Unusual Wedding Traditions from Igboland

Wedding Traditions from Igboland
Bride and Igbo women in traditional attire | © NigerianweddingsinAmerica

Are you familiar with Igbo traditional wedding? The Igbos are one of the major and largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, with diverse native culture and traditions, some of them totally phased out and others still in practice today. There are Igbo wedding traditions you didn’t know about. When it comes to weddings, they go all out, with the celebrations looking like grand festivals and everyone looking their very best. While Igbo marriage customs and traditions might be expensive, the weddings are very fun to plan, and attendees usually looked forward to the ceremonies with much excitement and enthusiasm as most Igbo families hold their culture in very high esteem. However, amidst all the glitz and glamour associated with most Igbo weddings, there are some very interesting, albeit unusual things to note in most of them and we’re going to be looking at some of them in this article. From the iju ese (traditional enquiries), to the customary bride price negotiations, here are some of the most interesting marriage traditions and customs in Igboland.

Asking for consent

In a typical traditional Igbo family, consent to be married does not reside with the two individuals willing to be married alone. Yes, the consent does not lie with your boo alone. To a large extent, the both families (prospective in-laws) must agree before their children are to wed. Although this isn’t always the case, but in most Igbo families, it is still the norm. Any outstanding issues that the families are aggrieved by, must be properly explained before going ahead with the wedding plans, and this is usually done through the next point; Iju ese.

Iju ese (making traditional enquiries)

Bride-price negotiations Igboland
Weddings are a perfect time for family celebration | © Nenejewellryandcraft

Here, the Father and kinsmen of the individuals willing to be wed must travel to the other party’s hometown to make enquiries about the family of their prospective in-laws. The enquiries usually come in the form of questions about how “progressive” members of the family are; whether there is a history of armed robbery in the family, whether the family belongs to the osu (outcast) caste system (this is almost completely phased out but there are still underlying tones of it in some places), whether there is a history of divorce in the family etc. The findings from the iju ese almost majorly determines whether the wedding will go on or not. During iju ese, all questions from the visiting kinsmen must be answered satisfactorily.

Bride-price negotiations in Igboland

In the Southeastern Nigeria, the bride price is usually over the roof in some parts of Igboland! The prospective in-laws are expected to compensate the family of the bride-to-be for raising her to be decent and responsible up until marriageable age. The expensive bride price will also prove how deep the groom-to-be’s pocket is, and whether he can step up to the occasion as a man. In some areas, a very expensive bride price list is given to the man, with the family rejecting any tangible cash. The reason for this is that their “daughter is not for sale”.

However, this high bride price is sometimes negotiable in some places, depending on the bargaining power of the man and his kinsmen. Some tangible items such as goats, bags of rice, tubers of yam and drinks can also be replaced with money in some places, depending on the traditions of that particular community and agreement between the parties involved.

First daughter (Ada) must marry first

marriage traditions and customs in Igboland
Igbo bride and her beautiful maidens | © Nenejewellryandcraft

This is no longer a thing in many Igbo homes but there are still underlying traces of it in many communities in Igboland. It is believed that the Ada must marry first, because if her younger sisters leave to their husbands’ houses before her, it will create the illusion that she has passed marriageable age and so may grow old in her father’s house. So, if you’re planning to marry from an Igbo home and your fiancé is not the first daughter and has a single elder sister, you just hope that it won’t become an issue.

Public sweeping of the groom’s compound by the new wife after the wedding ceremony

This has almost been completely phased out but is still being practiced in some parts of Igboland. The sweeping of the compound signifies that the new wife is now welcome into her husband’s home and is now to treat it as hers. This is usually witnessed by the women of the family and sometimes kindred, amidst singing, dancing and jubilations to welcome the new wife.

Bia malu be (Grand reception of the bride’s family at the hometown of the groom)

In some places, after the wedding ceremony, at a later date, the bride’s family is hosted at the hometown of the groom, precisely in their family compound. In places where it is practiced, the purpose of this visit is to know their daughter’s new home. The in-laws are welcomed in a grand way, with lots of jokes, food and drinks, after which they depart for home. This signifies the end of the marriage rituals.

21 Igbo phrases and words to know

  1. Ndi Igbo / Igbo people 
  2. na-asu Igbo? / do you speak Igbo? 
  3. na-asu Bekee? / do you speak English? 
  4. Iju ese (iku aka) / formal marriage enquiry  
  5. Ime ego / payment of bride price 
  6. Igba nkwu nwanyi / Igbo traditional wedding ceremony 
  7. hụrụ m gị n’anya / I love you 
  8. Kedụ ka ịmere? / how are you? 
  9. Kedu aha gị? / What is your name? 
  10. Ụtụtụ ọma / good morning 
  11. Ehihe oma / good afternoon 
  12. Mgbede ọma / good evening 
  13. Ka chi fo / good night 
  14. Ka o di / good bye 
  15. Daalu / thank you
  16. Ndewo / hi – hello 
  17. Nnoo / Welcome
  18. Biko / please 
  19. Ndo / sorry  
  20. Ee / yes 
  21. Mba / no 

We also recommend this article: a guide to Liberian marriage customs.

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