Igbo Wedding Rites
“Today, I making what will be one of the best decisions of my life; asking you to be my wife…will you marry me?”
Chinedu sat reminiscing about when two weeks ago he approached Ada’s parents to seek for permission to ask her the big question.
Ada calls all her friends in excitement then rushes home to show off the engagement ring lovingly placed on her finger earlier in the day.
“Daddy, mummy… I’m engaged!!”… Shouts of congratulations fill the air with hugs and air kisses. In the midst of all the excitement; Ada’s father says; “Tell him to contact his people and let me know when they are coming for Iku aka”.
The typical Igbo traditional marriage consists of a four part ceremony which kicks of with the “Iku aka”
IKU AKA – INTRODUCTION
This is the official first meeting of both families. It is usually a small, intimate, ceremony set in the living room of the bride-to-be’s father’s house. It is made of 10 -15 people comprising of the fathers (if alive) of the couple and some male representatives of their extended families.
On a set date, the groom-to-be arrives with his entourage to notify the bride-to-be’s family of a “flower they have seen in the garden”. They come bearing gifts of Igbo Kolanuts known as Oji igbo, hot drinks (liquor), Beer and Palm wine.
Oji Igbo & Garden egg
Once they are welcomed into the home, they are asked to state their intention. The groom’s father or an elder member of his family speaks
All this time, the bride is kept away from the part of the house where all of this is going on.
After discussions, the girl’s mother is called into the room and the guests are introduced. She is then asked to go and bring her daughter.
Here comes the bride
When the girl is brought in, she is asked if she knows the guests. She answers in the affirmative (this is us assuming aunty knows they’ve come to pluck flower o!). She is then asked if they can accept the gifts that have been brought. She says YES! Then she is asked to leave the room again.
After saying a big YES
This is followed by the breaking of Kolanut and other merriment.
The breaking of the kolanut is an important part of the Igbo culture. Therefore all events must start with the breaking of kolanut. This signifies Peace, Unity and Harmony between all parties involved. It is also a sign of welcoming guests/visitors. In the case of weddings, it is usually done by the eldest member of the host family who leads the prayers after he has shared it to various representatives of every group present.
Sharing of the kolanut
Please note; If the dowry list is available at this event, the father of the bride to be hands it over to the father of the groom. If not, they can always arrange how to get it across.
A date for the Traditional Wedding may also be decided on at the Iku aka
IME EGO – BRIDE PRICE
This is where the bride price is agreed on and paid. Again, only male representatives of both families are allowed to be a part of this.
“Ime ego” can be done a day before the traditional wedding or on the day of the traditional wedding; in the morning or just before the actual ceremony starts.
It usually takes less than 20 minutes to go through deliberations and agree on the price. This is because in some towns/villages, prices are fixed. So the girl’s family already have an idea how much their in-laws will be asked to pay.
If done before the traditional wedding day, light refreshments may be provided.
IGBANKWU – WINE CARRYING
This is what is popularly known as the Traditional Marriage Ceremony or Customary Marriage.
In Igbo land, Igbankwu ceremony may have variations in towns and villages but there is a common binding factor which is the wine carrying known in Igbo as Ibu Mmanya.
Set in the girl’s family house, the compound is usually agog with so much fanfare, decorations, cooking and music.
It starts with the arrival of the different groups comprising of Umunna (The male clan), Umuada (the daughters), ndi nwunye or nwunye di (wives) and general well-wishers who settle into their clearly marked out areas. The bride’s father sits with the Umunna as they await the arrival of ndi ogo (in-laws).
As the in-laws arrive, they are welcomed at the entrance by the bride’s father and Umunna before they are ushered to their seats. Once seated, a representative from their family presents the items (from the dowry list) they have brought. The bride’s mother is then called out to greet the in-laws and guests. She dances out accompanied by her friends as they go round greeting. Next up is the bride. Accompanied by her friends, she dances out in her first outfit to greet the in-laws and guests.
Greetings done, main business kicks off. It is at this point that they cross check the items brought by the in-laws with the dowry list. Each item on the list is ticked off one after the other and handed over to the groups they are for. Any missing item, the in-laws will be asked to provide before the ceremony goes on. In some cases, where items cannot be provided, equivalent cash value may be accepted. Once they are satisfied, the show must go on! Bride is then called out a second time.
In some areas, the second outing may be the final outing for the bride while in others the second outing is when the bride comes out to sell items and make some money. It is believed that she is making money she will use in her husband’s home. She comes out with a basket containing items such as boiled eggs, garden eggs etc. The modern bride may sell cake or confectionery.
In the final outing, the bride is asked to find her husband. Her father hands her a glass of palm wine and asks her to go search for her husband and bring him. Glass of wine in her hand, surrounded by her friends she goes in search of her prince charming who has been strategically tucked away in the crowd. Once she identifies him, she may choose to kneel before him (most ideal tho!), take a sip of the drink before she hands it over to him. He is expected to finish the drink. In that particular moment he officially becomes her husband. Once he’s done with the drink, he fills the glass with some money, takes his wife by hand and leads her to her father who in turn blesses and prays for them. They then move to his father who does the same.
She found her groom
Blessing of the couple
The day ends with eating, cutting of the cake and dancing.
After all the celebrations, as the bride is about to leave with her husband, ndi nwuye accompany her to the car while singing and dancing. One of the most popular song is;
O na, O na be ya Ona (4x or till she leaves)
this simply means “she is going to her home”
This is a return visit to the groom’s home by the bride’s family. The significance of this visit is for the family to know where their daughter will be staying and for the in-laws to welcome them to their home.
It can be done any time after the traditional marriage ceremony even though some prefer to do it a day after. In fact if this is not done, some traditionalist fathers refuse to eat or drink anything in their daughter’s home because it is assumed that he has not been welcomed by his in-law(s).
It is usually not a big ceremony. During bia malu-uno, the girl’s family come bearing gifts for the couple while the groom’s family may offer refreshments.
After our post on Kalabari wedding rites, travel with a pen asked us to do one on the Igbo tribe and we’re glad we were able to get details on it.
Special thank you goes to Nwadiuto for writing this for us and for giving us pictures from her recent wedding. We appreciate how detailed she was about every event.
If you’re marrying an Igbo girl, now you know exactly what to expect.
Do you have something interesting about your culture that you would like us to feature? Please email us.
Have you ever been to a Igbo traditional wedding? What did you think about it?
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*Reviews are based on opinions and personal experiences, and may differ from person to person
*prices written are based on the time the visit was made and is subject to change by the owners.
*pictures are the property of Nwady and should not be used without express permission.