Europeans, Americans and Canadians, for example, laugh at African people who marry their wives with payment of money called bride price and by extension bridewealth. The point Igbo children in Europe, America, Asia, etc., need to know is that marriage of all forms involve small or big expenditure. The monies and services being expended or encountered are called different names by different societies. But whatever it is called the bottom line is every genuine marriage is carefully blessed with ceremonies appropriate for a society. That way, a heritage or tradition is followed for the moral universe of the population group.
In Igbo, usually, a separate day is selected for negotiating the bride price and, when this is settled, the marriage is concluded with a traditional wedding or blessing known as ihe nkporo or ihe atu, which is parallel to the modern Christian wedding. The amount of the bride price is paid in money or goods, depending on the social standing of the bride’s family and of the bride herself—educated or skilled and highly-resourceful girls tend to attract a higher bride price. Bride price may take the form of material goods such as cows (ehi, obu aku). A cow is symbolic in its equation with a bride’s worth in that cows are the most valuable domesticated animal in the area, and the traditional use of a cow in paying bride price exemplified the extreme value of the bride.
The pattern of negotiating the bride price differs from one locality to another, and is also influenced by the ability of the marriage witnesses or ‘go-betweens’ (ndi ebe). Negotiations are prolonged deep into the night, and the bride may be asked to present herself so that she may be praised (ija ya mma, itu ogo) by the wife-givers and appreciated (ina-bata ya, iri ya mma) by the wife-takers, thereby motivating the wife-takers to make a higher offer. While some groups negotiate orally, others use counting sticks called a bundle (ukwu nkpa—burden). A bundle is used in such a way that the wife-givers will pass a bundle of, for example, 100 short sticks to the wife-takers. The sticks may be cut broom-sticks, or chewing sticks. For that reason, an informant stated, the bundle is nick-named ihe atu (chewing stick, or measuring stick). The bundle signifies a measurement of the bride’s value. Regardless of the material used, the sticks convey both metaphoric and symbolic nuances. The wife-takers receive the tied bundle, count it, remove a certain number of sticks from the bundle, and return it to the wife-givers. The returned quantity signifies how much they have agreed to pay. With the wife-takers and wife-givers taking turns adding and removing sticks, the negotiations continue in that fashion until an agreeable sum is reached and endorsed.
The pattern is sometimes dramatic, and so symbolic that the Igbo express strongly that marrying is, in deed, the negotiation, in which the use of expressive powerful proverbs and speeches make the transaction one that serves to strengthen their ties and reveal the potentials of the parties involved. With the intensification of the Christian religion, ihe nkporo may still be conducted separately or on the night prior to the wedding day. Receptive forces of change from within and outside of the culture have incorporated this into the ‘bachelors’ eve,’ during which the groom’s peers facilitate and participate in the dedication and blessing rite.
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