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Courthip And Marriage Proposals (Oronmwen- Ivbu)

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

The FOURTH and commonest way of fixing up a marriage involves the preliminary stage of COURTSHIP or finding a suitable partner for marriages. It is a critical stage of friendship, for decision- making in favour of, or against the proposal to get married known as IVBU which is equivalent to modern day engagement.

The first stage in the marriage proposal is for a young man and his family to source for a girl of their choice. Generally, in Benin culture, a suitor might or might not have had access to the girl he proposes to marry, depending on the circumstances of the girl’s home. Strictly speaking and in the old order of things, it was very difficult for a suitor to warm himself to a house not his family house, or for direct aces to be arranged as young girls who are female attendants or maidens (children of the household) were kept in the harem under strict care and surveillance of IBIE_ ODUWOWA or IBIEGUA (male attendants) who may have limited access too, so it is special task for this access to the inner chambers of the house to be arranged or corned through the servants or their younger male or female members of the household, known as “IBIEGUA” or  IBIE-ODUWOWA. During the courtship period a suitor needs to be generous to those who can pave his way though. He does this by presentation of tips, gifts in cash and in kind, as will be seen later when opportunity is given for Ibieguae (male attendants) and Iye-Omo (mother of the Bride) to publicly acknowledge that they are satisfied with the gifts given to them by the prospective son-I n- law to the family. .,

With modern advancement in educational and economic activities, access to a girl is being arranged in various other ways. A suitor might have met his dream girl at school, primary, secondary or tertiary or at work, at religious services, at birthday parties, or other numerous get-together opportunities or by other specific arrangements. Irrespective of having met formally or informally, it is the vogue that during marriage ceremonies under the. native law and custom, the original arrangement of obtaining access to the home of the girl enacted not only to underscore the necessity to keep surveillance over young girls before marriage, but also to get everyone in the household involved, satisfied and happy. In the rare cases of TRIAL MARRIAGE i.e. when a girl elopes with a man or a man rather unilaterally attracts a girl or impregnates her and they eventually live together as “husband” or “wife”, the full ceremonies will need to be performed when it becomes necessary to regularize their social status.

When a young man makes his intention to marry known to his parents, this is fully discussed by the parents and other consultations made in the second stage of the arrangement for marriage, particularly during the courtship or period of close friendship. Similar discussions and close examination also take place in the various circles of the family of the girl intended marriage.

This separate, independent discussions and discreet investigations stage is very important for recognition of the proposal both by the suitor’s family and the family of the girl being proposed for marriage, for cohabitation to be regularized into proper. Marriage it is even more important for discreet investigations to be conducted before formal presentation or betrothal can be authorized. If the investigation results prove negative the marriage may not be formalized and in which case the purported marriage or cohabitation might have been a misadventure. The following are the prohibitions against traditional marriage solemnization in Benin Culture.

The screening is to ensure that there is no close blood relationship usually up to the 4th generation or otherwise 3rd cousin stage.
The following table shows the degree of blood relationship in Benin;


Name in Benin

How related

Whether marriage permitted or not

1st  Degree


Full or haif brotheror sister

Not permitted to inter marry

2nd     ‘’


 1st  Cousin

 Not permitted

3rd     “

 Ihien- hien

 2nd   “


4th     “


3rd     “


5th     “


4th     “

Marriage is permissible

Marriage is only freely allowed from the 5th degree or 4th cousin stage known as “GHABIONA”. In Benin custom, extended family ties are very strong and enduring. They can be recognized easily by the surname, by UKHU (the family traditional morning greetings) and other close associations. Generally speaking therefore even a distant relation is dissuaded from marriage within that (global) family. See page 8 of N.W.THOMAS “the Edo-speaking people of Nigeria”(1910)JAS And also J.U.EGHAREVBA page 12 “Benin and custom” Where he states within the family inter- marriage is allowable from the fifth generation Ghabiona onwards” There are exceptions however to the rule, when an affair has already taken place a child may be on the way. It may be considered that relationship is on the far side from the fourth generation, in which case before such a marriage is to be authorized or supported , a live goat must be presented by the man’s family as the or propitiation, to assuage the ancestors. When the goat is slaughter it signifies the “separation” or excision of one of them (who is named), from the family lineage (while the other who named), remains in the family’s mainstream. Both parties will not eat of the meat used excepting the goat’s ears to be given to them if the affair occurred without consent or family acceptance, to literally. Sharpen their ears and. Learn a lesson from the episode. But if the union was duly approved, both parties have appropriate share from the feast of goat meat used the propitiation and “excision” of one of them from the family

Instigation will also ensure that the family of the proposed bride or groom has no taboo which can be of various; Health, Social, Cultural or declared Oghia-evba i.e enemy of the Oba or the people. A marriage proposal can be refused, or aborted if there is any trace of epilepsy, insanity, witchcraft or any other fatal disease etc In Some cases, some particular families will reject marriage proposals where there have been cases of Albinos in families.

Before the advent of the British colonial administration of Nigeria there were slaves OVIEN OR IGBON captured from other lands, they could only inter- marry within their caste to multiply for their masters. If a free citizen marries a slave, the slave automatically changed status and became free citizen. The indigenes of Benin could not marry them. But with the abolition of slavery, the slaves gradually got integrated so that it is no longer necessary to distinguish them as “untouchables” as many such untouchables might still exist in other area within Nigeria and outside. Even when families are known to have migrated to Benin and from Benin to have migrated elsewhere, such families are known to have fully integrated which could be mentioned for historical reasons only but not raising objections to marriage. Each case is however considered on its merit


It is vital to ensure also that the proposed bride has good character and upbringing in which case, there would be special focus on her mother’s (up to her grandmother’s) stability in the home. As for the future husband, he should be strong, presentable and capable of supporting the family and must not be a criminal of any sort or a murderer.
While this may be taken into account, good character and home training supersedes good look-S or physical features in the scheme of things.

A foreigner, or someone from another ethnic group may seek to acquire Benin .citizenship, which is the prerogative of the Oba (king) to confer or refuse. When this is done, the incumbent enjoys all the rights and privileges of a citizen of Benin. There are established cases, for instance the Late Adeyinka Ayinde Olowu, a Yoruba man from Ilesha who settled and established his home and businesses in Benin,. Married Bini women under Bini customary law, and applied to the Oba for Benin citizenship which was granted. When he died, his estate was administered, not according to Yoruba custom, but according to Benin custom. This issue was spotlighted by the Supreme Court of Nigeria Judgment in OLOWU VS OLOWU (1985)2NWLR (Pt.13) 372.


After the completion of investigations and feeling of the “pulse” or reaction of the girl’s family, a formal visit is arranged by the family of the proposer to make known the intention to seek the girls hand in marriage. The procedure is, firstly, that the girl’s family welcomes his visitors, as it is traditional to welcome visitors to the home. After the introduction of both parties-host family members and visitors, the host presents kola-nuts. (Even numbers) and drinks in modest scale available. But if a previous appointment had been booked and agreed, the girl’s father may show greater hospitality by presenting assorted drinks. If the visitors travelled from a distant place, he may also invite them to take some food or refreshments according to what are available.The kola nuts and drinks are automatically accepted ad the food may be declined or put forward courteously in order not to give impression of a hungry lot. The breaking of kola-nut is done by the visitor in accordance with the. Established Benin custom that when visitors come into a house, new prayers and good wishes come with them. As the interaction goes on, the visitors quickly make known the purpose of their visit in order to preempt others who might have the same intention. It is customary to consider first come for first acceptance and. also to erase any impression of a hungry visitor or a vacillating visitor who beats about the bush. The host will normally note the purpose but may not necessarily pronounce outright acceptance. The host may courteously insist on his visitors splitting and praying with the kola-nuts first and not jumping the gun in making their request. An atmosphere of cordiality meant to pervade the ceremony.

There is a popular story or legend quite often rehearsed in Benin, illustrating the point that when you arrive for the purpose of asking for a girl or woman  in marriage, you must not allow for any diversion but must go straight to establish your case or make your request. The story goes, of a very eligible gentleman who visited the family house of a friend, to ask for the favour of marrying the daughter. Having deposited the gift of firewood as the tradition demands, he met his host “at table”. Simple courtesy blended with Benin tradition of hospitality, demands that his visitor be invited to join the family “at table”. The visitor was quick at accepting the offer so, he joined. Another visitor came, in quick succession, deposited his firewood appropriate1y, went straight to make the request for betrothal of the hosts daughter. He was similarly invited o partake in the meal, but he politely declined, saying that the mission that brought him was more important than food at the material time. The new visitor quickly made a clean breast of his mission, to ask for the daughter in marriage. The first visitor cut in to say that it was the same mission of the marriage of host’s daughter that brought him. In reply, the host dishonored the request of the gentleman “at table” with him (the first visitor), saying that he already engaged in the primary assignment that brought him to his house, namely, to eat and drink! The request of the other gentleman was then .considered and granted on the basis of the first approach and the seriousness of his purpose therefore for the Benin man considering marriage very high level is attached to seriousness of purpose and hitting the nail on the head, and NOT beating about the bush. This episode is quite popular in the entire Benin it is meant to be a guide to suitors and their family members when soliciting marriage

This ceremony is meant to be a very humorous affair with both sides making one form of joke or the other, to create positive impressions on their In-Laws- to-be. The prayers are however said on a more serious note to complete the episode kola-nuts presented are split and shared, some of the drinks bought by the family of the suitors are served, and the remnants are taken to the inner Chambers for storage and for other visitors who may call. There appears to be no hard and fast rule but this, depending on the prevailing circumstances.

The institution of customary marriage in BENIN provides for OSUOMWAN Le., the person appointed to guide direct the family or parents of the suitor to the family home of the girl proposed for marriage. This person is expected to be personably familiar or acceptable to the parents of the girl, such that when the delegation gets to the house, essential rapport would be easily established. He is also expected to have liaised with the two families so as to feel the “pulse” and ascertain the basic customary requirements and demands for the success of the ceremony. In the past, a fee was chargeable for the role of the adviser or family guide (osuomwan) - In modern times, the duty is performed FREE. In some cases particularity when a suitor comes from cultures outside Benin, the family guide or intermediary will be regarded as a guarantor or sponsor who should be familiar with the local conditions of the home of the proposed bride.

The next stage of the marriage ceremony is for the visitors to reciprocate and present their own kola-nuts and reinforcing the object of their visit, having broached the matter at the earliest opportunity. The leaders of the delegation or adviser (OSUOMWAN) then elaborate, on what was introduced briefly as the purpose of the visit. This creates impression of a serious purpose of the visit It is part of the customary demands that the visitors go on their knees and display humility in making this request or plea, which is of paramount importance as it is a request which will bring two families together forever. Marriages in BENIN represent very strong ties between two extended families such that it can be generally regarded as ALLIANCE or a social contract between the two families.

In replying, the head of the girl’s family (OKAEGBEE) on behalf of the family may note the request for further consideration. The first phase of the consent however maybe to agree that the proposed husband be granted free access to the home and given recognition as a possible son-in-law, all depending on the prevailing mood and particularly, the penitence of the visitors. The more the pressure that is brought to bear, and the supplication for the marriage that will determine the reaction from the host family. Otherwise, the ceremonies could be postponed and performed on another day. If that particular day is not the appropriate market day, it will be obligatory to shift the final ceremony to a more favorable day ahead.

This aspect (IVBU) is equivalent to modern day INRODUCTION OR ENGAGEMENT CEREMONY The suitor is formally introduced and presented. His parents also presented, the host, particularly requesting to know the parents of the suitor who is to be given heavy responsibilities for the success of the marriage as the future parents-in-law are expected to induct the proposed bride on her new role and truly make her a daughter of theirs.

The host family-leader (OKAEGBEE) then prays with the kola nuts presented by the visitors and splits them for distribution. The prayers are directed to God and the ancestors to cement the proposed friendship between the two families and for the most high God to help them to give adequate and fair consideration to, and finalization of the request being made of them. The kola-nuts and some of the drinks are shared and some taken .to the Inner Chambers for other uses. At the point of agreeing to allow the proposed husband free access to the house and recognitionsthewou1d-be son-in-law, the visitors are expected to show humility and appreciation by going on their knees as Edo (BENIN) custom: demands, to thank the hosts. Melodious songs are rendered to fit the joyous occasion. Some of the specially composed songs for such occasion can be found in one of the sample programmes (sample programme B) The songs are by no means exhaustive. Most of the extended family circles in Benin have songs peculiar to their lineage and they have talented women to render these song.

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