From Magnus Eze, Geoffrey Anyanwu, Jude Chinedu, Enugu, Mokwugwo Solomon, Nnewi, Okey Sampson, Umuahia, Jeff Amechi Agbodo, Onitsha, George Onyejiuwa, Owerri, and Chijioke Agwu, Abakaliki
Edward Izunna, a native of Nsugbe, in Anambra East Local Government Area, Anambra State, resident in Nnewi, said he remained a bachelor till 55 because he was waiting to come to agreement with his would-be in-laws, who gave him a very long list of requirments.
“In the part of Ogbaru where I come from, as a native, you cannot spend more than N100,000 to get a wife, including the required drinks. Spinsters and bachelors don’t have to wait for a long time, and waste their years because of high cost of getting a wife.
“I grew up and started business in Nnewi, where I saw a lady I wanted to marry. A lot of things cropped up, based on the list they gave to me, and other things associated with their peculiar demands and beliefs. I had to wait for a long time; but when I realized I could not meet their demands, I decided to get a wife from my community. I spent just N125,000 getting a wife from my community, when I would have spent about N1.6 million doing so in Nnewi. This is not to say that my area is the best or the cheapest. Visiting suitors have the same experience in my area,” he said.
A spinster, Ugochi Ibe, from Imo State, a medical student at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, Nnewi, also narrated her experience. She said her heartthrob left her because of an inexhaustible list from her kindred. Her suitor, though rich, had to drop the idea of getting married to her because of enormous demands from her people.
“I cannot enumerate what the list contained; but it was exorbitant. Some of the items, personally speaking, are irrelevant. Such things had frustrated many suitors, and made many spinsters wait endlessly. The problem is the enormous demands from community or kindred,” she said.
Discrepancies and irregularities in traditional marriage rites in different Igbo communities have continued to worry many. While there are complaints about how communities treat visitors, many say they had delay in getting married because of expensive lists.
Ugochi, the medical student, would want governments in Igbo-speaking states to come up with a uniform list of marriage requirements that would reflect the cultural sensibilities of the Igbo and at the same time be affordable and reasonable.
Traditional ruler of Umueje, Ayamelum LGA, Anambra State, Igwe E.U. Nneli, said traditional marriage in Igboland is not expensive, save for a very few places that make surplus demands from suitors.
He said: “I acknowledge the fact that marriage in a number of Igbo communities is expensive, yet, majority of the Igbo communities do not have long lists. Generally speaking, Igbo marriage is not expensive. In my own community, bride price is very low; but once a visitor comes, the bride price may skyrocket to a big amount. The suitor could also be made to pay a very little amount, depending on his bargaining power and the relationship between the suitor and the family.”
Traditional ruler of Nnewi, Igwe Kenneth Orizu IV, who said there has not been any government law regulating marriage in Igboland, added that, “There’s no need government regulating marriage. Every community has its own peculiarity. Every couple should enjoy the liberty to do things their own way, depending on available resources. However, every community should initiate policies that will encourage the man and the girl-child to get married.”
Regardless, our findings showed that traditional marriage rites are substantially the same across the length and breadth of Igboland.
Daily Sun also gathered that the issue of expensive marriage rites defers from community to community, due to their customs and traditions, even though some communities “have started importing foreign culture” into their ways.
It was also learnt that most communities treat suitors from outside differently from indigenes of their place.
In fact, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo had expressed concerns over the cost of getting married in several Igbo communities, including the inclusion of ‘Asho ebi’ (uniform), copied from the Yoruba.
Former president-general of Ohanaeze, Chief Nnia Nwodo, during his tenure, said the group would liaise with traditional rulers to streamline traditional marriage ceremonies and make them less expensive in Igboland.
Narratives about expensive traditional marriage rites in Igboland prompted Daily Sun to visit various communities and present the findings in each of the states below:
Igwe Alex Onyido of Ogidi, Idemili North LGA, Anambra State, agrees that marriage is costly in Igboland as each village has its requirements.
However, he said efforts were on to bring down cost of marriage in Ogidi: “I know in some parts of Igboland you will have to sell land to get married. In Ogidi, we have a lot of fine girls, we can even give you free. The truth is that there are more girls than men now because most of the young men are not employed as to get marrie.”
It was in response to complaints about exorbitant marriage rites that the Anambra State House of Assembly, about two years ago, made a law regulating traditional marriage in the state, even though some presidents-general had told Daily Sun then that it would be difficult to implement.
President-general of Onitsha Improvement Union (OIU), Chike Ekweogwu, said that Onitsha as an ancient community has been guided by a customary law on marriage rites, which he said has been adhered to by every native. He said their marriage rites were minimal because they understood that their daughters were not for sale.
“In Onitsha, with N50,000 to N70,000, you are done with traditional marriage. So, in our place, before you do traditional marriage, you will register with the palace so that the process will be monitored to ensure that due process is followed and the young man or the in-law doesn’t go contrary to the by-law put in place in Onitsha by Obi-in-Council.
“As an indigene, anybody who goes beyond what is stipulated can be punished by paying a fine into the Imeobi purse. Some people, at times, circumvent the rules by doing the traditional rites and later going elsewhere to host guests.
“But as far as Onitsha is concerned, we are keeping to the rules and regulations guiding the tradition marriage rites. There is a book where the processes are stipulated one after the other. Even as a bachelor, if the in-law is going contrary to what is stipulated in the book, he can say no to any addition and insist on following the due process of Onitsha marriage rites. The marriage rite book is situated with all the Diokpas (family heads), traditional chiefs and others as a guide to customary laws in Onitsha.
“So, in Onitsha, you can finish your traditional marriage with, highest, N100,000; but you know people will always want to show off.
“For a non-indigene who is marrying from Onitsha community, the marriage requirements as stipulated in the booklet are doubled. It is times two. The person should pay two times what is stipulated in our by-law for marriage rites,” Ekweogwu said.
Meanwhile, a trader in Onitsha, Christopher Okafor, has condemned the high cost of marriage in Anambra State, saying that some young men borrow to marry and after the marriage is concluded they start starving and struggling to repay the money they borrowed.
He noted that the law on marriage rites in the state was not implementable in the sense that there is no power given to the town unions or traditional rulers to arrest or prosecute offenders, adding that there is no mechanism to implement it.
One state where people have always complained about cost of marriage is Imo; and Mbaise clan usually comes to mind.
The impression out there is that marriage rites are beyond the reach of ordinary people in Mbaise, particularly when the suitor is from outside the state, because of the unimaginable items that are contained in the marriage list.
Daily Sun was told that settlement for the kindred, youths and women could run into hundreds of thousands of naira, which most times scares outsiders away from taking wives from the area. In fact, there was a period that a suitor would have to buy ‘White Horse’ bicycle for a would-be mother-in-law as part of marriage requirements.
But chairman of the council of Mbaise Traditional Rulers and the Eze of Umuneato Eziala Nguru autonomous community, Leo Nwokocha, has dismissed the purported high bride price charged by the people of Mbaise as an evil propaganda aimed at blackmailing and tarnishing the image of the entire Mbaise nation.
He claimed that no prospective bachelor who really wanted to marry any Mbaise lady had failed to marry her because of the purported high bride price.
Eze Nwokocha said: “Marriage is not a one-off affair and it is not a product you just buy and then go away. Once any prospective groom comes and declares his intention to the family that he wants to marry their daughter, he will discuss with his prospective in-laws what he can afford and, once he has reached an agreement with them, he will give them whatever he has. And whatever his father-in-law tells his kinsmen, that’s what they will do.”
He stated that the ‘evil’ propaganda that a suitor must bring trailerload of yam tubers, rice and other things was not true because no family would ask for that as a condition before giving out any Mbaise lady for marriage.
“My father never collected a dime as bride price for all my sisters who have married. He even told his kinsmen that whatever was brought should be taken. So, our daughters are not for sale because we know that whenever a marriage has been contracted between two families they have become one,” he said.
However, the traditional ruler said that there were a few bad eggs who, out of greed, may demand such outlandish things, noting that it is such families that people outside Mbaise have latched on to blackmail the entire Mbaise people.
Also, Miss Nkechi Ojukwu, from Aboh Mbaise, debunked claims that high bride price was a stumbling block preventing many Mbaise spinsters from getting married.
According to her, the traditional bride price in her area was just N500 and the rest is subject to negotiations between the families, adding that, “Even what is on the list is equally subject to negotiation and it is not mandatory that it must be paid. Once the kinsmen, the women and the youths have been settled, which, in most cases, have to do with drinks, the rest is between the families and whatever they agree is what is done.”
A bachelor from Ezinihitte Mbaise, Aririguzo Paul, also said that the issue of bride price was relative and depended on the family of the bride.
“I am from Ezinihitte Mbaise; I have read mostly on the social media about the high demands made on men who intend to marry from Mbaise but it is not true. My younger sister just got married last January and even the list of items was not followed; we only asked him to do whatever he can. And that was it. Our in-laws were from Arochukwu in Abia State and they were surprised when my father told them to pay whatever they had as bride price.”
In Umuaka, Njaba LGA of Imo State, Daily Sun learnt that marriage requirements are the same for indigenes and non-indigenes. Though, it costs over N300,000 to carry out the introduction and ‘Mbuzu Mmanya’ (marriage proper), Umuaka people believe that the processes are affordable.
‘Igba Nkwu’, which is the traditional marriage ceremony, according to them, is optional.
Most communities in Enugu State believe that marriage in their area is not expensive. They are of the opinion that some of the things that make marriage expensive in Igboland are borrowed cultures and should be abolished.
Traditional ruler of Nkpunano autonomous community in Nsukka LGA of Enugu State, Igwe Patrick Okoro, said his community and most others around it have made marriage easy.
He said: “Marriage in our place is very cheap, it’s a formality. If you look round now, you see that there are too many girls now not married and you don’t have to make things more difficult for them by making marriage rites to be high. You just follow the traditional sequence by bringing kola, palmwine and arranging with the family. So, it is not expensive in our place. It is one of the cheapest things in our area now because you will not marry your daughter, so you must make things easy for her to get married.”
“In our place, there is nothing like list of items for marriage, we don’t have such. We also do not segregate, the same thing it takes a native to marry from the community, it will take a non-native,” he said.
Igwe Okoro blamed the whole thing on greed and advocated the abolition of anything list throughout Igboland.
In Akpugo Ezedike community in Uzo-Uwani LGA, Igwe Vigo Aninefougwu said though he agrees to the fact that marriage rites are exorbitant in other parts of Igboland, the same cannot be said of Nsukka cultural zone.
According to him, they have a general belief that marriage is a continuous process, that the in-law becomes a member of the family after the marriage ceremony, which is why he should not be encumbered with so many financial burdens during the traditional rites.
“Marriage is an unending process. Your in-law should know that you welcomed him well and you did not make things difficult for him. The benefits from an in-law are much bigger than the money you get from the marriage rites because he will remember that he is a part of the family,” he said.
His counterpart of Diogbe Kingdom in Igbo-Etiti LGA of Enugu State, Dr. Uchenna Anikwe, said despite the low amount of money needed for marriage rites in Nsukka, some communities, including his, have set limits of expenses at every stage of the marriage rite.
He revealed that: “We, the traditional rulers in some communities in Nsukka, have set a maximum amount of money and cartons of beer, tubers of yam, size of goat or any other thing that is required.
“This is with the view to help curtail the expenses starting from the time for ‘Iju ase’ to the time of ‘Mmanya Umunna’ to the time of ‘Igo nna’; then the ‘Igba Nkwu’ proper. In my community, we have fixed the maximum number of beer and other things needed for these rites.
“I’ve gone to other communities outside Nsukka and what they spend is far more than what people spend in Nsukka. But even as cheap as Nsukka is, some communities here are also working to bring it further down.”
Miss Chidimma Asogwa, a native of Obukpa in Nsukka LGA, said there has been influx of young men from other parts of Igboland into Nsukka in search of young girls to marry because the processes are cheap.
However, she said that the concept of ‘asho ebi’ should be encouraged as it adds colour to the marriage ceremony, though one should not break the bank to fund it.
In Nkanu area of Enugu State, particularly Ugbawka, the major problem is the practice of Ohu and amadu caste system, which becomes prominent when people want to get married.
A bachelor from Ugbawka, who gave his name simply as Ebuka, confessed that the issue is causing a lot of problems in Nkanuland, notwithstanding efforts of Christian bodies to stop it.
He said: “Outside the Osu and Ohu issue, if that is abolished in Nkanuland, marrying from Nkanu is not expensive, it is affordable, because, most of the time, it is always you versus the family. What our people want mostly is for you to take care of their daughter.”
Ebuka also regretted that, recently, his people now make two different lists, one for natives and the other for outsiders who come to marry from their land, which he said is an alien culture.
According to him, the marriage list should be made affordable “so that we promote love rather than money. The list should have love content, and people should not see marriage as the time to show off because I think the real time to show off should be the length of years in the marriage.”
Our findings in Ebonyi showed that traditional marriage rites in Edda and Ohaozara clans in the southern part of the state are not prohibitive.
Town union president of Owutu Edda community, Chief Uchechukwu George, told our correspondent that the people of Edda do not believe in making money from marriage rites.
He said, while every family has little variations to the general requirements in marriage rites, no family collects more than N30 as bride price, in addition to other statutory requirements such as drinks and clothes.
He said: “In Edda, there are stages in marriage rites. But today, almost all the stages have been lumped together for the purpose of convenience.
“The first stage is introduction, where you come with hot drinks to meet the family of the lady. The second stage is Igba Nkwu; that is the traditional marriage proper.
“One of the most important and interesting aspects of it is that the suitor must provide 20 persons who will follow him and go on a day’s farm work for his father-in-law and the mother-in-law. If he cannot provide his people to do it, he is expected to monetize the farm work both for the father-in-law and the mother-in-law.
“Another requirement, which the suitor must do, is to buy clothes, shoes and bags for the parents of the lady he wants to marry, and to settle the youths with any amount convenient for him.
“The requirement is the same both for people that are not from Edda and bonafide Edda people.”
In Ohaozara, traditional marriage process might be rigorous, but not expensive. Like in many Igbo communities, there are three stages in traditional marriage there, which culminate in the groom coming with his family and friends to take his bride.
A community leader in Amenu Uburu, Ohaozara, Chukwu Obini, told our correspondent that every family and kindred in Uburu has a way of negotiating dowry.
“I can say there is no official amount for bride price in Uburu. Every family and kindred collect according to the standard set by their forefathers. Some collect N100, some collect N50; some even collect N10.
“Marriage is never seen as money-making business. The target is just to bring two families together. The bride’s family’s interest is not to sell her to the highest bidder but to give her out to the one family that will take care of her,” he stated.
While there are tales of high demands from would-be in-laws, especially in the southern part of Abia State, where a ‘lady’s motorcycle’ could be included in the marriage list, surprisingly, Daily Sun gathered that marriage in Abiriba, in Ohafia LGA, costs nothing.
With no known long list of marriage requirements, just with N700, a bachelor is already a married man in this community and it is as simple as that.
Former financial secretary and provost-general of the Abiriba Communal Improvement Union (ACIU), Chief Olua Kalu Obiwo, said marriage in the community is in two stages. Stage one is the “Ikutu aka r’onu”, traditional knocking at the door, while the second stage is the “Ibu mmayi nwami”, the main traditional marriage rite.
He said: “In Abiriba, men marry according to their financial capabilities. Traditionally, in the years by, what was paid as dowry was N7, but today it has been increased to N700 and nobody charges or collects above that amount.”
On whether non-natives are given different marriage lists, the community leader said: “We, from day one, tell suitors from outside that Abiriba people do not sell their girls and, based on this, they are meant to pay the same N700 dowry a native pays.”
Onuma is a young man who is planning to get married later in the year. According to him, money does not pose any problem for a young man who intends to marry in Abiriba because the cost of marriage is low. In his words, “Any young man in Abiriba who has reached the age of getting married and still remains a bachelor may have other reasons other than money because our forefathers so much made marriage cheap in our community that nobody would complain of not having money to get married.”
Also, Efere is a young lady and still single. She is happy that their forefathers made marriage to be cheap in their community: “We are happy that marriage in our community is so cheap and this informs why most of our men marry from here.”
Notwithstanding that Abiriba people have matrilineal mode of inheritance, this does not in any way have any effect on outsiders marrying from there. Speaking on the issue, Obiwo explained: “In our community, women own the children and because of this, in the years of yore, our men refused to train their children, but that has changed. Our mode of inheritance has no effect on outsiders coming to marry our daughters.”