I will begin by giving a brief description on the country, Nigeria. Nigeria is a West African country made up of three major ethnic groups namely: Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa.
The Ibo people live in the southeastern states. The Yoruba people live mostly in the southwestern states and the Hausas live mostly in the northern states.
Nigeria like most African cultures has various kinds of traditions. Amongst all the traditions, the one I find to relate to the western culture is marriage.
Most current-day weddings in Nigeria follow more western processes, in terms of the weddings being held at church, the bride being in a white gown, the groom being in a suit, some entourage, and a reception following during which the couple usually are in traditional attire and eat traditional food, and play a combination of American music and traditional music.
Some wedding ceremonies are also held in a courtroom rather than a church. I will tell you what a traditional wedding process would involve in Nigeria. I will also go further to mention a few marriage and family trends involved in a Nigerian traditional wedding.
Traditionally, for a couple to be married there are three stages that they would go through:
This is the part of the ceremony where the groom's family introduces themselves to the bride's family, and asks for their daughter's hand in marriage to their son. It would take place before the engagement ceremony or wedding.
Even though they are not married yet, I will refer to the bride-to-be as the bride, and refer to the groom-to-be as the groom. The participants of this are:
The introduction takes place at the bride's house, and her family is responsible for the preparations and costs, but if the groom's family is able to, they can suggest helping out with some of the costs and/or the food. Both parties are in traditional attire, and I have not heard anywhere that these have to be matching.
Though "African time" (the concept where nobody is expected to actually arrive at an event at the posted time) is common in Nigeria as well, the groom's family is expected to be on time for this event. If they are late, the bride's family may ask them to leave, or to pay a price for being late. Upon entrance into the bride's home, the groom's family kneels (the women do that) or prostrate (the men do that) for the bride's parents. The groom's family and the bride's family sit on opposite sides of the room, with the bride and groom sitting closer to the center, and the standing and sitting policemen sitting in the very middle.
The ‘standing policeman’ introduces the groom and his family to the bride and her family. He then brings a proposal letter from the groom's family, usually tied with a pink ribbon, and gives it to the groom's family, through the ‘sitting policeman’. The letter is read out, and responded to verbally on the spot. Since this is mostly a formality, and it is already known that the couple will marry, there usually is not much rejection at this point. Usually, a prayer is said at this point, and some symbolic items of food are tasted by the ‘policemen’ and then passed around to the guests. These include:
Some additional words may be exchanged, then gifts are exchanged, and then the families and guests eats and there may be singers and drummers for some celebration later.
The next ceremony is the taking of the dowry by members of the man's family. The bride price or dowry may be defined as money or goods given to the bride or her family by the groom or his family before or upon marriage.
In the past, it was customary for the groom's family to provide the bride's family with a dowry that would go to the bride's parents to compensate for some of the costs of raising her.
Nowadays, if a dowry is offered, it usually goes directly to the bride
As in many other African societies, it serves such functions as that of symbolizing the socio- economic statuses of the families to be united forever, that of establishing tie between the two families; and that of compensating the family of the bride for the loss of the services of their daughter. In most cases the amount to be paid depending upon on the quality of the bride: whether she came from an influential family or a poor one; whether she was a school, a high school, or a high university graduate or whether she was totally illiterate. As a result, women university graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find men who are able to release such exorbitant prices.
Traditionally, a couple is married after the engagement ceremony. The engagement ceremony also takes place at the bride's house, and her family is once again responsible for that. Both parties are dressed in aso oke, (uniform) which is more fancy and more expensive Nigerian attire.
The symbolic food may be passed around again. The couple usually gives each other a Bible or Quran, give each other rings, and they may say some words to each other.
The bride usually has her face covered during the ceremony. When the ceremony is over, and everyone goes 'outside' to eat, she usually waits indoors until she is called out for. Then she comes out (usually with a friend, still with her face covered), and kneels before her parents so that they may pray for her. Then she kneels before the groom's parents so that they may pray for her. Then she sits by the groom, and this is when she is unveiled, as she sits to eat with everybody.
After the couple is married, they go to the groom's house (his house, not necessarily his family's house). The custom is that the bride should arrive at his home before he does, and that she must wash her legs before entering, and be there to meet him when he arrives. (Somewhere in here, the bride changes her surname to that of her husband's.)
If the couple can afford it, they do take a honeymoon, and hopefully they live happily ever after.
Customs that used to take place in some of the Nigerian cultures are:
The following are facts/trends in the marriage structure. Just to answer some questions I've received.
The following are just facts/trends in the family structure.
After the three stages of the traditional wedding are performed, and the elders of the community have lectured the newly wedded couples the marriage and family trends, the couples are accepted into the community and it is an option for the couples to have a Church wedding. As far as the community is concerned both couples have been declared to be ‘man and wife’.
With this brief explanation, I hope I have been able to give you a clear understanding of what a traditional wedding process entails in Nigeria.