People are known by their way of life, their acts and arts that give them value, real identity and attest to their cultural dispositions and integrity. Culture can also be referred to as ‘the way people do their things’. Part of the way of doing things is the value and importance attached to what is being done. One such thing highly valued among the Ika people of the Anioma Area of Delta State, Nigeria, is the marriage institution. Very high premium is placed on the institution of marriage that it is guided by conditionality in the various clans that comprise the Ika nation.
The Ika people thrive magnificently as an energetic people in their rich cultural heritage; based fundamentally on customs, norm, values, association, social relationship, religion, festivals and above all marriage. According to S.E.O. Mordi, Head of Service (RTD) “The Ika community is a geographical area with a homogeneous population in which individuals deeply share or respect common basic values bound by place, customs and ethics.
The Ika people believed much on orderly procreation and respect for human dignity. Essentially, the Ika people believe that for the purposes of procreation, continuity of human/community and or perpetuation of family line there have to be the union of two persons (man/woman) that is male/female in the Homo sapiens family. Different conditions guide the coming together or the union of man and woman; for both companionship and procreation. In all societies the man in the union is the husband while the woman is the wife. This union of man and woman or husband and wife as spelt out by respective customs is known as Marriage.
Marriage, therefore, is the union of two persons, man/woman, in a wedlock approved and/or defined by the custom of the people involved, their families and the rites. It is based on a contractual social relationship and on “love” for each other, inherently and fundamentally for the purposes of procreation and companionship.
It has been said that different conditions govern the consummation of this contractual relationship in different societies on groups. The Ika nation is one such group that fulfills certain conditions before marriage is solemnized. Marriage in Ika nation is fundamentally culture – base and greatly valued. It is seen as a respectable sacred institution. Ika people see marriage as a union of one man and one or more women; that is to say, monogamy and polygamy are both recognized and practiced. Once marriage is contracted by whatever method, (that will be discussed later) acceptable and approved by the Ika custom, marriage becomes sacred and exclusive unless there is an intervention that culminates in separation or divorce. Ika people recognize different contractual approaches/system. There is what is called “I gi Okpoho kwa di or Nwunyen” “basically coercive approach (the lady is called Adan), “I-lu nwunyen” “I-weri Ngba”. The latter two are what may be referred to as normal traditional systems depending on the purpose and intention. That is to say that marriage in Ika is contracted in different ways ranging from coercion, persuasion and or mutual relationship and understanding.
I gi Okpoho kwa Di or Nwunyen
It is significant to mention this system of marriage to make the understanding of marriage in Ika total.
The literary expression of ‘I gi Okpoho kwa di’ (Nwunyen) is marriage by coercion or abduction. This kind of marriage does not witness separation or divorce. In the event of the death of the man, the next of kin of the man takes over the woman suffice he is not the woman’s biological son. It is coercive when one of the parties in the marriage is made to marry the spouse against his/her will. It is mostly against the will of the female. When one of the parties refuses the proposal for marriage the parents may threaten him/her with sanctions. Examples are by disowning/disinheritance and denial of family rights and privileges Parents too enter into marriage negotiation without the knowledge of the persons concerned. The spouses only come to know themselves when the agreement has been reached. Other situations which lead to this kind of marriage arises from one family being indebted to another, a daughter may be given in marriage to off set or write off the indebtedness. Coercive marriage may also be reached to settle a long standing score arising from the loss of life (murder) of a person. A daughter may then be given in marriage to appease the aggrieved family. The height of coercive marriage is by abduction by firing a Cannon over the head of the lady and that is all. In the olden days, this act could lead to inter-tribal or inter-family war. A young man may end up abducting a young lady who might have rejected him or whose parents might be opposed to the union. Two young men may be interested in one lady; abduction of the lady may be enforced by the stronger of the men. A young lady may also be in love with an unwilling young man. The lady may impose herself on the man by moving into his family home (Ogba buru okeyen) (Running or moving to a man’s house unceremoniously). This often happens when the lady is pregnant before official marriage (i.e. Agaga-ngo or otu-chu ime). Parents, friends and relations may then persuade the young man to accept the lady’s hands in marriage. Two lovers whose parents may be opposed to their union may both abscond to another town and marry. Some of these styles of marriage are no longer in vogue. In the present, day such act as abduction may attract the arms of the law against the person who may end up in jail. Education and enlightenment have also contributed immensely to changing things. The occurrence of coercive marriage is almost reduced to zero.
I-lu Okpoho – Nwunyen
The native laws and customs of each clan guide this system. There is conditionality, if fulfilled; the woman becomes the bonfire “property” of the man (husband). If the woman survives the husband she is passed to the husband’s brother or the husband’s first son on the condition that she is not his mother, it happens mostly in this Nwunyen system. It is instituted and sustained under various circumstances particularly for continuity of family relationship and to find a safe place for the upbringing of the children of the late spouse. It occurs in atonement and persuasive cases. It is also for reward for favours done. Two friends may enter into covenant by one marrying the other’s daughter or having their children marry. It can also be the need to consolidate friendly relationship among kings, nobles and achievers. In each case there are tokens of consideration that pass from the mans family to the female’s family e.g. cows, landed property, Ejije (Coral Beads – PEARLS) when the in-law relationship has been established the family benefiting from the marriage (male’s family) performs seasonal obligations to the female’s family e.g. during bush clearing, crops planting, weeding and harvesting seasons. The groom does pounding of food for the bride’s mother, splitting of firewood and cutting of palm nuts. At the end of the year or during festivals, the husband’s family sends gifts to his in-laws yam, meat, palm wine (nowadays hot drinks, wine and beer)
I-lu Mgba – Marrying a Wife (Nchoko onye ebeyem nni)
This is slightly different – a male Suitor or his parents sees a beautiful damsel (remember beauty is in the eyes of the beholder) sizes the young lady up and finds out about her family background. When convinced that the young lady meets expectations, the family of the young man goes for an open search by taking drinks to the female’s family. The matter is introduced by telling the lady’s parents “Nchoko onye ebeyem nni” (I am looking for someone who will be giving me food to eat). Initially there may be welcome gestures or negative/outright rejection. In the case of the latter, persuasion steps in until a compromise in reached for the marriage to take place. When it is agreed that the marriage takes place the suitor provides the bride price and gifts as defined by the custom. When this is done and the bride gives the suitor a cup of palm wine while kneeling before him, the eldest male in the brides family blesses her and hands her over to the bridegrooms parents with some words of advice, particularly for the parents of the man to protect their daughter and ensure that she well be well looked after and not maltreated. This done, the marriage is sealed according to native law and custom. Christians go further to institute the marriage in the church while others consolidate theirs in the court of law. Nowadays courtship by the spouses precedes marriage processes. It is both bride and bridegroom that announce their intentions to marry.
Marriage in Ika land is a rich cultural heritage that guarantee’s unity, joy and peace among the people. Polygamy is cherished in some circles especially those who can afford it. Earlier, before the advent of the missionaries and colonial government, numerous wives to one man sustain a family. Though there is infighting, everyone lived in the family compound as one especially against external aggression and for economic, social and political reasons, thus, sustaining the saying that (Igwe Wu-iken) (unity is strength) and (Umune – ububor) or (a – ni ububor da – ru ali) meaning that brothers and relations are always available for support in critical situations.
Dowry and Ceremonials
To many, all over the world, marriage is a very joyous occasion. With the kings and nobles, the wealthy and rich, it is an occasion for clarion call with exciting assembly of claques; intimidating display of assorted drinks, clarets, all kinds of food, imported and local with sensational and sinuous apparels of unimaginable cost. Side observers often wonder at such displays, asking if they were in the same world with the celebrants. Some throw caution to the winds, with reckless display of all kinds of things they feel may excite people. The middle class can go borrowing to make a good display of wealth in the celebration of marriage while the poor abandon their sorrows and pains to entangle themselves for momentary pleasures, only to become candidates of high blood pressure arising from the pressure from their lenders.
This kind of celebration is gradually finding its way into the Ika Marriage ceremonies and payment of bride price. It is a new creation where young men and women are often seen with expensive uniforms of catching styles. This not withstanding, the fundamental requirements in marriage solemnization are two fold, traditional and Christian.
This falls in line with the type of marriage being contracted. For the coercive system no consideration passes hands especially in the case of abduction. It is only when peace has been brokered and both families agree to settle matters that steps are taken to meet the traditional requirements. Where parents arrange the marriage, both parties meet the requirements before the marriage is sealed or solemnized.
The i-nu Nwunyen solemnization
This is conducted on a friendly atmosphere, though the lady affected may not be happy in some occasions but she too may be persuade and may have no choice. One of the parties makes the move by declaring an intention. If the other party welcomes the idea, steps are taken to provide the requirements. The bride price consideration takes the form of items like cows, of goats, landed property, clothing, ornaments, yams and other valuables.
What the marriage is intended to settle is spelt out and agreed upon before the get together to solemnize the union. The bridegroom’s family goes to the bride’s family with the considerations and drinks. The eldest of the bride’s family blesses the drink and kolanut for the couple; they drink and eat the kolanut before the audience. The father of the bride blesses both bride and bridegroom. A box of clothes is given to the bride with a token amount. This solemnizes the marriage. While the bridegroom’s family and other visitors are served with food, preparation is made by the bride’s mother to escort her daughter to the husband’s home. In the evening age mates and selected men and women escort the bride to the waiting family of the bridegroom. In ancient traditional settings, the bride was expected to go with a piece of white cloth of 36”x72”. The following morning this piece of cloth is given to the brides mother if stained with virginity blood, the mother is led back with dancing and praises for her and her daughter. Where this is not the case the fate of the bride is left with the bridegroom who may demand an explanation, may reject the marriage or agrees to put up with it. This is not so now for a lot enter into relationship before marriage solemnization.
Solemnizing of I-lu Mgba
When a female is of age and identified for marriage the suitor informs his parents. If identified by the parents, the man is asked to visit the female’s family. The family goes into investigation on the background of the girl and her family. Formerly, if she is from the cast group the search stops (this is no longer the case in present day Ika). On the other hand if the bride’s family is clean and cleared, the first move is made. The father of the bridegroom goes to the girls parents with drink to declare their intention by saying “Ncho ko onye ebeyem nni” (I am looking for the one who will be giving me food). The girl’s parents also investigate the bridegroom’s family too. If found clean and clear steps are taken to solemnize the marriage by the following steps.
Igba oso uhin mobu Ikwu Eka Uzor- (night race for the relations and wooing the lady or Knocking at the door):
In addition to things done for the mother, the suitor pounds seven mortars of pounded yam (isu odo nni esa) as a proof of energy and might. Items required for Iku eka uzo include: A keg of palm wine and assorted drinks. Only very few family members take part in this. If the drinks are accepted, the bride is asked privately if she was ready for the suitor. If she answers in affirmative, the list of items required is given and a date is fixed for the bride price people are ceremonies. Items required twenty tubas of sizeable yam, in most areas in Ika are cartons/create of assorted drinks (beer/Malt), and children and relations are given gifts.
Ibu egho Ngba le Nkpami (Paying of Bride price)
Formerly, the bride price was being paid on a separate day by the nkpami (ie appreciation visit). Nowadays, both are done on same day to avoid stress on both parties. Items for this are, bottles of assorted hot drinks/ wine, tobacco cigarette, a tin of oil, a bag of salt, dried fish (Azu ngwogi-efi or asa ) some add a tin of kerosene, groundnut oil and a bag of rice. Other requirements are box of clothing for the bride; complete dressing outfit for the mother, Ngburu (wrapper) walking stick and a hat for the father. Formerly cash paid was sixty pounds that is one hundred and twenty naira. Nowadays, it is N3000.00 bride price, N3000 for elders (Ndi iche), N2000.00 for bride’s mother and her people, N2000 (for Ikoros) and N1000.00 for the girl.
Isa Igu (tattoo on the bride)
Indigo was previously used to tattoo the bride. It was a serious affair. The bride was made to stay in a private room for the tattoo to heel. The suitor in some cases goes to tend to her bringing succour for the tattoo pains. During this period, intimacy may build up and there may be no need for the white cloth in the bridal train. This is expected where the suitor is seen early in the morning going home with white chalk and indigo stain on his body. Families make jest of him for beating the gun. It must be noted that any female that conceives without this right of Isa Igu has committed a social taboo known as Agaga-ngo and the family spends a lot to appease the gods for this act. Also, it is a big shame on the family. This is now outdated.
Idu-lua Nwunnye – sending the woman to her husband officially
On the appointed date the bride’s family prepare large quantity of food for the in-laws and visitors. The items are displayed while negotiations for the bride price follow with dialogue; thus: the brides the family may ask such questions after presenting the visitors with kolanut and drinks on their arrival. What is your mission? We saw a beautiful flower or udara (cherry) and we want her to be the one to be giving food to our son. (He is introduced). The groom is asked ‘Will you be able to look after her?’ he replies ‘yes’. He is asked again ‘Are you sure- definitely sure. If you see her can you identify her?’ and he replies again ‘Yes’. After which a mock negotiation ensues like this ‘The bride price is one million/five million naira. OK, we will pay ten million.’ The mock negotiation goes on for a while, before the bride is asked by the leader of Umu-Adas (married women from the bride’s family) if she was prepared to marry the man. If the answer is in affirmative she reports back to the group. The bridegroom’s family presents the specified bride price. Normally N10, 000.00 is presented contained in an envelop after other monetary obligations have been met. The spokes man from the brides family shows the elders the money, depending on the family between N1,000.00 to N3,000.00 is taken and the balance is given back to the bride grooms family. They are asked to start life with it for the young couple.
At this point, the bride is adorned with bridal native attire made of beads and wrapper. Some girls are dressed and covered with big Vail. The bridegroom is asked to identify his bride. This is done two or three times before the actual bride is brought in. The bridegroom’s mother and other women move round to show appreciate by thanking the in-laws. The wine and kolanut are given to the couple and prayers are said to solemnize the marriage. The bride is handed over to the bridegroom’s mother or her representative. She is turn hands her over to the bridegrooms father or his representative who in turn hands the bride to her husband. Both sit on the bridal corner and jubilation follows. Traditional music, or in more recent times, dance band or music DJs are at hand to provide music and while the couples dance, friends, relations and well-wishers spray them with money (Government, CBN has prohibited this aspect). Food (assorted) is served to people present. At the end the bridal train escorts her to her husband’s home with the dowry. The bridegroom’s family inspects the dowry and welcomes the bride into their family. Celebrations continue in the bridegroom’s compound. For Christians a day in fixed for church marriage or registry marriage. The ceremony ends with the following statement and prayers:
“In nine months time we shall assemble here for a naming ceremony” the rest is left to the will of God.
There are lots of side attractions in marriage ceremonies in Ika, that it is not possible to list them here, but be rest assured that if you are opportune to witness one, you will be glad you are an Ika person.
Good-luck if you are in search of a life partner.