First, one has to grow up, get all the required education, employment, leadership capacity and all else and then express readiness to settle down. Unlike in the west where lovers live together in one house or apartment before starting a marital life, the Igbo will frown at any form of co-habitation before marriage. Co-habiting before marrying is viewed as immoral and intolerable prodigality, especially on the part of the male. When a male is ready to marry, his family initiates the search for a bride. This search often follows a circle of relations beginning with ego and proceeding from inside to outside or asking close relations (iju ikwu na ibe). That is, the search begins with some close kin and valued friends, and then moves to other kin, neighbours, and villages or towns. A bride is only searched for from outside when the close kin circle fails to provide or endorse a bride. Upstanding and successful women in the village are approached first, and asked to introduce sisters and close relations as candidates for marriage. Of course, a less than ‘upstanding’ woman would not be approached in the same way. The search for a wife begins when a young man is considered mature in that he has been initiated into the masculine skills considered necessary for survival. Girls, on the other hand, are considered mature when they have mastered hygienic, household, and socially-related feminine chores. Males, with the help of their families and relatives, make known to their friends their intention of finding a ‘good’ girl to marry. Markets and ceremonies are visited with the purpose of observing and inquiring about marriageable girls (icho nwanyi). Usually, several girls will be selected for closer observation until the suitor settles on one through a process of iju ajuju (inquiries surrounding the selection of a bride and determining marriage suitability). The girl’s family will also make similar inquiries so that they can refuse a suitor if they are not satisfied that their daughter would be comfortable in the groom’s family. This refusal may occur even after the formal approach with palm wine and kola nuts has taken place and the intention to marry has been declared. This refusal is referred to as ekweghi na ije olulu a, literally meaning, ‘we do not accept this proposal.’ Metaphorically, it also means ‘the road did not go’ for the suitor (uzo ekweghi oguga). Emphasis is placed on the compatibility of families as a major issue when considering the suitability of marriage partners. In the event the girl has received important gifts such as unused wears, jewelries, money, and pictures, it is expected that she will arrange to have them returned, and keeping them would weigh heavily on her conscience.
If it is the man who decides that he is no longer interested in marrying a family’s daughter, the process for withdrawing is different; any subsequent traditional market days of ‘wine carrying’ (ibu mmai ogo) cease, and no excuses are made for withdrawing. No apology is made, no efforts are made to reschedule the event, and the indication of the man’s intention to discontinue the courtship is clearly understood by the girl’s family.
Marriage inquiries are directed toward different issues of individual and collective importance and also serve to officially inform the parents and the girl of the suitor’s intentions so that they can accept or reject his advances (igwa nne na nna and iju nwata nwanyi ma okwere ekwe). Soliciting acceptance, both privately and publicly, from both the man and the woman is a task performed by kin-people prior to payment of significant expenses constituted in the bridewealth commencing. On the one hand, the groom’s family concentrates on looking for a morally, physically sound, and appealing agboghobia (bride). On the other hand, the bride’s family focuses on securing a financially-capable suitor who will be able to pay out a rich bridewealth as equally noted by Iroegbu in 2007, Okehie-Offoha in 1996 and Nnoromele in 1998 respectively. The families’ divergent hopes and expectations are played out depending on the number, and category, of suitors that approach the girl’s family with the intent to propose marriage. Once the contact is established and intention considered, visiting begins with respect and this amounts to ije nleta, going to view a husband’s homestead.
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