Traditional Marriage System In Yoruba Culture, Nigeria


Marriage is seen as an important culture among the Yoruba people. A woman who is single at a marriageable age is seen as a crownless woman. Husbands are seen as crowns and a single lady is seen as incomplete without her crown. Another reason why marriage is seen as an essential practice is because Nigerians love and cherish children. Mothers are fond of pestering their children (bachelors and spinsters) to get married so that they can see their grand-children before going to their graves.

Yoruba man usually purses his traditional Yoruba woman by direct approach or by approaching the member of the bride’s family or any other way they deemed fit.  Once they agreed that they love each other and will like to take the relationship to the next stage, they will both inform their parents.  The consent of the bride’s family is important and the groom and his family are usually happy to have that consent. After the selection of a mate, both of them will visit their parents’ house for consent to continue the relationship and proceed with the marriage rites. The traditional marriage system is divided into three sections: Introduction, Traditional Wedding Engagement list, and the Engagement Ceremony.

1. The Introduction

This is the first marriage rite where the parents of the groom-to-be meet the parents of the bride-to-be. This stage entails the groom family introducing themselves to the bride’s family and making their intention known that they want their daughter’s hand in marriage to their son.  This is usually done through an intermediary called “Olopa Iduor” (appointed speaker for the groom side) and Olopa Ijoko (appointed speaker for the bride side). The meeting place is usually the in the partner house of the bride (bride’s father’s or kinsmen’ house). The introduction is informal as the groom’s family members come with bottles of wine, palm wine and few tubers of yam. On the other hand, the bride’s family serves their guests with foods and drinks. After the parents’ agreement, a date will be chosen for the engagement and the wedding ceremonies. In most cases, the date selection is done by the bride’s family members but in some situations, the couple chooses the date convenient for them.

Couples or parents do consult their oracle or religious leaders before they pick the D-day so as to know if the day is free from danger or safe. In the Yoruba culture, the date picked is always dedicated and consecrated so as to avert evil or the plans of the wicked ones. The prospective couples are advised to stay where they are and not to travel when the marriage ceremony is near. Friends and family members travel and go around in preparation for the ceremony instead of the couple.

2. The Traditional Wedding Engagement list

The Yoruba Traditional Wedding Engagement list is presented to the groom’s family from the bride’s family some weeks prior to the traditional wedding day. The gift items asked for on the list (known as Eru Iyawo in Yoruba) are packaged and presented to the family of the bride on the traditional wedding day. The engagement list items below are not set in stone, although some like the Bible/Quran, bitter kola, and are a must.

The items on the engagement list will differ based on what part of Yorubaland the bride’s family is from and your family may decide to ask for more or fewer items. The groom’s family can also haggle to reduce the number of items. The engagement list is drafted by the bride’s family members and unfortunately, the bride has no say as to what is requested.

Yoruba Engagement List (Eru Iyawo List)

42 Bitter kolas (Orogbo)
42 Tubers of yam (Isu)
42 Kola nuts (Obi abata)
42 Chilli/Alligator Peppers (Atare)
42 pieces of dried Fish (Eja Osan)
1 Dish of peppered corn meal (Aadun)
1 Pack of Sugar
2 Baskets of Fruit
2 Decanters filled with honey
4 Crates of canned or bottled soft drinks
4 Crates malt soft drinks
4 Cartons of bottled water
2 Bottles of nonalcoholic wine
2 Cartons of fruit juice
1 Bag of salt
1 Bag of rice
1 Umbrella
1 Goat
1 Keg of palm wine
1 Keg of groundnut oil
1 Big suitcase containing clothes, shoes, and handbags including Aso-oke fabric, 2 sets of lace with gele and 2 sets of Ankara
1 Wristwatches, Earrings, and Chains
Biscuits and Sweets
Engagement rings for bride and groom
Bible(for Christians)
Quran, praying mat, praying kettle, rosary, white hijab, veil and tasbir (for Muslim weddings)

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Money /Fees
Owo Ori (The Bride Price) – Varies
Owo Ijoko Agba (Money for the elders’ consent) – N,1000
Owo Baba Gbo (Money for the bride’s father’s consent) – N,1000
Owo Iya Gbo (Money for the bride’s mother’s consent) – N1,000
Owo Ikanlekun(Door knocking fee) – N1000
Owo Isiju Iyawo (Fee for unveiling the bride) – N1,000
Owo Aeroplane (Bride transportation fee) – N1,000
Owo Iyawo Ile (Money for the Housewives) -N500
Owo Omo Ile (Money for the Children of the household) – N500
Owo letter kika (Letter reading fee)-N500
Owo Telephone (Fee to call the bride out) – N500
Owo Isigba (Engagement gifts unveiling fee) – N500
Owo Alaga Ijoko (Master of Ceremonies fee) – N500

The money is collected at different points during the traditional wedding ceremony, while the gift items are arranged at the venue before the ceremony starts. Gifts are usually packaged in baskets or boxes, which are coordinated to match the wedding color scheme or wedding theme.

3. The Engagement

The engagement ceremony is the most crucial and recognized part of the marriage rites. They call this “idana” where the bride’s family gives out their daughter to the groom’s family. Both families are also married to each other through the union of the children. This ceremony takes place at the bride’s house. The bride’s father or the oldest kinsmen (if the father is dead) have the sole responsibility of handling over the bride to the groom.

There is always one or two women that coordinate the ceremony. They are known as the ‘Alaga Ijoko’ or “Olopa ijoko”. These women make sure all the engagement items are complete, they sanction anyone who violates rules (especially the groom). The groom enters the venue in a company of his friends and prostrates many times depending on the instructions of the ‘Alaga Ijoko’. There is also the presence of the “Alaga Iduro” or “Olopa Iduro”, which is from the groom’ side. She has the responsibilities of assisting the groom, his friends and family members beg the bride’s family for their permission to give out their daughter. Both the Alagas are familiar with the tradition and they know what to do.

A letter, which is written by the groom’s family is being read by a young lady from the groom’s side asking for the bride’s hand in marriage. The letter is being replied to through another letter written by the bride’s family accepting the proposal. This letter is also read by a young girl from the bride’s family.

Bride’s Outfit: The bride’s outfit is a reflection of what the female guests will wear, she might choose, damask, lace, Nigerian wax fabric or any fabric that appeals to her. The outfit consists of gele which is the head tie, the buba (the blouse) and an iro which is a large material tied around her waist and is usually ankle length. The colors she chooses reflects the color theme her family has chosen but should also complement the groom’s outfit and look identical. She can wear accessories like gold necklace, beads, bangles, gold earrings and shoes to match.

Groom’s Outfit: The groom could decide to wear an Agbada which is a two-layered material of heavy dimensions like the Aso-Oke (traditional hand-woven material) , it might be cotton, and damask or he might wear lace or even wax fabric (Ankara). His color combination should complement the bride’s and reflect the color his family has chosen.

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The Groom and Bride: Some of the engagement protocols officiated by the Alaga ijoko is carried out in the absence of the groom, the professionals go through a question and answer format were the bride’s moderator puts the representatives of the groom through some hoops. At one point the groom’s presence is needed and he comes forward and goes through the introduction process to the bride’s family and parents. When all requirements are met the groom is led and allowed to seat on one of the two large chairs conspicuously placed in from of the guests. The chairs are artfully decorated in the chosen ceremonial colors by the wedding planner.

yoruba-traditional-marriage

The Bride: The bride is then heralded into the venue of the ceremony followed by her friends, all dressed in traditional attires like buba and iro, as they join her in a boisterous dance down the hall. The bride also goes through a few protocols but money is only given to her and not taken from her as in the case of the groom. She is introduced to the groom’s family before she takes her place beside the groom. At this stage, they may consider themselves married. The wife displays some wifely traits by feeding the groom some cake and wine, even a kiss to the amusement of the guests.

Conclusion: Yoruba traditional marriage is seen as an occasion for family members to reunite and catch up on current happenings. They also see find old friends and acquaintances. It is a fun filled and meticulously planned period that announces to the world the union of their loved ones. The couple can choose to include a civil union through a court wedding and also go through a church wedding and a separate wedding reception. Muslims who also form a large number of Yoruba people have a more simplified wedding protocol which involves Islamic scholars and religious leaders who offer prayers to the union followed by merriment in form of a party.

credit: The Nigeria, Hub Pages, All Things Nigeria, Nairaland and Aisle Perfect.

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