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Betrothal Ceremony (Ugie-Oronmwen) And The Bride Price Package: Dowry Or Bride price

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

While some of our people tend to use the Word Dowry” inter-changeably with “Bride Price”, it is necessary to state that Benin tradition or custom, (as in other African Culture), recognizes “Bride Price” which is the money paid by the husband to the parents of his BRIDE. The Caucasians, the Indians and Asians practice the opposite system, namely, Dowry which is, the goods and presents given to the HUSBAND by the bride or her parents. The fact remains that, generally in Africa, a daughter is an addition to the wealth of her parents while in the Caucasian parts of the world, a daughter is Sub-traction from the wealth of her parents in that, on marriage, a portion of her parents’ wealth must be set aside and given to the man she is getting married to.

Benin Traditional wedding

After Ivbu (engagement) if the marriage ceremony is programmed into one single day as it is possible to do, the leader of marriage delegation raises the issue of outright betrothal of the host’s daughter including the payment of Bride Price (Igho-Ihumwun-Okhuo) and “Igberigue”. (Kneel and be blessed with your gift) This may be agreed to on circumstantial otherwise another visit may be arranged. At this age, the host consults with his family and if the ceremony is to continue, another stage would be set for a parade of some of the young girls of marriageable age in the household in three or four stages (in veils) so as to make sure of, and identify, the particular girl being requested for marriage There are some homes or families where names of girls may be duplicated or where there are strong resemblances. It thus becomes necessary to make assurances doubly sure particularly in polygamous settings and extensive family conditions. As soon as the veil is removed and proposed bride being requested is identified and recognized, there is joy, singing and dancing and further request for the formal betrothal. If this is agreed, the Okaegbee (head) of the girl’s family in turn, requests his daughter to indicate which of the men in their midst that she is willing to marry. When this is done, she is further questioned as to her full consent to enter into the proposed marriage. As she may answer positively, she goes back into the Inner Chambers of the house to prepare for the formal betrothal. The bride groom is also questioned as to the seriousness of his purpose, before the full glare of both families

On the bride’s arrival, the Okaegbee or the father of the girl addresses his daughter first, on the important step she is about to take. She is told in un-mistakable terms, that she has to make a success of her new home and once given away, she no longer has a place in her father’s home but in her husband’s i.e. her new abode for the rest of her life. “Ebe N’ode fi Uheamen Evba Okeke yi”. Meaning “till death do you part”“Enikhuikhu el romwen odo eva “. That is, “till death do you part”. Meaning you are to marry one husband, only.

She is also told, among other things, to respect her husband’s family members, father, mother, and relatives who constitute her nominal “husband”, according to tradition, and’ she should do all within her competence to promote peace and amity within her new, immediate; and the extended family. She is also asked publicly by her father or the Okaegbee to confirm if the family could accept a “price” for Marriage on her “head” plus other gifts which are non-refundable by the family.

If she says yes, the father of the bride then turns to his new son-in-law and addresses him in such terms as these “1 am giving you my daughter in marriage as you both love yourselves. She will be your wife and bear you children, male and female, one by one, or (in twins) as God may provide and gradually fill your home with good and responsible children. You must not enslave her. She is a wife to you, a helper, not a servant, not a slave. You must not ill-treat her. Never, NEVER you beat her with a broom or cudgel, or harm her in any way. Do not pass insults through her to us her family members. . This is forbidden in our land and you are enjoined not to commit any of these under any provocation whatsoever. My daughter too is prohibited from any such insults to your family. If you have any quarrel that goes beyond your immediate scope of settlement, make a formal report to us and we shall put our heads together to effect a settlement for good. God be with you in your endeavours”. With these or similar words pronounced, the two faini1ies proceed to the next stage of negotiating the BRIDE PRJCE. The Bride Price issue is usually settled after the engagement (Ivbu) and before confirmation of the marriage

The payment of Bride price is a vital ingredient in the marriage process without which the marriage under native law and custom is nullify. The Bride Price when accepted, gives full consent for the marriage and in the event of breakup of the marriage money paid has to be refunded not by the girl ‘s family but by whosoever marries her In the custom of Benin, the amount may appear negotiable, but it is uniform throughout the land. The amount has been £12 (Twelve pounds). There is a subsidiary of (ten shillings) or separate fee for sitting the bride on the laps of the bridegroom’s father. No matter the sum total or other incidental expenses spent on the marriage, only the Bride price is refundable, if and when the marriage breaks down and a separation or divorce is sought. If the marriage is blessed with a child or children, refund of Bride price may be waived, as a matter of discretion, not by CUSTOMARY LAW Refund of Bride Price in part or whole also depends on the age of the marriage. Some families who may decide to give out their daughters free-of-bride price do take a calculated risk as the marriage may be declared a nullity for this vital omission, if a suit is instituted in the customary courts of the land. In other words, the parties cannot lay claim to a valid marriage without paying the Bride Price, among other procedural essentials Benin custom strictly provides that Bride Price may be acceptable on a girl by her parents once and no more. When a marriage breaks up, refund of Bride Price occurs between the latest husband and the former one, not refundable by the girl’s family as such.

After due consultations with members of the girl’s family, the spokesman may be mandated by Okaegbee (head) to initially ask for a reasonable sum of money, taking a lot of factors like educational attainments, social and economic factors into consideration: The family of the bride-groom-to- be may agree or they may opt to negotiate and finally make a presentation of what they a able to find Conforming strictly to Benin customary law, the girl’s father takes the correct amount of £12 (Twelve pounds) plus the 10 (ten shillings) for sitting the girl ceremony allowed by customary law and refunds the excess, if any. Any amount in excess has no basis in Benin customary Law.
Caution in relation to ughughumwun i.e (removal of ¡impediments to bride’s free movement)
“Ughuhumwun” (removal of impediments) is a standard cultural practice of calling on the bridegroom or his parents to contribute compulsorily to the bridal party as the bride is being escorted to her matrimonial home. It adds fun and variation to the ceremony as messages are sent to the bridegroom. It is NEVER to be done during the presentation of the “young girls at home” i e. NOT DONE at the parade for identification. If it is done as erroneously in some cases in recent times, it makes no sense and the girl will, in so doing, be identified as the actual bride-to-be, thus negating the purpose of such an exercise of parading the young giris for identification. Thus, “Ughughumwun” is done only, and only when the bride has been identified and ceremonies of betrothal concluded i.e. when the bride is in procession to her matrimonial home. In other words, it is FORBIDDEN to place impediments Ughughumwun) in the bride’s family home where the parents reseated and performing the marriage rites. Women groups particularly cherish this item (ignorantly) where they can make demands on the visitors and the Bridegrooms family, but it is not the custom to do this at the marriage venue but only when the bride is being escorted to her (new) matrimonial home.

Answer to Questionnaires and open enquiries made, reveal that in the early period of Edo (Benin) history when modern monetary value became attached to the BRIDE UCE (IGHO-UHUMWUN) i.e. in the early 20th  Century, the amount fixed as bride price was UGIAMWEN (less than £1 pound sterling) The global depression that followed the First World War (1914-1918) brought about a revision of the Bride Price to £5 (five pounds sterling) IKPON-ISEN as the pound, under colonial rule was legal tender in NIGERIA The second World War (1939-1945) brought about further global depression and consequent depreciation of the affected world currencies including the pound sterling and this led to revising the Bride Price upwards to £12 (twelve pounds) IKPONIWEVA which has remained as current.

There have been spirited debates recently as to what amount is currently equivalent to £12 (Twelve pounds sterling) which was legal tender and in operation which the PRICE was last fixed or revised in the NINETEEN FORTIES The tendency has been to take a simplistic approach to regard N24 (Twenty Four Naira), now a pittance, as the equivalent of 12 (Twelve pounds) on the basis of N2 to £1 which formed the original conversion when the Naira replaced the pound sterling on  1st January 1973 as legal tender in Nigeria. This has become rather ridiculous and tends to make a laughing stock of the idea or value of a BRIDE PRICE. ‘Those who generally find this convenient do not appear to reckon of with the initial concept of the Bride price and the purchasing over parity of the pound at the time it was fixed, first as UGIAMWEN, later at £5 (five pounds) and much later revised upward to £12 (twelve pounds) If the country had not experienced the unprecedented hyperinflation that had now rendered the Naira currency  almost useless, the simplistic conversion might have been tolerated or acceptable but not the ridiculous pattern it has tended to assume for sometime.

As it were, the concept of fixing the BRIDE PRICE in Benin custom is not to make a commodity of one’s daughter at marriage and thus, virtually sell her into it, but to make the prospective husband or family make a stake in the In-law’s family and which (sum) is refundable if the marriage breaks down. This confirms the customary assertion Airhie omo ohe”“you do not marry a bride free-of charge”.The husband must feel the PINCH financially. On the side of the girl’s parents, the Bride Price when it was fixed at £5 (five pounds) or £12 (twelve pounds sterling) made good sense and the amount in hard currency as it was. Then could substantially build a mud house, or purchase other valuable commodities. . Also £5 or later £12 (twelve pounds sterling) was good salary per month for a senior clerk or a senior teacher even up to the fifties and £5 could purchase a “RALEIGH” (push) bicycle for an office messenger or road overseer, in Government service, and for the rural dweller provide comfortable transportation. The local cost of a “Raleigh” or other brand of bicycle today is above N5,000.00 (Five Thousand Naira), should currently be .chargeable price for the bride which will represent the initial idea of a moderate financial stake and affordable by ah strata within the Benin kingdom. however having regard to the relative stability of the, pound sterling which was the last known .Bride Price fixed by the traditional authorities of Benin Kingdom in the forties and promulgated by His Majesty the Oba, and having regard to its availability and convertibility in the exchange market, the twelve pounds sterling or equivalent in the exchange market could remain and be demanded as the Bride Price in customary marriages in Benin Kingdom. After al! certain cultures in Nigeria like the Ibos demanded much higher Bride Price contemporaneously than £12 twelve pounds) some £200 (two hundred pounds) plus other goods and chattels to accompany the bride to her new home. For such culture there is rationalization no doubt, but this is not to say that the BENIN people (IVBI-EDO) should take such a high stake but the idea of twenty-four naira bride price is a travesty of the system in Benin custom. This is OHE (free of charge) which negates the custom.

It is to be emphasized that while the Bride Price is a fixed amount or cash to be paid once-for-all to the family of the bride,
Benin custom demands that the suitor or future husband always support the wife’s family .throughout his life time. The Son-in-law is required by custom to send a packaged gift to his father in law annually, known as ‘AGBAN” (special basket) which in modern times, may be better known as “Gift Hampers”. The conventional period of gift presentation in the past UGAMWEM were EHO, new yam festival, (EMORHO) or IGUE (end- of: year - festivities). This practice can be sustained to fully uphold our tradition. The standard, or original contents of  the gift Hampers according to Jacob Egharevba were: seven yams in bundle, twelve shilling in cash and four pieces of kola-nuts; it may be accompanied by a keg of palm wine and/or a standard calabash tin of palm oil, or the leg (dried) of an antelope (bush meat). In modern times, the use of AGBAN or “Hampers’ in whatever shape or form conforms to Benin custom. The contents could be varied to reflect the individual tastes, desires or ability. Such gifts as neatly wrapped Christmas gifts, like wines, utensils, Shoes, dresses, plus the food stuffs and kola - nuts satisfies the basic ideas .in customary observances of the Benin people.

The son-in-law is also expected to help his father-in-law If he is building a house, preparing a farm or harvesting crops in due season. He can tender harvesting crops in due season. He can render physical help personally or present cash in-lieu of such traditional form of assistance. While all  these may constitute elements of Bride Price or Gift Package only  the £12 (twelve pounds paid in cash is refundable by the subsequent husband in the event of a divorce. Furthermore, when the father-in-law or mother-in-law dies, certain responsibility are reserved for the son-in-law at the burial ceremonies these can be outlined or explained in brief when marriage proposal is being made. It is a way of enlightenment of the couple to be alive, to their extended family responsibilities according to customary law in Benin Kingdom. Other cultures in Nigeria have their own or similar packages.

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