My Igba nkwu ceremony (Part 2)

This blog post concludes Juliet Chekwube’s story about her traditional marriage ceremony in Igbo land of Nigeria. Read the first part here: Igba nkwu – keeping up with the demands of tradition.

When the Igba nkwu day finally arrived, a total of 72 cartons, crates and kegs of assorted drinks – beer, mineral, small stout, malt and palm wine – were presented to my Umunna, according to the list of items which they kept expanding. They were dragging matters up and down to find fault but my fiancé had everything sorted out, and even bought extra drinks to avoid excuses.

There were also different dishes to accompany the drinks, plenty of decorations and cakes, an MC [Master of Ceremony], the DJ even started playing music the night before the event, and other things just to make the event big and befitting to my Umunna.

The drinks that were presented to my Umunna.

The interesting thing to me was that their list also included the following items and amounts in Naira [currency used in Nigeria]:

  • Purse – N5000
  • Big brother (of the bride) – N3000
  • Small brother (of the bride) – N3000
  • Umunna – N2000
  • Ikwunne [bride’s mother’s village/family] – N1000
  • Prayer man – N1000
  • Youth – N5000

But when it came to the “Mother’s money” and “Bride Price” items, these were listed as “negotiable”. This was funny to me because it meant that they wanted to maintain control over these important areas and demand big amounts from my fiancé. I also noticed that there was no money for the sister of the bride and the Umuada in the family.

The scheduled time for the Igba nkwu ceremony was 12.00pm, to enable our guests to travel to my village early and have everything done on time before everyone departs. Unfortunately, as at 4.00pm, the ceremony was yet to start. My Umunna delayed the whole process, still asking and looking for one thing or another. After so much delay, the Igba nkwu started around 4.30pm and the whole programme was hurriedly done.

The Igba nkwu ceremony in Igboland usually involves three stages and at each stage, the bride is dressed in three different attires.

First, I came out with my aso ebi* girlfriends and sisters to greet and welcome my groom, his family, friends and all the guests. The second stage is called ‘ire akwa’ or ‘ire oji’. Before the ceremony starts, pre-boiled eggs, packets of sweets or garden eggs [eggplants] are wrapped in foil paper so no one can guess what’s inside them until they are opened. The packages were given to me and my girlfriends to distribute.

*Aso ebi (pronounced ASHO EYBEE) = Nigerian outfits made from matching fabric to be worn by a group of people to a party, wedding, or funeral as a uniform. (Urban Dictionary)

During this second ‘ire akwa’ stage, I appeared in my second attire to serve my groom and his people first, and then the other guests. My aso ebi girlfriends followed me around, dancing and carrying the wrapped packages as I ensured that each guest received one. In return, my groom dropped an amount of money in a bowl to appreciate his bride, and the other guests did the same in appreciation of the gifts received. All the monies realised from the ‘ire akwa’ or ‘ire oji’ belongs to the bride.

In my third and final outing, I was dressed in matching outfits with my groom. At this stage, I again emerged with my girlfriends and went straight to my Dad (in the absence of the bride’s father, the eldest male in the family takes this role). I was given a gourd [wooden cup] of palm wine to go around in search of my groom. This custom is to announce the chosen one to everyone present. When I found him, I handed the cup to him to drink from it and he did the same to me, indicating acceptance on both sides.

Dancing at the ceremony (left) and presenting the gourd of palm wine to my groom (right).

Together, we returned to kneel down before my Dad (or the eldest male who handed over the cup of palm wine) for prayers of blessings on our new union and family. After the prayers, we headed to the dance floor where we were joined by our guests, who proceeded to ‘spray’ [shower] us with money as we danced. The dancing was followed by the cutting of our traditional wedding cake, refreshments and lots of merriment.

The Igba nkwu ceremony was concluded when I was formally handed over to my husband and escorted out of my family home by the Umuada with more prayers, singing and dancing. I was thankful that despite the stressful preparations and challenges, my Igba nkwu turned out to be an enjoyable event.

Have you had a similar or different experience to Juliet’s? How would you describe the traditional marriage event (if any), where you come from? Please share in the comments below.

The featured image depicts a traditional wedding cake comprised of a brown calabash and small gourd filled with palm wine, neck beads, garden eggs and kolanuts. Source: Pinterest.