Marriage confers a significant status in the igbo community. It entitles a man to have a home and make decisions on his future life. At a stage in a young man’s life, he feels that it is time for him to look for a wife, that makes him to be a grown up man and also in the eyes of his father, mother and extended families.
Before a man can make such a decision as to get a wife, he must have been well to do man, in terms of education ( Profession), Business, Civil Servant in government parastatals. In fact, an independent man capable of taking care of a woman, children and others as the case may be.
A man not married is regarded as Okokpolo – a grown up man who has remained unmarried, such a person can be denied many of his rights because he has no wife. Some men have children but are not married.
Types of Igbo Marriages:
There are rules guiding marriages in Igbo land. It is an abomination for a man to marry his sister or near kins, whether maternally or paternally. Marriage between freeborn and castes like Osu and Oru are forbidden. Biological kinsmen (umunna) tracing their origin to a great ancestor, does not intermarry.
- Woman – to – Woman marriage ( Nrachi/Enete)
- Informal Marriage (Ajadu Mkpuke)
- Arranged Marriage
- Sororal Polygamy
Every new marriage functions to establish and reinforce a valuable link reciprocal between kins groups that provides material and social support. Marriage formalization follows in the form of exchange of property, money and goods received by the family of the bride, Dowry – bride wealth or bride price. The Reason for paying the Dowry or bride price, is said to be a compensation to the family of the bride for the training and upbringing of their daughter and loss of her economic contribution to the family. Marriage is seen in Igbo land as an extension of the family ties and there is a go between person for both families – Onye mbe or Onye aka ebe.
Full marriage contract ceremony is followed by feastings of food and drinks – Igba nkwu. Friends and well wishers and relations of both families are invited. Dances and music, as well as exchange of gifts are expected because a cultural bond is signed and the groom is accepted as a member of the bride’s family. The bride is received as a new daughter of the man’s family.
Polygamy and Monogamy is a system of types of marriages in Igbo land. These are entered into due to many reasons. Polygamy is the marriage of one man to more than one wife at the same time and every wife is legally married. The reasons for Polygamy – to exhbit wealth; to have many children to as assist in the farms during the olding days. The lack of children in a monogamy marriage. To expand one’s family block.
Sororal Polygamy is a type of marriage where the wife could not bear children and bring his sister to bear children for her husband.
Woman – to – Woman Marriage – Nrachi / Enete.
This practice depends solely on a woman “marrying” a woman. The woman is regarded as the female “husband” of another woman because the former ( the female husband) had paid the bride price of the latter, who then becomes her wife. There are two kinds of this type of marriage, which are adopted in the efforts to solve the problem of barrenness and ensure proper sharing of family inheritance.
Informal Marriage – Ajadu Mkpuke.
This is another aspect of the Igbo family marriage whereby a female youth in the family gets pregnant – (ime mkpuke) from someone unknown to the family. She refuses to disclose the person who impregnated her. When she puts to bed, the child belongs to her, if he is a male child, he enters the line of seniority and all the rights of his belonging to the family must be observed. This happens when a man has only female children. The man can also keep the first daughter to bear children for him by giving her daughter to a particular man to impregnate her.
Arranged marriage is the process whereby the woman(married) is allowed by the barren husband to meet any man of her choice within the family lineage to give her a child or children for him. Also arranged marriage is a process where two people ( young adults) are brought together for marriage without formally known to themselves.
There is a lot to explain about our Igbo types of marriages but I will conclude it here. Most of these marriages happen because of lack of modern technology, like fertility testing, in vitro insemination of sperm into uterus, test tube fertilisation and modern adoption of babies, in fact Igbos find it difficult to adopt another person’s child. Nowadays time is changing and Igbos are being more enlightened about these issues and some have begun to accept adoption.
This article is written by Chief, Sir, Dr. Ejikeme Uzoalor, President Emeritus Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo UK. Chairman, Anaedo Social Club International London Branch,
References: A survey of the Igbo Nation by G.E.K Ofomata and P. Chudi Uwazurike. Anigbo, 1987; Hammond 1971; Igbo Culture by Dr. E.E.Uzoalor