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Exchanging Marriage Visits: Ije Nleta





Exchanging Marriage Visits: Ije Nleta

After the investigative process (ohia ajuju—brush of inquiry), the next phase of traditional marrying consists of the young woman paying a visit to the groom’s home. This phase, however, is not rushed. Proper care is taken to ensure that all efforts are made by the families to familiarize themselves with, and assess the important features of, both the young man and young woman involved. This phase occurs only after the engagement (nkwekota) is enacted and witnessed by representatives of the wife-giving and wife-taking lineages. A market day (orie, afo, eke, and nkwo being the traditional days) is selected as the day when the visit will take place. On the appointed day, the girl chooses two or three girls and a woman from her maternal home to accompany her. Sometimes the girl’s baptismal sponsor (nne-ukwu aha mmiri nso) will escort her to the groom’s home. This first visit is called iga nleta ije di (going to view a husband’s home). The obligation to provide listed gift items and money is fulfilled on this day, and each person accompanying the bride shares in whatever is realized from this celebrated visit. The groom invites his friends and relatives to exuberantly welcome his proposed wife and bestow on her the highest appreciation. This serves as a means for the bride to evaluate the strength of the solidarity the groom enjoys. In addition, she is offered clues through jokes and discussions that arise from the payment negotiations that occur during the ‘washing of hands,’ which the bride and her companions engage in before eating food. Courtesy requires that the bride have her hands washed and paid for before she eats the food that is provided (ego isa aka or ikwo aka). Symbolically, this common rite emphasizes cleansing and purity, and also serves as a declaration of cheerful hearts and bodies at the commensality provided in the groom’s home. Invited friends and kin-people contribute various amounts of money as a show of appreciation and support for the visit, and to signify their solidarity in welcoming and accepting the bride into their fold. The combination of all these practices aid the bride and her entourage in assessing the ‘team spirit’ of the groom’s kin-group, and help her to decide whether events will continue to progress toward a marriage celebration, or be brought to a close.

            Following this ‘one day road knowing visit’ (imata uzo) is a four-day trial visit in which the bride lives with the groom’s family (ije di abali ano). And, following that, if she wishes, she may remain with them for another eight days (ije di abali asato). In some cases, there may be another visit that lasts for sixteen days (izu ano—four Igbo market weeks). Each of these visits affords the bride the opportunity to become acquainted with her in-laws and them with her. In addition, ‘viewing visits’ (iga nleta) provide opening for the girl to become acquainted with other members of the family. She is told stories and taken to visit farm lands, local streams and markets, and churches and festivals as a demonstration that she is welcome.

The bride’s visits to the groom’s home, besides allowing her to view and evaluate his situation, also provides a moment for her indoctrination into the local gender and marriage beliefs of the lineage. Elder women and the most recently-married wives of the lineage take it upon themselves to expose and impart the implications of accepting bridewealth gifts and blessings in order to impress upon the bride the fact that marriage is a serious issue, and that any bride who loves her life and her family would not play games or act irresponsibly. In this way, the bride is instructed in the gender rules of showing respect, displaying loyalty, and working hard. The women who do the instructing often point to themselves as good examples of these virtues. Also of significance is the instruction the bride receives on invoking the local deities and oracles as a part of the daily life of the lineage. The terms of relationship that a new bride must adhere to within the lineage in order to be blessed in her marriage will also be emphasized. Equally, the dangers that await a bride should she refuse the marriage or attempt to run away after the bridewealth processes are fulfilled are accentuated. Educating the bride on issues of proper living and cooperation is the privilege of elderly men and women, the most recently married women, and the groom’s father and mother. Daughters of the lineage (umuada) also play a role in the orientation of the new bride. Over all, the orientation of the bride is a gradual process that is effective in assisting the bride in the process of adjusting to married life in the patrilineage. Until the involved payments and services are settled, both the bride and groom are said to be “staying on the road.” That is, during the whole period of marriage negotiations and visitations, the bride and the groom regard each other as being ‘on the road’ (ino n’uzo alulu). The bride, in particular, terms her movement between her natal home to her future (husband’s) home as ino n’ije di (staying on the husband’s road). For that period, she travels from one home to the other on a regular basis. In like manner, the groom regards his travels to his wife’s home as ino n’ije nwanyi (staying on the wife’s road). For him, this period is characterized by his preoccupation with paying bridewealth. All of these references and metaphorizations will come to an end when the bride is finally escorted, with gifts and blessings, to the dwelling of her husband, where—assuming all goes according to plan—she will live in the patrilineal home for the rest of her life.

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