregnates any girl before marriage, there’s a fine he will have to pay before he asks for her hands in marriage.
Importantly, whenever both couple agree to go their separate ways (DIVORCE) the woman is not expected to leave with anything she bought while the marriage lasted. The bride’s parents are also expected to cough out the bride price and some of the things the groom bought during the marriage ceremony for them.
Written by Ugwu Lawrence with additional information by Ameh Comrade Godwin
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