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The Various Ways Of Effecting Marriage In Benin ( Oronmwen)

Last Update (July 9, 2020)

Before the advent of Western culture there were FlVE distinct ways of marriage proposals in Benin Land, directed tonsuring a Virile, smooth and systematic relationship A sixth one induced by modern economic growth which really cuts across the other has since been added  i.e. marriage by proxy
These systems are listed hereunder;

(1)  Infant Betrothal or child ‘marriage ORQNMWEN-IGAYI OR IGAYI-OMO.

(2) Marriage through initiative of the bride’s parent IZOHE-OMO (Akhue Oha or Okhuo N’ akhue’ rie).

(3) War hostage and royal demand

(4)Marriage through direct or indirect courtship or by personal choice of mature young ladies or arrangement of the bridegroom family Oronmwen Ivbu)

(5) Marriage by inheritance (Oronmwen Na’re vb ‘ukhu)

(6) Marriage by proxy (Oronmwen emwan nir uria) with the two families meeting and negotiating without one of the two (spouses) or both of the two (spouses) present.

NOTE: Un-approved cohabitation was not a recognized form of marriage as society frowned at it. Anyone that indulged in it brought disgrace to his/her family and looked for opportunity to regularize or validate such relationships.

The society then, in Great Benin, being largely polygamous evolved these marriage approach system over the years, to ensure a harmonious and peaceful co-existence and for much desired procreation. Polygamy then was a stature symbol, but those who could not afford it were not obliged to have more than one wife but the (polygamous) system was the vogue, which was adhered to and respected in ensuring continuity of the Benin race, according to custom and tradition .The BINI people held on tenaciously to the belief (borne out of experiences), that when one wife bears ten children or more for one man the ten children should be regarded as “One” hence the general insistence on polygamy which was expanded further by the practice of concubinage by the men folks. Children from such “Mistresses” or concubines however are not automatically recognized by Customary Law and tradition for purpose of inheritance particularly if they are male children and (claim to be) senior, to siblings of recognized wives of the home. The people of Benin have thus been remarkable in holding on to their custom and tradition in this regard and in other aspects of community and social life. To illustrate this, HON JUSTICE R.A.L OGBOEINE, retired High Court Judge (now late) and the author of “Materials and Cases on BENIN Land Law” Wrote when he dedicated his Book to “His Highness Akenzua II  CMG,Oba of Benin, the Chiefs and people of Benin” “for the remarkable manner in which they have held very tenaciously to their culture and tradition in spite of western influences". (Underlined by the writer). The richness and beauty of this cultural heritage can be observed during traditional marriage ceremonies properly which conducted in a typical family setting in any part of the Benin City Metropolis (now OREDO EGOR and IKPOBA-OKHA  or In Ovia Orhionmwon or Uhunmwode, largely rural setting of the kingdom.

These various ways of effecting traditional or customary marriage are highlighted as follows:


(A) Where the suitor solicits

(b) Where the parents give on their own volition (“SUO MOTU”).

The oldest process or bidding for betrothal under customary law in Benin Kingdom is the agreement to give away infant female children in marriage, IGAYI, to a (family) which would be solemnized at maturity i. e. when they attain puberty. It could be;

(a) Where the Suitor asks or

(b) Where the parents decide to give, “SUO MOTU” In this process. A NEWLY-BORN female child was usually requested by a family as would-be wife.
Solemnization takes place when she attains puberty and after the IWU markings the body markings of the Edo people”

“When to acquire the Iwu: Acquisition of the IWU terminated adolescence and commenced adulthood. A man would usually have his IWU done before he took his first wife. A woman usually had hers done just before she left home for her husband’s. Her parent put her through the ritual and the proposed husband paid the expenses. With the healing of the Iwu the marriage ceremony was performed and the bride left for her matrimonial Home.”

In some neighboring culture, circumcision of the Young girl takes place just before the marriage is performed. In Benin circumcision takes place when the child is only a few days or a few weeks old depending on the health condition of the baby. In Benin culture, the IWU (body markings) as quoted above, marks the beginning of adulthood in both male and female members of the community.

For the female child, she dubs the appellation “Ovbialeke” or Ovbokhan-Uvbi (young Lady). For the Male, he will be considered capable of raising a family after the successful performance of IZEKI i.e. his manhood ceremony thus recognizing him as an adult “Eghele” and also, after the performance of “IWU” the body markings to graduate on marriage, to ODAFEN..

Similar practice of child “Marriage” or “Betrothal” obtains in other cultures in Nigeria and outside Nigeria or Africa. As in the Jewish Custom, referred to in Lk. 2:5 ‘when St Joseph went to Bethlehem “with Mary who was espoused to him a ‘wife”. In Benin when a baby girl is born, a marriage proposal a may be made, as soon as possible, by neighbours or friends of the family who may pay social visits and present particular gifts for this purpose. The commonest gift in the past in Benin Kingdom was that of a “log of wood” or “bundle of firewood” generally in high demand for cooking and warming the house of the nursing mother of the baby girl. This simple ritual is competitive as the first to make such presentation was. Customarily given first consideration, This attests to the customary observance by the people of Benin of the queue culture or the principle of first come,. first served. With modern development, the gifts (equivalent) to be presented (not cash) might range from baby toiletries, to baby foods and milk where the practice subsists. The man who makes the presentation of such gifts may request for the (baby) girl to be nurtured and prepaid for him or his son as a wife. If he is considered too old, the proposal may be for any of his children or for a particular one to be named. If accepted, other gifts. Of kola-nuts normally follow to recognize the proposal and accept the son-In-law-to be.

The Benin custom provides that such son-In Iaw to-be remains very close to the family. He, is in fact, integrated to the two families may combine to bring up the girl while she grow (future son in-law) assists the girl’s family financially and materially, or provides physical labour (yam pounding, farm labour etc) to prove his mettle during the course of the upbringing of the girl bride. In rare cases be demanded prematurely or paid in advance, otherwise, this is generally left to the period close to the girl’s attainment of puberty when her consent can be obtained. If bride price is paid at any stage and the girl refuses to marry the husband proposed for her, that bride price must be refunded by the parent or by whoever turns up to marry the girl on coming of age The log of wood or bundle of firewood, or other gifts or services are not refundable. It is only attests to seriousness of  purpose and the mutual agreement is fully respected. In the event of the demise of the girl before attainment of the age (marriageable), no refund of bride Price will be made as it is recognized as “an act of God”. lf the ,husband-to-be had been attested to have recorded satisfactory service and could make a good son-inlaw, another daughter might be betrothed to him in lieu of the former one. For this system of early marriage or betrothal, the need for courtship, and other preliminaries are obviously eliminated. The marriage ceremonies (Ugie-Oronmwen) may then come up at the final stage of giving out the girl in marriage ie. “IMIONMO” or confirmation followed by “IGBERIGUE” and sitting of the bride on her husband’s father’ slaps.

This system of infant or child betrothal has been dying out very fast due to educational attainment very high incidents of the girls’ refusal to marry men of their parent choice, and frequency of elopement in order to avoid going through such ceremonies against the will of the girl. It has also been a major target of attack and propaganda by women emancipation drive. Various women societies and religious group in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. The system has certainly been under bombardment and condemnation as outdated and unprogressive. The inter Africa Committee WHO (world Health Organization) for the prevention of Harmful Practices affecting women and children (IAC) then headed by Dr. Irene Thomas of Nigeria has also been in the Vanguard of condemnation of early marriage. The Beijing (China) conference organized by the U.N.O on women empowerment in its declaration identified “some Harmful, Traditional Practices affecting women and girls” which include early marriage for girls which are to be discourage or abolished see article in  “The Guardian” of Nigeria on Saturday 27th  February 1998 on “When Tradition hurts”. However, the infant or child betrothal system helped in no small measure in grooming and channeling young women to carefully selected homes. While most of such marriages succeeded because of the discipline of the times, many young girls found themselves marrying husbands already with multiple wives without a choice. But there are those young women who voluntarily got married to husbands already with wives and these, no doubt, took their own decisions and had their fate in their hands. By and large, in the dying system, there was clear-cut and build-in guidance and counseling which made young women take pride in married Iife and shunned the freedom to take to easy virtues as have become prevalent in modern times.

In recent times, some girl is (within and outside the Benin Culture) have been noticed to have taken their parents to Court to effect refund of bride price paid to the family by prospective suitors that they refused to marry. Such hither-to unheard of and forbidden practices are having reverberating effects on related issues in Benin Kingdom.


The second method of marring in Benin culture may be through the outright initiative of the girl’s family. This is recognized by custom. Arising from long- standing friendship, mutual co-operation, chivalrous display, or as a mark of gratitude for a good turn, a man may decide, “SUO MOTU”, to give out his daughter to another man or to his friend or his friend’s son for marriage The Binis used to take advantage of this system to ensure that their daughters got into good homes for marriage, or to curtail or anticipate waywardness among the growing women folk.

This system was very popular before the advent of Western in culture but it is still practicable. What it entails contemporaneously, is for the parents of the girl to discuss the issue with the girl and obtain prior consent. Seeing the close relationship of the families, the girl may raise no objection and once consensus is reached, the father of the girl announces his-intention and the lucky family reciprocates. There is a very thin difference between this traditional system and the modern’ practice of inter-family friendship resulting in courtship and eventual marriage.

In the civil war Great Benin Empire days, a victorious General, Captain, (Okakuo) or war-lord, may have the luck of coming back home with some wives as captors or gift, among other goods, chattels or  loot from the conquered territory, mostly battles fought outside the old Benin Empire or to check insubordination Within. Such gifts are expected to be reported to His Majesty, OMO N’OBA N’EDO, the OBA (King) who has overall suzerainty over them. He may give his blessing to his generals to go ahead to acquire such women as wives as they could cope with. From family history, the writer’s grandfather, Chief Osakue Igori of lbiwe, a war captain, had such a gift of a wife from the Owa Obokun of Ijesha land, Biladu I when he led a military expedition to capture Ogedegbe of ijesha who organized incessant raids on the Great Benin Empire. For his bravery in helping to rid Ijesha land of the nuisance to both Ijesha and Benin, Oba Biladu gave him his own daughter, Aina, for a wife who had five children for the writer’s grandfather.

Also by virtue of the customary practice of selecting some damsels for his majesty the Oba, known as “IBAIGBAN” (Royal Demand), some damsels would be reserved for the Royal Harem, (ERIE) unless the embargo is graciously lifted after much prayers and supplications. This “IGBAN” or Royal Embargo my represent the palace choice in selection of wives for the-Oba’s Harem, which no true Edo (Benin) Person could refuse, unless it is proved that there is lawful impediment like close sanguinary relationship or other forbidden no-go areas or families.

The seven king-makers UZAMAS were also in the distant past exercising this prerogative within their enclaves only with the express approval of the Oba. According to Benin customary law, any gift of a wife with the exception of hostages from the war-front requires the payment of Bride Price and ancillary ceremonies to validate the marriage. NO Marriage may be free of-Bride Price payment if such a marriage is to be valid under customary law in Benin in linr with the dictum “AIRHIOMO OHE” (meaning no wife is free gift). The only exception is the Oba’s choice of wives, for whom he may present gifts in kind to the lucky family. The Oba (king) has numerous ways of compensating his subjects for various services rendered to the Palace. It is therefore a rare privilege to give one’s daughter to the Oba (king) for a wife (oloi - queen). Apart from the children of such marriage being. Princes and princesses, .miscellaneous Royal gifts and plum positions in the kingdom await in-laws to his royal majesty the Oba. Other ceremonies as prescribed by custom exclusive to the Palace may also be performed internally.

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