Marriage is considered very important among the Yourbas (South-Western Nigeria). A woman who is still single at a marriageable age is seen as “crownless” and does not attract as much respect as her married counterparts. In the Yoruba culture, Husbands are seen as the head/crown hence the incompleteness of the unmarried woman. So, when a man approaches the house of a woman to take her hand in marriage, it becomes the affair of the whole village.
Come! Let Ibiene take you through the traditional marriage system of the Yoruba culture.
The Yoruba traditional marriage ceremony even though a serious affair, is fun-filled with rich contemporary local music, graceful colours and sumptuous meals. Weddings in Yoruba land are an occasion to show the best of everything – style, outfits, handbags, jewellry and even dancing steps.
It is carried out in different stages.
The families of the bride and groom meet long before any engagement ceremony takes place. The groom visits the family of the bride in the company of his father and some family members. The occasion is an informal introduction without fanfare but a cordial atmosphere to know each other. The informal introduction does not require much except some tubers of yam and a few bottles of wine; the family of the bride hosts the visitors with a simple meal of their choice. Apart from all-round introductions, they might discuss when the event would take place, this is not a hard and fast rule and such discussions might take place later.
The Bride’s Outfit:
The bride’s outfit is a reflection of what the female guests will wear. She might choose, damask, lace, Nigerian wax fabric or any fabric that appeals to her. The outfit consists of gele which is the head tie, the buba (the blouse) and an iro which is a large material tied around her waist and is usually ankle length. The colours she chooses reflects the colour theme her family has chosen but should also complement the groom’s outfit and look identical. She can wear accessories like a gold necklace, beads, bangles, gold earrings and shoes to match.
The Groom’s Outfit:
The groom could decide to wear an Agbada which is a two-layered material of heavy dimensions like the Aso-Oke (traditional hand-woven material). It might be cotton, damask, lace or even wax fabric (Ankara). His colour combination should complement the bride’s and reflect the colour his family has chosen.
The Traditional Engagement:
The traditional engagement is carried out by a contracted professional custodian called the Alaga ijoko which translated means master of ceremony. The professional could be a member of the bride’s family or a complete stranger. The Alaga Ijoko is usually a woman and her duty is to properly officiate and coordinate the proceeding so each provision of tradition is strictly adhered to. She follows the groom and family to ask for the hand of their daughter.
Other festivities include the letter reading which is done by a young lady from the groom’s family asking for the hand of the woman in marriage. The bride’s family also responds with a letter of their own. The engagement is an integral part of the traditional marriage and as the ceremony proceeds, items listed for the engagement that was given to the groom’s family are presented. The items vary slightly in each Yoruba traditional wedding but the general articles are the same.
Items Requested By The Bride’s Family:
Some of the items demanded by the bride’s family include; bag(s) of sugar, bag(s) of rice, alligator pepper, balls of bitter kola, bag of salt, kola nuts. Non-edible items could include expensive materials like lace, several pairs of shoes, wristwatch, a gold engagement ring and head tie.
There is no fixed amount for the bride price, as it is usually dictated by the bride’s family and is subject to negotiation. However, there are other fees to be paid by the groom/his family (which are also negotiable). The money is used to settle different members of the family.
The Groom and Bride:
Some of the engagement protocols officiated by the Alaga ijoko is carried out in the absence of the groom. The professionals go through a question and answer format where the bride’s moderator puts the representatives of the groom through some hoops. At one point the groom’s presence is needed and he comes forward and goes through the introduction process to the bride’s family and parents. When all requirements are met the groom is led and allowed to seat on one of the two large chairs conspicuously placed in front of the guests.
The bride is then heralded into the venue of the ceremony followed by her friends, all dressed in traditional attires like buba ati iro, as they join her in a boisterous dance down the hall. The bride also goes through a few protocols but money is only given to her and not taken from her as in the case of the groom. She is introduced to the groom’s family before she takes her place beside the groom. At this stage, they may consider themselves married. The wife displays some wifely traits by feeding the groom.
No Yoruba wedding happens without aso-ebi where family and friends wearing designated, uniform colourful attires. This part is actually what lots of brides, their mothers and her friends look forward to.
When next a friend invites you to a Yoruba wedding, make yourself available because a lot of people even attend un-invited due to the food, fun and music.
In the comments section tell us what you just found out about the Yoruba wedding cultural rites. We will also want to hear which other custom has left you in awe.