Lots of people in Igboland who are about to get married would like to make their wedding ceremony unforgettable. For the Igbos, the native traditional wedding ceremony is colourful and magnificent, and it is one you will always remember with pride. Let us find out about the main rules and features of the Igbo traditional wedding.
All the facts you should know about traditional wedding
Igbo people are one of the biggest ethnic groups on the whole African continent. The Igbo wedding ceremonies are well-known in Nigeria for its incredibly luxurious atmosphere. Out of all the ethnic groups, Igbo wedding traditions are probably one of the most exciting. Let us dive into the nuances of the Igbo wedding ceremony.
Before the wedding: what is necessary to know for future newlyweds?
Nigeria is a rich country when it comes to culture and traditions. Some of them apply to weddings, but there also are some customs that has to do with the pre-wedding preparations.
1. While Europeans favour skinny brides, Africans prefer curvier women. As for the traditional bride’s menu, she has to eat a lot of meat, vegetables, fish, and pastries, and also drink a lot of milk.
2. During the last couple of months before the wedding, the Igbo bride basically lives in paradise – she barely leaves the house, eats a lot, and talks only to her relatives. Apart from that, she has servants who often rub her body with palm oil to make her skin soft and flawless.
3. There are traditions concerning the groom as well, and they are not entirely pleasant for him. For example, some regions of Nigeria still preserve the ancient tradition of beating up the groom, which means he has to pass through the corridor of bride’s relatives, who beat him with sticks as he goes through. This tradition is for checking whether the groom is ready for hardships in family life and can endure them with pride.
4. After the bride is fed well and prepared for the wedding, she has to inform her groom about her readiness to become his wife. She needs to do this with the help of tom-tom, the traditional Nigerian musical instrument. She has to call the name of her loved one, informing him that she is prepared for marriage.
5. There is one obstacle to the marriage in the Igbo tribe: if there are a few sons in the family, the younger sons are not allowed to get married until their eldest brother does. Every man has to pay a sum of money, which can be a lot and not everyone can afford it. This has become a real problem for some of young men. However, in order to help young people to start a family of their own, some Nigerian leaders have introduced a fixed sum of money that the groom has to pay. This sum of money is widely known as “bride price”. If these rituals have not been completed, the marriage officially has no power, no matter how many children they have.
6. After the bride price is paid, the wedding day is chosen. The bride and groom should make this choice carefully because some days may contradict with other events: the deaths of relatives, harvest, or natural disasters. On these days, it is forbidden to have a wedding celebration.
The course of Igbo wedding
The Igbo ceremony is based on the marriage deal which starts with the groom asking for the bride’s hand in marroage. There are three phases of the traditional Igbo wedding, which also includes proposing to her whole family and making them accept you into their circle.
At the beginning of the wedding, the bride and groom should stand in front of relatives, wearing only their underwear. The leader of a family or tribe ties them together with a veil, which means the bride and groom are united until death does them part. After that, the young married couple should dress up and go to the family of the husband. They are tied with the veil there, too. This ritual means that the bride breaks the ties with her family, and now her husband’s relatives are her new family.
In case the relatives of the groom refuse to tie the veil of a bride, this means they are refusing to take her into the family, and their decision cannot be influenced afterwards. In order to get married, the bride and groom should have good relations with each other’s families.
The bride breaking ties with her family does not necessarily mean that she can never talk to them again. She can still see them and be supportive of them. However, in case any conflict happens, her family has no voice. The groom’s family decides everything for her because they have paid the bride price.
Afterwards, the groom’s family has to go through the wine carrying ceremony, which is officially referred to as Igba Nkwu – Nigerian translation for “wine carrying”.
The families of the newlyweds – their friends, relatives, neighbors, and colleagues – come to congratulate them. At the Igbo traditional wedding, not only bride and groom play a huge role, but also their extended families and neighbors.
Why is this ceremony called wine-carrying? You may ask. The answer is simple: the bride usually has to find her groom among the guests and express her gratitude by giving him a cup of wine. When the groom drinks the wine, the ceremony will go on and people celebrate together. This tradition is quite tricky because finding the groom in the crowd is not the easiest job for the bride. People at the Igbo wedding usually dress in the same clothing – literally the same fabrics and colors. Sure, the wedding pictures turn out beautiful; however, the bride can struggle with finding her groom for a long time. Besides, the guests often distract the bride on purpose to make her job more complicated.
Speaking of the bride and groom’s wedding attire, it is magnificent and really beautiful. Instead of a traditional white dress, the bride usually wears a bright-coloured outfit with accessories, most often made of coral, and a headgear which matches the color of her wedding attire. As for the groom, he wears a special cap, an embroidered shirt, and jewelry made of coral to match the bride.
Generally, the bride and groom are allowed to get creative with their attire and use different materials and accessories. The attire is the face of the wedding, and most of the couples choose it carefully.
Another tradition include an older person giving the newlyweds a special wooden stick called “ofo”, which is a symbol of unity and truth among Igbo natives. Very often, the wedding includes such a custom as “bride’s train”, when the bride’s female friends who are still single enter the church in a special dance, and people bless them by throwing money at them. This is considered to be a demonstration of wishing the bride and her friends good luck.
Generally, Igbo traditional wedding is an important part of the African culture, and it requires a lot of preparation and expenses. Igbo wedding depicts the unique African ethnicity and has an important mission to promote unity among Igbo people. If you and your future spouse would like to throw your own Igbo wedding, we wish you the best of luck.