WEDDING AND MARRIAGE IN AFRICA, how boys became men? (Part 1)
And when a boy is of age and needs to build a family, he begins the journey to the land of kinsmen and elders, bride price and in-laws, friends and church counsellors, budget and planning, a wife and her baggage.
My native land is south-east Nigeria. I am of the Igbo tribe. Our elders told us stories early on of Igbo customs and lifestyles that transform everyday boys to men.
And one of the most interesting customs is the marriage rites. When a young man finds a wife and negotiates his way through the twist and turns of marriage system.
I am not merely talking about nowadays African society wedding and marriage showbiz characterized by hotel arrangements, bachelor’s night and modern jamboree.
But more of a sense that marriage for the Igbo man is something higher, of a higher meaning, is of something worth living. It is larger than the deep needs of bread and water.
Its mission goes beyond the ordinary eyes, reaching to the very purpose of why the earth was formed. As the wisdom goes, among the Igbos, it is believed marriage is for ‘enduring intimate companionship.’
Elders say it is for the greater good of the family ancestry, community and universe. It is one of God’s greatest gifts to His creation.
In the local Igbo language, God is referred to as Chi or Chukwu.
Did marriage have a unique meaning and how did it fit into the story of the community and beyond? In asking questions, I realized in many African communities, marriage is the most celebrated event of passage since the dawn of recorded history.
‘Event of passage,’ what does it mean?
Across Africa, husband and wife play a very special role and are treated with respect because they are the link between the unborn and the ancestors. They are the link between the past, present and the future elders say God gave us.
There is a passageway in every Igbo community, when a boy must take one of the most important steps to leave his father and mother and be a man. It usually begins when the boy finds the girl he wants to marry and tells his parents.
The process involves different elements. The system by which Igbo marriage is established connecting stakeholders in the community, gives rise to some of the Igbo’s highest values – the spirit of togetherness, close support and personal responsibility.
To enable a child’s event of passage, he is supported by his kinsmen, elders, parents and friends and then they visit the family of the wife-to-be. At this stage, both families interact and the spirit of friendship is set in motion.
The family of the young groom will state the purpose of their visit. The laughter and private conversations, back and forth, greetings and negotiations, are all path of the stage show. It is the marriage system at play, the customs of the Igbo people.
In the first meeting, the family of the wife-to-be customarily will not give a definite answer, yes or no. Both families will set a different day to meet again when a definite answer will be given. Elders and parents will commune weighing each other to find a common ground.
It is a common saying in Igbo land, ‘If a child “washes his hands” or pays off all his debts and is able to stand on his own, he may mingle with the most respected elders.’ Indeed Africa is a very unique place to come of age.
In time intentions are weighed and the substance of a thing proved. This will bring about questions. Is the youth a worthy suitor and husband-to-be? Is this union well-intentioned for a lifetime? Is she able to keep a home?
What are his intentions for my daughter? Is she well suited for him? Is his family of moral standing in the society? What does he do for a living? How can her skill support him in the home?
Can he stand on his own? How is her family ancestry? Are there lingering family issues to be resolved?
Again a higher mission is at play.
Important questions when correctly answered set the tone for the sound of music and fruitful union. When certain questions go unanswered, there is a pause. It is a moment to reflect, soul searching and going back to basics for both parties.
On a second visit, the family of the wife-to-be is customarily expected to give an answer.
The family of the groom will customarily state their intention again and then wait for answer right away, an answer often ending in either yes or no. Usually parents or a respected elder do the talking.
To be continued….