Igba Nkwu – keeping up with the demands of tradition

by Juliet Chekwube

If your husband-to-be is broke and “aka eruro ya ime” the wedding, tell us. We, your Umunna, will contribute some money to sponsor your Igba nkwu.

This was my Umunna’s response to my parents and I on the day we presented them with kola-nuts and drinks, to officially inform them of my intention to get married and for them to give me a traditional wedding date that will suit them.

Umunna is the male line of descent from a founding ancestor. The Umunna is the most important decision-making group in Igbo family and society. Igbo land is located in the South-East of Nigeria

My name is Juliet Chekwube, the first child and as well the Ada [first daughter] of my parents. I graduated from university, served my nation for one year (National Youth Service Corps) and afterwards I started seeking for employment – a government job, something official, but it wasn’t forthcoming. Still, I did other things to earn some money and waiting for a better change.

After youth service, I had a suitor who happened to be a friend. He came and made his intentions known and received a ‘yes’ to go ahead. Fast forward to planning for my Igba nkwu. We wanted to have a small ceremony with just a few friends. He would collect the wedding list, prepare for it and return on an agreed date to carry out what is on the list, as tradition demands. I was fully in support of the whole plan because I too, don’t like overpopulated or extravagant events.

Igba nkwu is the traditional wine-carrying ceremony, as part of wedding events in Igbo land.

But our ordeal had just begun! After coming to meet with my parents to tell them how he planned to accomplish everything, my parents accepted and told him to await feedback from their consultation with my uncles as ‘we are not the only owners of our daughter’.

My parents started calling and meeting with uncles to inform them of the good news and to make enquiries on how to proceed. One of my uncles expressed his happiness but said that he doesn’t have a say in the matter unless my oldest uncle is consulted, as he is the one with the final say. My parents went to meet the eldest uncle as advised.

Initial Challenges

On arrival at his house, his countenance changed when he sighted my parents. It was so bad that anyone would have noticed that he was very angry. When asked what the problem was, he said that my parents went to a younger uncle before coming to him, and that he must always be consulted first in any family matters before anyone else. My parents apologised and went on to explain why they had come.

My uncle flatly refused, stating that my fiancé’s plans are not acceptable to him. He instructed that my fiancé and his family must come to the village with two cartons of drinks and some kola-nuts to declare his intentions to them first, then pay some money before the marriage list is given to them. My parents came back home and delivered the message to my fiancé. He agreed and fixed a date for the visit.

Photo credit: https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/12/why-kolanut-celebrated-venerated-in-igboland/

On the said date, he brought everything as requested and declared his intentions to them, but the Umunna again refused. They told him that his plan to carry out everything on the marriage list will not work, so he must deliver the list exactly as stated, one after the other. The list had five stages:

  1. Collection of list
  2. Iku aka [Introduction]
  3. Mmanya Nne na Nna [Drinks for the mother and father]
  4. Mmanya Umuada na Mmanya Umunna [Drinks for the womenfolk and menfolk in the family/clan]
  5. Igba nkwu

The Umuada comprises of all the daughters of a particular clan, village, town or state, and is a group designed to present and protect their interests.

My parents disagreed with the pressure of my fiancé doing them one after the other, so they suggested that he carries out stages 2 (Iku aka) and 3 (Mmanya Nne na Nna) on the same day and at our house in the city. This is because those two rites involve only my parents. It was also agreed that the date for the last two rites must be fixed at least one month before the ceremonies.

Our daughter is a graduate. She should be married out loud, not like some local village girl.

The villagers hold a monthly meeting known as Uka Eke [every four market weeks]. At one of the Uka Eke meetings, my parents presented one carton each of beer, small stout, Amstel malt and one crate of mineral [soft drinks] to the Umunna to officially fix a date for the Igba nkwu. After the presentation, we told them that we intend to have a low-key Igba nkwu with only family members, a few in-laws and very few friends, with no loud music but that every other necessity will be provided.

But the Umunna questioned why such a low profile wedding –

Our daughter is a graduate. She should be married out loud, not like some local village girl.

Is our in-law-to-be a Sabbatarian? Why suggest such a thing or is he not capable to marry yet?

If your husband-to-be is broke and “aka eruro ya ime” [he is not strong enough to pay for] the wedding, tell us. We, your Umunna, will contribute some money to sponsor your Igba nkwu.

The word Sabbatarian is used here to refer to someone who does not believe in spending a lot.

Our reply was that this is the way we want it to be, but they were not happy and insisted it must be a large Igba nkwu. We were given a date a month to that day. In order for peace to reign, we promised that we will do everything according to their bidding.


The featured image shows Juliet at her Igba nkwu ceremony.