By Marie Ubamadu.
In the eastern part of Nigeria, West Africa and in other parts of the continent, there exists a bonding in marriage called the native law and custom of marriage.
When a young man sees a girl he would like to marry, he sends emissaries in the person of his parents or uncles to the girl’s family. His family brings palm wine to inquire about the girl and inform her father or uncle of the interest of their son in their daughter. Kola nuts are shared to welcome them, and they all drink the palm wine. The girl’s family will ask them to come back in four or eight days (four days are counted by market days.) This allows the family time to ask their daughter about the man and to also start their own investigation of the family the young man comes from.
On the eight day, the young man’s family returns bringing palm wine, kola nuts and food, which are shared. If she agrees to have his hand in marriage, and her family is pleased with their investigation, then the customary process begins. A list of things are enumerated which includes presents of cloths, tobacco, palm wine, hot drinks, food items (e.g. rice, yams, stock fish) salt, pomade, soap, kerosene, matches, basin, umbrella, etc. These presents will be given to the bride’s parents. Some of the items will be given to the women, men, and children of the village to notify them of the impending marriage of their daughter. Depending on their income, the groom’s family will only buy what they can afford and promise to give the rest later.
On the next appointed day, the groom’s family will go to the bride’s family and present the gifts. The bride’s family will tell them what the bride’s price will be. It is on this day that the date is set for the native law and custom ceremony. It is also they day when the women of both families cook a large sumptuous meal and the men provide lots of palm wine.
There is an aura of celebration each time the in-laws come. They are well dressed in native attire as they are going to welcome a wife into their family. On this occasion, the bride will be allowed to go to the groom’s home, and stay for four days, as they say, “to know the land”.
The day of the native law and custom ceremony is filled with pomp and pageantry. Everyone who is near and dear to the two families is invited either orally or in writing. The bride’s home will be bustling with people preparing food and bringing wine of all sorts. Dance groups may also be invited. Canopies are set up and chairs are brought in. This is an evening affair, and when the music begins, all roads will lead to the bride’s family because both families will be related in marriage.
Before the ceremony, the men from both families will go in to a room to find out what the groom’s family brought for the bride’s price. There is no fast set rules about this custom. It is more of a token of goodwill and the bride’s family will accept whatever the groom’s family can afford. The bride’s family will add that they want their daughter to be well taken cared, shake hands and thank each other. When they emerge from the room, they take their seats and kola nuts will be presented to the people. An announcement is made as to why they have gathered.
The bride’s mother is presented to the people and the in-laws. She will be dressed in her best as she comes to acknowledge the people. She may be showered with monetary gifts. Immediately, the drums will start and the bride, gaily dressed steps out with her mates. She walks up to her father, who gives her a cup of palm wine and ask her to show him the man she has chosen. She begins a pseudo-search into the crowd of men for her husband who is deliberately hiding among his friends. When she finds him, he will be dressed in his best cloths too. They will walk up to her father, or uncle and she will announce in a loud voice that he is her husband-to-be. She sips the wine and gives it to the groom. He finishes the wine, places some money in the cup and hands the cup the father-in-law. Everyone cheers for them. The bride and the groom then go inside and come back out dressed in matching or identical clothing. They both take their seat on a reserved spot.
The bride’s father steps forward and pours libation, blessing their union. The paternal and maternal uncles also come and pour libation and bless them. Some times both mothers are allowed to come and bless and pray for them. Finally, the chief or the oldest man in the village pours libation of unity to solidify the relation between both families. The couple gets up and dances and is showered with monetary gifts. The feasting continues into the night. When the man’s family leaves happily with the new bride, there are some somber moments in the bride’s family as tender hearts shed tears of joy after the native law and custom ceremony has taken place which recognizes the law of the land.
Palm wine: A white sap that is extracted from raffia and palm tree as alcohol.
Kola nut: A nut from a pod gathered from kola trees in the tropics. It has lobes.
Market days: The first four days are regarded as the biggest and the next four days as the smallest (4 market days are Nkwo, Eke, Orie, and Afor)
Bride’s price: The token of money given by the son-in-law to the family for their daughter.
Showering: The voluntary placing of money on the face of a dancer to show appreciation. Also referred to as spraying.
Libation: The tipping out of wine on the ground while simultaneously blessing with words of wisdom on special occasions by the most elderly person.