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Edo Customary Marriage

By E. Emovon


At birth a baby is unaware of its environment until sometime later. In death a child is thought to be unaware of the happenings at his or her burial. But at weddings, he or she is an active participant. These are facts with all peoples as they are facts in Edo land.

An important duty of Edo parents is to find a wife or a husband for their children, because it is not easy to choose a partner, with whom a child will live and share the ups and downs of life. Once married the couple will rear their offspring and be good examples to them. As it is in most parts of the world, marriage in Benin is in stages. There is the time for the man and the woman to build up a relationship, the time for both families to come together for betrothal and the time for the wedding.

Social custom based on economic class, nationality, group or religious beliefs, tend to influence the choice of a husband or wife in Edo land. For example, parents want their children to choose partners from their own ethnic groups, because they believe that marriages between such partners would be more compatible.

The family of a young boy may seek to demonstrate to the family of a girl-child of another family, that it wants their son to have the girl as a wife, when she attains the right age That family would have found that the girl-child is from a good home, with the advantages of good character; health and high social and economic class The family (usually that of the male) would give presents in cash and in kind to the girl ‘s family from time to time until the girl attains the age to many This is the way the Edo woo girls for marriage At the right time, the family will tell their son and he would contribute his service or cash for the girl’s development. Both families watch the children grow, and will actively mould them to be of good behaviour and to develop the discipline that will help them in a life-partnership of marriage

On the other hand, a child can make his or her own choice and present the girl or the boy to the parents. As is the practice of the people, the parents will make their own inquiry to be sure that the choice will be suitable. If the parents confirm the choice, the family of the male will exert greater effort to make the union happen. They will show more goodwill towards the girl’s family visit more often and give presents in cash and in kind.

As is usual in many cultures, the period for the boy and the girl to know each other and for the decision to wed, constitute the period of courtship. There is no limit to the time that courtship may take. In the case of a girl-child, it takes many years before she is ready to wed.

The effort to strengthen the friendship between the families must continue with both sides exchanging visits. The flow of gifts to the girl will assure her family of the suitor’s resolve and of his means, Preparation for the wedding also imposes a period of waiting and that means an even longer courtship. That gives the parties concerned still longer time to examine their relationship and for more people to have an input as necessary

Having made the choice of a partner, the next stage is to wed that, in Edo custom, is what the relationship between a man and a woman is really about. At the ceremony, the couple will receive blessing from both families and friends. Each is advised on the duties of the wife and of the husband; on child bearing and childcare; on cooking and on sharing of all cares in the home.

A wedding is among the most popular of all Edo celebrations. The procedure is simple. There is the betrothal and then the wedding. The wedded wife moves later to join the groom in their new home. And that will bring the Ceremony to an end. In Edo land, this custom of has existed for a long time and it is accepted in court throughout the country.

Weddings may take place in the evenings any day of the Edo four-day week, except on “Eken.” Weddings are] argely a family affair, but the rich have sometimes turned it into a carnival. And that has tended to alter the character and the content of the ceremonies.

Weddings are preceded by the presentation of gifts from the groom to the bride and her family. The ceremony takes place in the home of the bride’s father except when he is deceased. In that case, the venue will be the home chosen by the bride and her family.

Most people love palm-wine and it is a favourite at Edo weddings. Kola nut is special because it symbolises friendship and goodwill. Without it, the Edo cannot in normal circumstances, accept that a wedding has taken place.

The Betrothal
After courtship and introduction follows betrothal. Both families agree and fix a date when this may happen. On the day, the family of the male makes the trip to the home of the female. The host family receives and welcomes them. With the following:

a) +Okpan evbee (A bowl of kola nuts)

b) ++Ovbi’uko ogo (A calabash of palm wine)

c) *Soft drinks (assorted)

d) *Beer (assorted).

Mothers of brides are by custom required to stay behind the scenes. The elders of the families, including the fathers of the bride and bridegroom, take the front seat in the celebration. The guests, through their spokesman, thank the hosts for the entertainment and for the warm welcome. They accept the gifts and hint that they have come to seek a daughter of the household in marriage. That hint given, the eldest among the guests, prays with and breaks the kola nuts, with the wish that what they ask will be granted. Thereafter, the kola nuts and the drinks are served to the audience. And the guests keep whatever is left of the gifts.

The guests then present their own gifts. The following is what the custom requires:

a) 40 kola nuts

b) 1 Ovbi’uko ogo

e) * Assorted soft drinks

d) * Assorted beer and stout

e) 1 Uko ekhuekhue 20 tubers of yarn

f) 2 bunches of plantain

g) 1 tin of palm oil (about 20 litres)

h) 20 coconuts.

The guests then ask for the hand of the daughter they seek in the family. At this point, there are jokes from both sides to enliven the occasion. Both families sing songs appropriate to the occasion; there are many such songs of beautiful tunes. And they have much to do with prayers, the beauty of the bride and the import of the ceremony.

The hosts thank the guest family and ask if they will point out the daughter they seek among the bevy present. “Before we accept the gifts,” the hosts will say, “we must be sure that we have what you want and that the daughter will want to many your son”.
Thereafter the hosts will organise a parade of the daughters. Four of them, veiled and well dressed up will come out, one after the other. And the guests will strain to find the daughter they want. This daughter will usually be the last in the parade and will be the one most gorgeously dressed.

After the guests have pointed out the girl, the host family will then ask to know her suitor. The guest’ will present him to the acclaim and joy of all.

The Okaegbee of the host family will inform their daughter that the guests are there to ask ‘for her hand in marriage. They will ask her if, in fact, there was a suitor and if she knows him. If she says yes, the Okaegbee will ask her to step forward and touch him. She does that and then confirms her wish to marry him. That done the Okaegbee will pray for both lovers and both families. Then he breaks the kola nuts which are then shared to all present. He will open a calabash of ogo and pour some of it into a cup. He will pray for all present and hand the cup over to the leader, or the Okaegbee of the guest family. Whoever that is, will pray, drink and pass the glass round his km to drink of it.

The host Okaegbee will then tell the guests that his family has accepted the proposal. He will add that the acceptance has cleared the way for the young man to visit their daughter openly and as often as he wants. He can after that, also visit his in-laws-to-be if he wants to. The family will expect the young man to present gifts as occasions demand. He has to ask the youths of the family to let him have free access to his fiancée, to the house and to them at all times. The lovers are then warned to give long notice to both families, once they decide on the date for the wedding.

Food, drinks and other entertainment then follow

Wedding and the Giving—away Ceremony
The day of the wedding has arrived The family of the bride had handed the gloom a list of entertainment needs and gifts suited to the occasion The in-laws see the gifts as a token of a lifetime of services from the groom And they will expect him to present them at the wedding, to reaffirm his request the hand of the bride

The family of the bride hosts the wedding day and party. The events will take place indoors in the home of the bride’s father If he is deceased, they will take place at a venue chosen by the bride and her family Members of that family will start off the ceremony with tuneful songs.  The favourite for most Edo peopie are

Vbaghi ni vbe ‘di’ran o, ugi’ orno man do vbe ‘ran o


Vbokhin, Onyemwen no.

The family of the groom will arrive and join the hosts as they sing in joy. The bride’s family will present the kola nuts, dinks and assorted types of soft drinks to welcome them the host Okaegbce will call for attention. He will Welcome the guests and tell them that the family is happy to receive them.  And that they were presenting kola nuts and drinks in welcome, as custom demands

The guests, through the guest Okaegbee, will thank the hosts for the warmth of the welcome. He will add quickly that in spite of the attraction of the kola nuts and drinks, they have to tell the generous hosts that their visit is for more than food and drink. They want to marry a daughter of the hosts, and they have come to make a formal request on behalf of their own son. The spokesman of the guest party will  then plead that the hosts agree to their humble request.

The hosts will promise to keep the request in mind and will ask the guests to accept the gifts presented to them. It is as if what had been done is being done again. And that is the joy of the playful occasion. They will hold the bowl of kola nuts before the oldest male member of the guest family.

He prays for the bride and groom, for both families and for all guests present. He prays also for the success of the occasion that brought them to the home of the hosts before he breaks the kola nuts. Then he takes his share and passes the rest round for others to have their share, after that, he opens the calabash of ogo and pours libation to the ancestors. Then he prays before he hands over the first cup to the host Okaegbee. Drinks are then served to all present.

Entertainment continues as the guests now bring in their gifts. They present the gifts they can afford, but the minimum custom demands are:

40 kola nuts

1 Ovbi’uko ogo

1 keg of ekhuekhue (about 4 litres)

40 tubers of yam

2 bunches of plantain

1 tin of palm oil (about 16 litres)

1 bag each of salt, rice and garri (about 25 kilograms each)

1 litre bottle of honey

Some guest families have been known to add crates of beer, stout, cartons of malt drink, soft drinks as well as replace ogo with Schnapps or gin.

The guest Okaegbee wills again express gratitude for the warm welcome then he will present gifts to the hosts to reaffirm the purpose of their presence at the event.

At that time, the host family will ask the guests to present the young man seeking a wife. The guests will ask their ward to step forward to be seen. He will do that and he will restate his wish to have his host’s daughter as his wife. The hosts will call in the bride as they sing the joyful song:

Gho ‘mo (5 times), orno no ‘gie

A i kp’itan yo ‘mo o

Gho ‘mo (6 times) omo no gie

Erha rnwen gho ‘mo o,

Ije mwen gho ‘mo o,

Egbe mwen gho ‘mo o, Omo no’gie

A ¡ kp ‘itan yo ‘mo o

Gho ‘mo (6 times) omo no ‘gie

See the child (5 times). the great child

O deride not the child

See the child (6 times), thegreat child

O father. see the child

O mother, see the child

My family. see the child the great child

O scoff not at the child.

See the child (6times) the great child.

Then, the hosts ask their daughter to confirm to the family that she wants to marry the man they tell her that her confirmation that she will go through with the wedding is necessary, if they are to accept the gifts offered. She makes full statement of confirmation and returns to her room. The groom will also return to his seat.

Nerves calmed on both sides, the host Okaegbee will for the woman and the man. He prays too, for both families and for ah friends present at the ceremony He breaks a kola nut and prays: he takes his share and passes the others round for all to have a share He then prays holding a calabash of ogo. He pours libation to the ancestors after which he passes the calabash round. At the same time, they serve other drinks as well.

While that is going on, the host Okaegbee asks the guest family to present gifts to the bride’s mother and to representatives of the Ibieguae of the household. The guest family organises a small group of their members to do that duty. Drinking and singing go on at this point.

The group sent out to make the presentations returns to their seats. Soon after, the leader of the Ibieguae will come before the audience to announce that the guest family has served them and that they are satisfied with the gifts. The mother of the bride comes too, heralded by the song, ‘Iy’omo rh ‘igho’, which literally means, Bride’s mother has taken the money. She also reports that the guests have served and satisfied her. The host Okaegbee will then ask her if she agrees with her daughter’s choice. She answers yes and takes her seat. Then only will the hosts take away the gifts from the guest party.

The Bride Price
If the host family is satisfied with all that has happened, then the host Okaegbee will declare that the family was ready to give their daughter away. But the guest family will have to pay the bride price before they do so. The guest family then brings in the twenty-four naira bride price in mint fresh bills, covered in attractive Chinaware. The guest family usually adds more money, but the host family will only take the amount required by custom. They return the extra money, with the advice that the guest family use it to make the marriage of the couple even easier.

The Igberigue

The requirements of this part of the ceremony are

i  8 kola nuts

ji 1 Ovbi’uko ogo

iii 1 keg of palm wine

iv 1 bowl of sliced coconuts

v *An Ugiamwen (two hundred unbroken cowries)

When the guest party has provided the items the hosts asked of them, the host party calls the bride and the groom back to the place of the ceremony. They ask the groom to kneel before the bride’s father. The groom’s father stands behind his kneeling son, his hands on the son’s shoulders. The host Okaegbee call the groom’s name six times, but he is not to answer any of the calls The bride’s father will call him the seventh time and he will answer a loud E-Eyo’

After that, the bride’s father places his daughter’s right hand in the right hand held out by the groom. That done, he will say that he has given his daughter (her name now said aloud) in marriage to the groom from that day He then prays for the couple before they sit on the seats provided for them.

The bride‘s father later takes his daughter by the hand and leads her to the groom’s father. He will  sit her on his laps seven times and leave her sitting there, on him groom’s father now takes his daughter-in-law  to his son and will sit her on his laps The bride’s family then follow that  last rite with the solemn song;

Do Evbee-e (twice)       Hello Evbee (twice)

krha wue su mwen ‘ni cia mwen   Darling, see me off, your father says,

Do Evbee-e, Hello Evbce

Ivue wue su rnwen ‘ni da mwen   Darling, see mc off, your mother says

Do  Evhee e, Hello Evbee

Agha ron mw Oba, a I y Owa Marrv an Oba and be marooned in his harem.

Do Evbee-e.  Hello Evbee

Agha ron mw ‘Uzi, a ¡ gu ‘Ovia, Marry Uzi and never sail the Ovia

E E O Evbee   E e O Evbee

The rite so far, shows how important the family is in Edo marriage culture. The bride is wedded to a family. She is handed over to the groom’s father who vil1 be expected to take care of her as if she were her own daughter. The bride’s family advises the groom’s mother to do the same.

After that part of the ceremony, the groom’s family goes down on their knees to say thank you to the bride’s family. That is why the Edo still say that Igue aya rhi ‘Omo vb ‘Edo. Literally, this means you kneel to wed a wife in Edo land. They follow up the “thank you” and serve the guests more drinks. The Edo call the drinks Ayon ekpon mwen - drinks for thanks and appreciation.

The bride and the bridegroom kneel before the bride’s father who then takes one kola nut and prays for a fruitful and happy marriage. He breaks the kola and gives the couple a piece to share. That is to symbolise the sharing of life and cares. He also prays with a slice of coconut. Then he pours some palm wine into a cup and he again prays for them. He then asks them to drink from the same cup. The groom’s father also repeats the same ritual.

The hosts then serve food and drinks to their in-laws and to the guests present. This is the actual end of the ceremony, but families can add extra events and bring more entertainment as they think fit.

The Bridal  Procession to the Groom’s House
At the end of the wedding day, the bride and the bridegroom will each go to the homes from which they had come. If the third day is not Eken the bride’s family will take her in a procession to her new home — where the husband lives. In the evening of that third day, a party mostly of women will go with her. A man, a close relative of her father, will go with the group. They will take presents from the bride’s father to help her start her life in the new home. These presents will usually include clothes and dresses, as well as home appliances.

As part of the fun, the bride’s escort will talk of road blockades on their way. The groom’s family knows that only gifts can remove them. And they will rush forward with gifts. It is also a bold attempt to tell the anxious groom that if he wanted his wife, he would have to come and gather. They do this a discreet number of times along the way, with the party saying
Oha gha ni aro (bride, show of your sexuality) as often as they can. With each blockade removed, the party will break out in the song

Ovbio ‘ha zo ‘We re, Newlywed, step forward

Gboghodo  In elegance

Ovbio  ‘ha zo ‘we re.  Newlywed, step forward

Gboghodo In elegance

Nu do rhi ‘uwa, To grab wealth

Gboghodo In elegance

Oha mwen zo ‘we re   Newlywed, step forward

Oha nu  zo we re ghe nu zo ‘we re,  Yes step forward, yes step  forward
Gboghodo  In elegance

Then the refrain —
Siwo, siwo, siwo o siwo o     Siwo, siwo, siwo o siwo o

Se ‘vbi ye ‘din ‘man,             Pour oil on palm nuts and mash

Orokhoro                            Super easy

When the groom hears this refrain in the distance, he knows the bride is almost home.
The groom’s mother will provide a bowl of clean water, soap, and a brand new head-tie (ukhionofo), when the bride arrives at the door to the husband’s home. She also throws a few coins into the water. If the groom already has a happy and contented wife at home, that wife will bathe the bride’s hands and feet and wipe them with the head-tie, before she steps into the house. If the groom had been single, a woman with happy circumstances of marriage will be asked to carry out the rite.

The groom’s family receives the bride and the escort party. The representative of the bride’s father will sits the bride on the laps of her husband seven times and leaves her there. The groom’s family will entertain the escort party with a bowl of pounded yarn. They would have cooked a special soup with a whole hind leg of an antelope. They will serve kola nuts and food, two kegs of ogo or substitute and other drinks they might choose. They will pray for the couple, a kola nut and a keg of ogo in the hands of the oldest member. Prayer over, they will feast on the food. Then will follow drinks, songs and dance.

The groom will present gifts to the escort party and send some to his parents-in-law. That will usually include a bowl of pounded yam and soup worthy of the occasion. He will add:

4 kola nuts,

1 calabash of ogo or substitute, and other drinks as he chooses

The groom makes the gifts to convince the in-laws and others, that he spared no efforts to make the bride and the escort party welcome.

The party will leave for home leaving the bride and a female relative behind. That relative will help the bride for a few days as she tried to settle down to a new life and home

In the week that follows, the parents of the bride will send food to the couple the food will usually be pounded yam with soup prepared with the meat of the hind leg of an antelope. Custom requires the parents of the bride to care for the couple in the first week of marriage. In that period, the bride is called ovbioha by all. And relatives compete to indulge her and her husband with delicious food, the bride goes to the kitchen in her new home, for the first time on the seventh day There and then, she cooks for her husband for the first time.

From the third day after she was escorted to her husband’s house, the bride’s mother will look forward to a ‘blood-stained material as proof of her daughter’s first sex. The custom of the people regards the stain as a proud symbol of good upbringing. All Edo mothers are proud of it and it brings with it, praise and presents from an admiring son-in-law.

The couple starts to live a normal life from the seventh day. However, custom is dynamic and some changes have occurred through interaction with other cultures. Yet, the procedure and the processes outlined here are in detail, the true custom of the Edo.

(Emmanuel Emovon is a retired professor of chemistry at the University of Benin. He has been Vice Chancellor of the University of Joy, of the University of agriculture Makurdi and of Igbinedion University Okada Edo State. A former Minister for Science and Technology. Hold a PhD from University of London, D.sc (Hons))

+ No bowel size or number of kola nut

++ Modern practice is to replace ogo with schnapps or gin

*These are not required by tradition

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