Ebira Traditional Marriage Ceremony
Ebira custom on marriage had undergone many changes as a result of the coming of Islam and Christianity. Despite the changes, the general trend remains virtually unaltered. Thus, the practice of exogamy continues. Strictly speaking, it is against the social norms to marry from the same clan. This is still in force today in principle. In the past this practice was even extended to related-clan groups. In Ebira locality, person could only marry from other clan but as a result of rapid population, some clan alone individuals to marry from sub-clan.
To Ebiras, members of kindred are not exogamous groups and marriage or sexual intercourse between them was totally forbidden. Because of the strict adherence to customs and traditions on marriages in Ebiraland, courtship before marriage was taken very seriously and every caution was taken to preserve it. In addition to this, it was against the tradition of the land for a man to hold or touch a woman who was neither his wife nor the wife of his relation. Such a person was not allowed also to step over the legs of a woman sitting down. These additional marriage taboos are in abeyance today especially in urban areas.
The son was permitted to remarry his father’s wives after death excluding his mother! This tradition was even extended to very close relations agnatic ally. It should be emphasized here that it was not normal for a senior person to remarry the wives of the deceased junior. The main reason for this obscenity incestuous practice is that Ebiras thought that women are legacies to be kept within the family, and the Ebiras dislike marrying widows generally. Therefore this tradition seems to have its roots on humanitarian grounds. However, a window (or a widower) who wants to marry normally must undergo certain rituals.
The tradition has it that the new couple-to-be must bathe with the blood of a dog/duck/pigeon/fowl usually blended into black soap accordingly. The choice of the option is usually determined by the diviners. This is to avoid any likely pr-mature death of any the coupe! Today, however, a good number of Ebiras disown these practices. This is definitely an impact of Islam and Christianity. A from of leverage-marriage was also practiced in the past. In this a junior brother remarried his senior brother’s wives after death, but the reverse was not allowed.
Marriage by capture
Women captured in wars or otherwise were legally and traditionally married without loss of respect. Generally speaking, the Ebiras did not consider such women as salves since no price of any kind was paid. Some might look on such women as of ‘low caste’.
Marriage by exchange
This happened when two families exchanges daughters for a marriage on both sides. This was practiced very seldom. The main objection to such marriages was the question of divorce. There was great flexibility in this direction since the bride price was small easily be refunded. Furthermore, such marriages might not be based on love and hence divorce very likely. If it happened that one of the parties decided to divorce, there would be a sharp retaliation from the other side thereby creating unhealthy atmosphere in the home, and hence such marriages were considered inimical to the social well being of Ebiras and were always avoided.
The conversation of Ebiras is easily seen in marriage customs. Marriage between slaves or people considered to be low caste and free born men and women was definitely forbidden and this tradition is till in force today. The Atta made desperate but unsuccessful efforts to remove such barriers during his reign. His wishes and aspiration (which were very humane and thoughtful) did not receive the blessing of the masses. However, some well-to-do men married people from the low castes through an advice of ‘eva’ diviners or oracle for ulterior motives-perhaps for exploitation too! Some people see this law as inimical, out-of-date and nonsensical as it violates the principles of human rights. The majority of Ebiras (even among the educated) stick rigidly to this tradition; they maintain that a person born a slave would remain a slave forever, even in the next world.
All types of marriages so far discussed are not widespread. Marriage by paying a bride price was and is still the most widespread form of marriage. In the past, bride price was N20, although some people do sincerely remove more than the amount officially allowed by the former Igbirra Local Government Authority. In the past (and even now) any person found receiving more than the official amount was scorned and described as selling his daughter. It is a prestige for a woman whose parents receive exact or less than the normal bride. On the other hand, men do not always like if their wives parents disallow them to pay the bride price. However, bride price has risen sharply today and there seems to be no official rate and the amount may reach over N1000!
Courtship and declaration of marriage intention.
Courtship is a very important aspect of the Ebira traditional marriage and it may take along time depending largely on certain circumstances beyond control. In the past a man declares his intension or that of his son to marry a newly born girl by merely fetching some firewood for the mother of the infant; this is what the Ebiras call ‘oyi doku tuo jozi’. Traditionally (and perhaps legally) the man (or his son, as the case may be) has thus become the suitor of the baby girl. The man continues to visit the baby girl and give her mother some gifts until the baby grows up to womanhood. This is the most ancient form of declaring a marriage intension in Ebira but it has now died a natural death. In some cases, a man might go and live with the mother in-law. The young girl was thus socialized with her future partner! Gradually when the girl reached maturity and was ready to marry she would not disappoint her childhood intendant; if she did, her parents would force her to marry the man. To the modern Ebiras, this might seen unfair, ridiculous and harmful socially, but the Ebiras of the past held the view and wide experience in life. In practice then, this long protracted and tiring courtship usually achieved something desirable social cohesion but it can not stand the test of the time today. Furthermore, a father could give any of his daughters to any man of his choice especially a man with special skills either in manual work or art of shooting with bows and arrows.
Strictly speaking, declaration to marry a girl in the Ebira community was normally done by the parents and relatives of the man seeking marriage after the consent of the lady had been secretly sought. However, and especially in urban areas, the man with his friends could do this today. But no final consent could be given until the girl’s parent agree with the parents or close relatives of their would be son-in-law. This is necessary for the precautionary reasons. In fact the Ebiras do not usually give their daughters directly to would be sons-in-law but their parents or relatives. Usually, parents (relatives) would visit the girl’s parents once or twice saying ‘we have come to be integrated into the family’. The visitors will normally receive very cold and perhaps hostile answers. At least three Yams were sent in subsequent visit and if they were accepted then marriage approval was in sight.
If the Yam were rejected, this meant a disproval. In circumstance, the parents of the man could continue to beg until there was approval. If the wooing party was not actually interested the repulsive attitude of the girl’s parents was sufficient to make the intending withdraw completely. The rejection of either parents, particularly those of the girl, may be on the advice of the fortune tellers, or rejection may be a reprisal, or the girl (or man) was found to be a low caste, or because of a chronic disease associated with either of the families. All these factors would be weighed very carefully before the two parents agreed to the proposed marriage. The thorough investigations into these facts were usually independently carried out by the two parents.
If the girl’s parents had approval the marriage (by receiving Yam), the suitor would visit the girl and after offer some gifts (two tenths of a penny in the past). This ceremony is called ‘ochuruvu’. This ochuruvu has risen now to at least fifty naira. The father of the girl will later on call his daughter in the presence of his son-in-law and some well wishers of both sides to seek the formal consent of the daughter. The suitor offers one kobo (one penny). This ceremony is called ‘ozemeyi’ (I like him or I like her). The amount has now gown up to over fifty naira and ten kobo. (This ten Kobo is the most important). After the completion of this ceremony, the marriage would then be contracted and could not be broken except through formal divorce in a law court.
The suitor would continue to visit the wife regularly, giving her some presents, until the girl reaches puberty. The father-in-law might demand some manual work (idoza or arongwu) on his farm as well as asking for palm wine during the Echane, Echahana or Ekuehi festival time.These extra demands were traditionally regarded as integral parts of the bride price, although not reclaimable at any subsequent divorce. During the Iyahana and any of the above festivals, the girl’s mother prepares some delicious food (isaha) and sent it to her son-law. Some money would be included in the calabash or plate used to convey the food when they were been returned. On the whole a young man wishing to marry had little to do traditionally as most of the customary wooing was usually performed by his parents or relatives. But this situation was reversed since 1960s. There is a little difference among some Ebira groups regarding courtship and declaration of marriage intention. Among the Ebira Igu (koton karfe) community, after the two parents were satisfied on the proposed marriage as discussed above, the parents of the man would send firewood to their in-law-to-be. At this ceremony a representative of the suitor would seek permission from the girl’s parent to talk about their intention. This was known as ‘Ozimare’. Thereafter, the parents-in-law-to-be would demand the suitor to work on their farm for one year. This was to allow them to find out whether the suitor is industrious or not. If they were satisfied, that the suitor was had working, they would demand that he worked for another three years. In the past there was no proper bride price except farming. The only sum of money the suitor was bound to pay was two naira and fourteen kobo given the girl’s mother. During this long and tedious courtship, the suitor continued to visit his in-laws and he would give his wife-to-be some gifts. (This is compulsory).
When the girl reached maturity, the husband would inform his mother-in-law that his wife has grown up. In other words, he wanted to have sexual intercourse with his wife. At this juncture, it is interesting to note that throughout the long and wearisome courtship, no obstacle was put in the way of the two partners; they moved together freely and were even allowed to sleep on the same bed. Traditionally a man may not have sexual intercourse with his wife until she was officially allowed to do so. This law applies only to girls married from infancy and It is still in force today although no-one can claim its mother-in-law was satisfied that her daughter was matured for sex. She would request her son-in-law to buy some marriage clothes and mat. The mother in-law may waive the buying of the clothes but not the mat- the buying of the mat formed an important aspect of marriage requirements (the buying of mats is taken seriously today). It is this mat the married couples would use at the first and subsequent sexual intercourse. When this was done, the girl was officially given out for sexual intercourse usually on the night of a local market of as advised by the fortune teller.
In Adavi district, young girls were given out to their husbands at the Iyahana festival in the past. If the man was satisfied that his wife was still a virgin, the husband would give out some money to the mother-in-law through the wife on the following day and appreciation of the mother’s unquestionable ability and character to bring her daughter up to expectation. This was what the Ebiras called ‘ekehi uhu’ and the least amount today was fifty naira. If however the girl was not a virgin (this was highly impossible in the past because the parent were very strict), the man might divorce his wife instantly or the girl might be requested to disclose the man who took away her virginity. Amicable settlement would generally follow. If the man was found to be unable to have sexual intercourse with his wife, the marriage would be terminated after it had been established beyond any reasonable doubts that the man was impotent. In Ebira Igu, the man who took away the virginity of another person’s wife was subjected to all sorts of hardship-he was not to bathe, comb or shave his hair and must be house arrested for three months. The girl’s parent would, in addition, request the man to pay some damages to the husband such as wine and he-goat. At the end of the three months’ confinement, amicable settlement would then follow.
Period of paying the bride price.
The period of paying the bride price depended entirely on the parent of the girl and whether the woman was married before. If the woman was married before, the bride price would be paid directly to the old husband by the new one during the divorce suit in the court of justice. On the other hand, the bride price of the girl not married before was paid to the woman’s father or a close relative. It is important to note that by Ebira tradition, the mother had no right whatsoever to receive the bride price of her daughter whatever may be the plight of the family. Although the mother had no traditional and legal right over her daughter’s bride price, she had a share in it. This share was always given to her whether or not she had divorced her husband. If a bride price of N20 was paid, the mother normally received N5. Part of the mother’s share was used to buy something for the daughter and part could be sent to the relatives of the mother. On the other hand, the father did not generally buy anything for his daughter but share his own portion of the bride price with his relatives.
When the father wanted the bride price of his daughter (usually after the first child in the past, but this is much earlier nowadays0 he sent for the parent of his son-in-law ‘ijihisi’, as Ebiras put it. This was never communicated to receive (for instance, if he intended to receive N20, he would demand N40). This was done, perhaps to evaluate the wealth and position of his son-in-law! A grace of three months was allowed and whatever the money was available this was communicated to the father who fixed the formal marriage ceremony, both parents/relatives of the married couple as well as the husband and wife of the father other than the mother. At this juncture the father informed the congregation the amount of bride price he intended to receive. Following this, the father then asked the consent of his daughter but saying ‘should I collect your bride price?’. The consent of the husband was also sought. This would be followed by prayers from the congregation. Drinks and cola-nut would be served. On the following day, the girl’s parent would go to give special traditional greeting to the son-in-law and his relatives. Recently the woman (wife) would count her bride price on the eve of the ceremony in her husband’s house. She usually received some amount for doing so. Many people seemed not to accept this procedure and it was therefore not very popular except, perhaps in some rural areas. If the son-in-law was not capable of paying the wife’s bride price, he could pay this by working on the father-in-law’s farm for three years. Thereafter the man had legally and traditionally paid the bride price and in subsequent divorce by the wife, he would claim the normal or standard bride price paid in Ebira-land. However, people usually tried their best to pay the bride price by cash and the second alternative method of paying the bride price was not popular, at least among the Ebiras Tao people.
It is very difficult to say precisely when a bride could go and live in her husband’s house. Generally, this was permitted in the past only after the first child and it was usually not very ceremonial except among Ebira Igu community. The first usually stayed with the maternal relation this is not so today. At Ebira Igu, the bride could not go live wit her husband until certain rituals were performed. If the bridegroom wanted his wife he had to buy another mat which was usually given to the woman training (educating) the girl. Three different days would be suggested from which the husband would choose one. The bridegroom would send ‘onyemeri’ (a calabash) to the wife’s parents. This customs are now in abeyance, many people only follow the simple and straight-forward Moslem or Christian marriage rite which are very expensive nowadays. A man wishing to marry now needs more than forty thousand naira.
Modern Approach to Traditional Marriage
Today, the traditional marriage procedure is lumped into one ceremony with all aspect already discussed. Usually the date for the formal marriage is fixed by the bridegroom in consultation with his in-law-to-be. The following items must be sent to the house of the bride on this day or the day before the ceremony: 78 big Yams in two groups- 24Yams for the mother/guardian of the woman and 54Yams for the general purpose. Other items including a bag of salt, a tin of red oil, a tin of groundnut oil, a tin of kerosene, fish or bush meat, a bag of rice. This is what is known today as ‘Isewere’.On the ceremony day, father and mother of both couples grace the occasion or their representatives and other well wishers of both sides.
The father of the bride or his representative asks the bridegroom to declare his intension including how he sees his daughter. Then the father seeks consent of the bride in the presence of well wishers and the bridegroom.
That of the bridegroom is also sought.The bride’s father then gives his daughter to the father or guardian of the bridegroom who must be physically present to accept the offer.Then prayers are offered (with a native cola) for the success of the newly marriage couples.
The bridegroom gives his wife ‘her first gifts’ N20 more according to the wish of the bridegroom. The N10k on top of the gift signifies the original ‘Ochuruvo’ or ‘ozemeyi’.Gifts for the father, mother of the bride and for all member of the family may now take place. Each item such as: for father, mother, senior brother, senior sister, grandfather, grandmother, junior brother/sister, general public etc. may attract at least N50 money for farm labor and wine will be demanded. At least N100 for each item is adequate unless otherwise demanded contrary. The total sum of the money may be put in an envelop to be given to the bride who will hand it over to the father. At this ceremony, the parents of the bride must be satisfied that enough clothes (all assorted), jewelries’ and other beautification materials for the women folk are provided by the bridegroom. In most cases the bride’s parents may waive the desire if they are satisfied that the bridegroom may satisfied his wife later in life.
•The bride’s father may demand for the dowry or later on if his son-in-law is not ready. We must emphasis that payment of the dowry is important and that this dowry is for the father or guardian of the bride which is functionally different from the Sadak of the Moslem which is always given to the bride for only after the first child but not so now.
Most traditional marriage ceremony is fixed on Friday to enable the couples to solemnize the formal Christian/ Moslem rite on Saturday. We emphasis that sometimes both the traditional marriage and the Christian/Moslem rites are performed the same day and in the same place with officiating Mallam/Pastor vividly present at the ceremony.