Traditional marriage among Yoruba people today is nothing like it was in the past, today Yoruba Traditional Marriage is more or less a glorified Aso-Ebi show and not even considered a real wedding. A large part of the Yoruba culture has been Westernized and most practices are practically non-existent in this day and time but marriage is one of the most important parts of our culture that we should hold on to especially now that we have a high divorce and separation rate. What was it about marriage in the past that made couples last longer? Could it be the actual wedding process itself?
Marriage in Yoruba land was a big deal and one that not only involved the couple but majorly the families. It was and still is (in some cases) believed that you are not marrying the person but marrying into the family itself i.e., a spouse is only as good as the family they are born into.
In my own opinion, a traditional wedding is the same as getting wedded in a white church. As long as both families and the couple are in agreement, then the marriage is valid. The only difference is the presence of an alfa or pastor. So what was the marriage process and how does it affect marriages and their longevity? Read on.
Steps To Marriage In Yoruba Culture
STEP ONE: Searching (Ifojusode)
When a son of the family is old enough or ripe for marriage, the family begins to look for a wife for him. In mosst cases, he also could be spying a certain lady he has interest in, and when he’s ready he tells his family he has found someone.
STEP TWO: Investigation (Iwadi)
The man’s family begin to make investigations about the lady’s family. This is to find out any hidden family secrets or generational curse or ailment in the family. Some families might have a history of madness, in some other families, they die young, have a history of schizophrenia, epilepsy and so on which are not desirable qualities. They will also investigate the potential bride herself if she’s suitable to marry into the family. If she’s calm or hot-tempered, neat or dirty, etc. Then finally, in some cases, they will ask the Ifa priest to look into the would-be marriage and have a look-see into their future, if it will work or if they are meant to be. Examples of what the spiritual investigation yields are Ifa may reveal that the woman will die young, or it will be a blessed union, etc.
STEP THREE: The Middleman (Alarina)
Alarina means the person who paves the way or walks the distance. At this stage, the couple hasn’t come into contact yet. Instead, they will communicate through a middleman. This could be the man’s friend or the lady’s close friend. This person will be the one to describe to the lady how her future husband looks and deliver messages to and fro to make the whole process go smoother and also eventually introduce both parties to each other.
STEP FOUR: She Said Yes (Ijohen/Isihun)
At this stage, there’s no need for the middleman anymore. The couple now knows each other and have met in person. This is when the lady finally accepts to become the man’s fiancee. It’s kind of like accepting a proposal without the ring. But the man has to pay her a certain sum for accepting his proposal it is called “Owo Isihun” – Acceptance fee.
STEP FIVE: Introduction (Idana)
After the lady says yes the guy will tell his parents that he has found a beautiful flower in the compound of so and so, which he wants to pluck. The son’s father will start making preparations to go ask for her hand in marriage. During the first visit, the groom’s father and a few family members will go early in the morning to the bride’s house. The bride’s father, if he accepts, will tell them he’s not the only one who gave birth to the child (it is believed that the child belongs to the whole community) so he will give the date for an introduction to the whole family.
Both families will call on their members and inform them of the coming introduction, now known as momi n mo o (let’s know each other). This is important because this is when both families get to meet fully. It can be done early in the morning or at dusk. The groom’s family will bring all the gifts for the introduction.
The oldest person in the bride’s family will hand over their daughter to the oldest person in the groom’s family. Then they will list out allergies, forbidden things and rules e.g. the daughter must not be beaten, she doesn’t eat cassava, etc. After this, the bride starts collecting her things and preparing to leave her parents’ home.
Honey, Sugarcane and salt, (So their union may be sweet)
Kola nut and bitter kola (So that they will grow old)
Alligator pepper (So the wife will have numerous children)
Palm oil (So the marriage will be soothing)
Tubers of Yam, Fruits and other kinds of food for the bride’s family
Dowries (Main dowry + other small sums for relatives)
Palm wine and other hot drinks to celebrate.
STEP SIX: Wedding (Igbeyawo)
Igbeyawo literally means carrying the bride. Unlike today, it is more ceremonial than and less partying, it’s the carrying of the bride to her husband’s house. On the wedding day, the couple will receive gifts from friends and family and the famly will pray for the bride with tears as she leaves home. After the prayers, she will be escorted with music and fanfare to her husband’s house. On arrival, the groom must meet the bride outside because it is forbidden for the wife to meet her groom inside. Cool water will be poured on the bride’s legs before she steps foot in the husband’s house to signify a peaceful stay.
On the wedding night, or some days after, there will be a white cloth on the bed and the couple has to make love for the first time. The groom’s family will wait outside while the deed is being done and afterwards if the white cloth is red with blood, it signifies that the bride was a virgin and the groom will show it to his family as proof while they rejoice. It is a great honour for the bride and her family if she’s met a virgin and the next morning, the groom’s family will send a full gourd of palm wine or a full box of matches with pounded yam and soup. But if she isn’t a virgin, it will be shameful for the bride and her family and only half of these gifts will be sent home, to signify she wasn’t met whole.
Now does this long-winded process guarantee a long marriage? Not totally, but in a way it does. Because it is a well thought out process and involves a lot of background checks and elderly wisdom, a lot of future issues are predicted and avoided. Which is why couples who didn’t even know each other prior to marriage end up spending a lifetime together in blissful marriage.
It’s understandable that some of these steps are not necessary and outdated in this time and period but we can’t deny that there’s a value in this ancient process of marriage. Now the question is, which of these should we hold on to and which should we let go? Discuss your opinions in the comments!