The average Nigerian wedding today takes four phases basically, which obviously does not mean getting married four different times to four different persons, but to the same person in four different ways, as dictated by religion, culture, tradition, and civil law.
In Yoruba Land, the Introduction Ceremony (Mọ̀n-mí-n-mọ̀n-ọ́) is the First Phase. Families of the intending couple formally meet for acquaintances and assert their consent to the proposed marriage. Some are done in a living room setting with strictly the nuclear or immediate extended families in attendance, and for some others, only the paying of Bride Price separates this from the proper engagement ceremony. During many Introductions these days, the groom and his friends prostrate severally to the bride’s family (signifying a plea to marry their daughter), intending couple cuts the cake, spokespersons usually referred to “Alága Ìjókó” representing the bride’s family and “Alága Ìdúró” standing for the groom’s side are used, gifts such as fruits, wine and drinks are exchanged and so on.)
The Second Phase is called The Traditional Wedding i.e. The Engagement (Ìdána), which showcases the couple in their traditional attire; with virtually a replication of all that had occurred during the Introduction, paying the Bride Price and all other dues, and also bringing Engagement Items (“Ẹrù Ìyàwó”) as demanded by the Bride’s Family e.g. 42 Tubers of Yam, Kolanut, Bitter Kola, Wine, Luggage Box (definitely not an empty one), Bags of Salt, Sugar and Honey, to mention a few. These are all meant to be warmly received by the Bride’s Family.
Surprisingly, a recent wind of returning the Bride Price to the groom’s family has swept across the land; in the light of not selling the Bride (I wonder where this unstylish vogue came from). Bride Price is slowly but surely becoming alien and unwelcome in the 21st century, because the practice is misconstrued as such a dehumanizing practice to women, especially from a Western philosophical point of view. Parents perceive that their daughters are being maltreated by wicked husbands on the excuse that they have been paid for, like a “commodity”. And while many blame this derision on families that take advantage of the Bride Price to make outrageous demands, others believe that how a man treats his woman may not necessarily depend on whether or not he paid her Bride Price, but greatly on his personality. Saying men maltreat their wives because they paid their Bride Price is like saying the expensive diamond engagement rings also produce women-beaters in the West. Jacob served 14 years as a Price to marry Rachel; a “Bride Service” that portrayed the value he placed on her – which is what the token called Bride Price is all about.
In this contemporary era, it appears many are not aware that the Bride Price serves to protect the marriage from dissolution. It is NOT degrading to women and does not reduce them to slaves; NOT in any way tantamount to making a man feel like a slave master who owns a slave he has paid for. In actual fact, Bride Price is an instrument to ratify a marriage. It is one of the highest honours confirming a bride’s value and womanhood; giving a husband the full rights to the sexual, economic, or procreative powers of his wife. It fosters a friendly relationship between the two families; providing a material pledge that the woman and her children will be well treated and a level of compensation to her natal family for the loss of her company and labour. It is most often a matter of social, cultural, symbolic and economic reciprocity, being part of a long series of exchanges between the families. A symbol of sincerity and good faith connected with a woman’s reputation and esteem in the community. A token that highlights a degree of commitment and chivalry in a man and shows he does not only value his bride, but also holds a high regard for her family. No amount of money can buy a wife; her value is inestimable in human terms. No man can pay for all the input of those who raised a good woman and all the benefits she brings; her love, care, help and companionship far outweigh any monetary value. A Bride Price is a humble demonstration of appreciation, honour and respect to the bride’s family for all the work they put into raising/training “this” gift from God and returning it seems utterly disrespectful to the groom and his entire family. Where a man’s treasure is, his heart will be also; paying the Bride Price of a woman symbolises that a man has kept his treasure (money from his sweat) where his heart belongs.
Needful to say, in some cultures, a marriage is not reckoned to have ended until the return of Bride Price has been acknowledged, signifying divorce. When a woman intends to leave her husband, she is expected to return the goods initially paid to her family. So before you decide to return the Bride Price on your daughter’s wedding day, consider that this is often done when a marriage is to be dissolved. Bride Price is our heritage; a genuine and deep-rooted customary practice that makes marriages more meaningful and prevents the despicable way of life where wives are extremely easy to find like stones, and equally easy to dispose of, like tissue paper.
The Court Wedding is the Third Phase: This is the only form of wedding recognized by law; a legal licence for a woman to take up her man’s name and officially become “Ìyàwó Alárédè” (Legal Wife). This, in most cases, is only attended by direct relations and some friends. But if the couple intends to skip Phase Four, this might be the “big deal”.
Finally, Phase Four happens in The Church: This is the one all the other three above eventually lead to. No thanks to Cinderella, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Aladdin, Anastasia and all the fairy-tale cartoons that have stirred the fantasies of many little girls of someday marrying a Prince in a Castle garbed in a flowing white dress, with all the shimmering splendour all over them. This is where a minister claims to represent God and joins the two together in matrimony by a Holy Ordinance. As many believe, this phase of the wedding takes place before God and Man, and the couple’s name is written in the Heaven Book of Marriages (I have absolutely nothing to prove that that book exists).
Some centuries back, on the engagement night, the man and his new bride go into a special room already prepared with a new sparkling white spread on the bed for him to “know” her for the first time. After the “knowing”, he presents the white bedspread to representatives of both families waiting to see the result. A bloodstained bedspread signifies he “met her at home”, which brings immeasurable joy and pride to the couple and their families. Otherwise, shame and despair, a stigma that never lifts from a home where such occurs.
King Solomon wrote about this in his Songs: “We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for? If she be a “wall”, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a “door”, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.”
A positive result was always a thing to celebrate. My grandmother told me lots of food and drinks were available on the day she faced this once-in-a-lifetime test, but no one could lift a morsel until the result was out. She significantly pointed out how chastity took conscious, calculated and dedicated efforts and purity was ensured by all means, knowing well that the “night of wonder” was coming. Every lady guarded her pride with all diligence and kept it for the man who truly deserves and earns it – by prostrating and paying the (Bride) Price. Men were confident that their time, efforts and resources were not going into “baskets”. And I am sure God did bless those marriages, even though they didn’t wear black suits and white dresses to religious houses or courts to be joined.
Recently, a preacher said to a couple: “… hope you don’t think marriage has occurred after your traditional wedding? Until you both appear on the altar for blessings, God does not recognize your marriage.”
While some believe God only approves unions that take place in His House(s), many others feel strongly disheartened that we have extolled the foreign ways of getting married and undermined ours by saying God doesn’t recognize them. It was not recorded that Father Abraham, Isaac, Jacob or any of our biblical forebears were joined to their wives in a temple; they only sought the consent of their wives’ families, like today’s engagement ceremony, and they were married. The controversy stands, however, that the formal ways of marriage (Religious and Court) came from the Western world, and their high record of dismal state of marriages is a reason good enough for us to hold on to our traditions instead of discarding them. After all, nothing makes our parents’ blessings during the traditional wedding inferior to the ones we get from other people on the other platforms.
Chastity keeps going bananas and frivolity is dressed up like a norm. Though everyone has the right to choose how (s)he weds, but disdaining our wedding culture appears to have done more harm than good. Nothing checks anymore, unlike the “dark” age, where every lady had in her subconscious the day she will face the world to be declared either a wall or a door. These days, indecency is curbed when the ushers give the confetti ladies scarves to cover their hot legs and save our beloved from seeing “misleading” visions, but the real indecency is what happens when no one is watching. You can spend eternity covering the body from men, but how successful can you be covering the heart from God? And I sincerely hope nobody thinks this encourages nudity.
It is also alarming and heart-breaking, how some families end up wallowing in debts to satisfy the pressure of having to do these four different ceremonies for the singular purpose of being referred to as Mr and Mrs, especially when they cannot afford it. While we all want the glory, glamour and glide that come with elaborate and multiple wedding ceremonies, I strongly believe God expects us to cut our coat according to our cloth. When less emphasis is placed on showing off and impressing people who don’t even give a monkey what you eat the next day, you sign up for a more comfortable and convenient life. Consciously sticking to affordable budgets supersedes giving in to the selfish interests of anyone who doesn’t even love you enough to make sure life is bearable for you after you say the inevitable “I do”. Be it religious, legal or traditional, the wedding is only an ignition, and marriage is the journey to the destination of a fulfilled life. The fact that some marriages go down the drain shortly after an earthshaking wedding ceremony proves the married life deserves more dedicated attention and input than the wedding day. Extolling weddings over marriages is like spending lavishly on housewarming when you have not even bought a piece of land, let alone lay a foundation.
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, this man began to build, and was not able to finish.”
Spend more time, money and other resources on building marriage – the life you live together after the wedding day(s). Greater is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof…
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Olaotan Fawehinmi is a Writer & Content Strategist that can be reached via email@example.com, www.facebook.com/onigegeara and www.twitter.com/onigegeara