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Marriage System in Afikpo Today

By Gabriel Mbey

October 8, 2009

The system of marriage in Afikpo has undergone a tremendous transformation in recent times. Today, the usual “Ikpa ububo” (conversation) between a man and the father of the girl he intends to marry is completely effaced. The onus rests now with the man and the girl.

This time, a man approaches a girl and establishes an acquaintance with her. The acquaintance develops into friendship that leads the man to propose marriage to the girl, who as the case may be, accepts the proposal.

There is usually a reciprocal interchange of visits. In the course of these visits, the girl’s parents get acquainted with the man and vice versa. The man can now tell his parents and even the girl’s parents his intention to engage the girl in marriage. The girl does so with her parents sometimes. After a close observation of the girl over time, the man can propose and get her consent without the normal acquaintanceship. When the consent of both parents are obtained, the road is paved for further developments in the course of the marriage. Their regular and intimate stay together enables them to know and understand each other more deeply. This will help them fashion their lives in harmony. Little presents are made to the girl who now sees herself as a pearl owned by somebody. At this stage, the man is qualified to perform the introductory marriage rite known as “Anam Abia.”

Anam Abia

This is the process in which a man demonstrates in practical terms his seriousness in coming to a man’s house to engage his daughter in marriage. The process involved in this rite now is much more elaborate than it was many years back. There is a big rise in the number and size of items used for the ceremony at this time. The items are five (5) large yams; a very big stick of smoked fish or big stock fish, some bars of soap, some packets of detergent soap, about a half dozen toilet soap, high quality pomade and powder.

The articles are taken to the girl by either the man’s mother with one or two other women, or by two or more of her representatives. While in transit, the items are exposed in such a manner as to attract the attention of passers-by whose curiosity is roused to make enquiries about where the articles are sent. At their arrival, the girl’s people receive the visitors and their wares cheerfully. After being entertained, guests are seen off by the girl whose lineament wears broad, unceasing smiles.

Although the articles may be returned if there is a hitch somewhere along the line, this is, nonetheless, rarely the case.

Amari Ulo, Atogbo Nku, Inyo Ozi, a.k.a. Ahia Ozi

In the olden days, Amari Ulo, Atogbo Nku and Inyo Ozi were performed separately on different days. The trend has changed. Now the three are undertaken the same day and at the same time. The articles or items involved in the performance of those three marriage rites are uniform both in quantity and quality.

After all processes have been completed, the most elderly man in the gathering marks the end with pouring of libation. After this, everyone is free to leave. The men sent to perform these ceremonies on behalf of
the suitor are special guests at the occasion. Their number, according to the rules, must not exceed ten (10). After the libation, they return to their in-laws’ residence where they are entertained with food and drinks. At the end, they depart for home.

Odudu Nwanyi in Afikpo

“Odudu Nwayi” is also known as “Dule Nwanyi” or “Idu Nwanyi.” It connotes sending a girl off to her husband’s place to become a married woman. It is an exclusive undertaking of women and is carried out mostly by parents of girls being sent off to their husbands.

Idu Nwanyi, particularly at present, is a costly affair. Only parents who are well-to-do can afford to foot the fantastic expenses incurred in the process. As a matter of fact, girls, whose parents cannot afford this expensive venture, can be taken to their husband after all the necessary customary marriage rites have been performed by their prospective husbands. On the other hand, a girl is qualified for the ceremony of “Edule Nwanyi” only when the husband has carried out all the traditional marriage rites. Odudu Nwanyi has taken a wider dimension now than what it was in the olden days.

Odudu Nwanyi: Considerations and Current Practices

As noted above, Odudu Nwanyi nowadays is very elaborate and sophisticated. It is a prestigious venture, which costs a lot of money. Only parents who are rich can afford the expenses involved. As stated earlier, it is not binding on parents to undertake “Idu Nwanyi” before their daughters are sent to their husbands. As long as all the customary marriage rites have been done, the girl can be given out in marriage. In fact, on agreement between the girl’s parents and the suitor, a girl can be given in marriage even when all the marriage rites, including Bride Price, have not been done by the husband. Odudu Nwanyi, therefore, is optional and not a rule.

Articles used for Edule Nwanyi nowadays include: mortar and pestle; a tin of palm oil; a tin of kerosene; a bag of salt; a set of enamel cooking pots; 2 basins (small and big); modern grinder; a big “butta” – pot for storing water; a lantern; a head of brooms. Others are upholstery, family bed and foam, pillow, modern mats, standing mirror, etc. Foodstuffs are also included. They consist of a basin of garri, a basin of rice, about 2 bushels of pepper,
10 tubers of yams and a young female goat, usually provided by the father of the girl. Almost all household property, including dining table and seats, are provided. In the morning of the fateful day, all these wares are exhibited in front of the girl’s parents’ house. Prior to this day, however, invitation cards are sent out to deserving members of the public.

Just as in the old, the village women are assigned duties in the early morning hours. Some do the cooking, while others are engaged in some other work as may be directed by the hostess. Women from other places, far and near, troop to the village in a cheerful mood. The usual bright and hilarious atmosphere prevails and the ‘Otiti’ ballad graces the occasion at intervals. The visitors are dressed in modern costume with bogus head ties. Occasionally, the bustling atmosphere is punctured with, “Praise the Lord – Alleluia.” The occasion continues in this mood until the cooking and preparation of all sorts are finished.

The reception ground is neatly prepared. Where there is a town hall or a school, any one of them is used for the reception. Where the above facility is lacking, any spacious place within the area can serve. In this case, canopies are provided for shelter. Seats are arranged in apple pie order, starting from the high table to the popular seats. Special seats are reserved for the girl and her attendants, her mother’s age grade, societies to which the mother belongs and special guests. As the guests arrive, they are ushered to their respective seats by two charming damsels.

At about 3:00 or 4:00 PM, the function starts. The master of ceremony (M.C.) calls out the members of the High Table to their seats, starting from the chairman of the occasion. When all have been seated, the chairman then takes up the rest of the ceremony, following the items according to the program. Usually, a live band and traditional dance troupe are in attendance. They give their melodious music, one after the other at intervals according to the directives of the chairman or the M.C.

The opening prayer is followed by the chairman’s opening speech. The girl and her train are then ushered in as the band gives a beautiful tune befitting the occasion. The attendants dance to their seats leaving the girl alone to do the first round of dance prior to the arrival of the fiancée. She does this for some time and then takes her seat.

The entertainment of the guests starts with the customary breaking of kola nut by an elderly man present at the function. He may be of the age grade of Oniikara, Ekpuke Essa, or Ekpuke Eto. He breaks the kola nut with prayers. After getting his share, the kola nut, including ‘anara’ fruits (Afufa), are shared accordingly. This is followed with other food items such as rice, meat, drinks, etc. Entertainment is usually punctured with music supplied either by a live band or traditional troupe.

At the approach of the husband, the band plays a nice music track and the girl is asked to do a second round of dancing, during which the husband arrives with his entourage. There is usually a great ovation as he steps into the hall where his girl is already dancing in the company of others. The floor is now left for the pair of fiancé and fiancée to dig it out with each other – “do the other.”

At this point, friends, relations and guests spread a lot of naira on the couple. Having danced to their satisfaction, the husband and his team leave the hall for home.

After the departure of the husband, the chairman formally announces free donations for the couple. Others follow him, including the girl’s mother’s age grade, village women, societies, paternal and maternal relations, friends and a host of other invitees. Donations are made in cash and or kind. Entertainment continues simultaneously with donations. The band supplies music at appropriate intervals. The chairman then calls on the girl or her representative to give a note of thanks to the invitees. This done, he gives his closing remarks. The function then ends with a closing prayer said by someone appointed by the chairman. The girl’s mother’s age grade and other special groups return to a place reserved for each for further entertainment. They are entertained according to each group’s request. The girl and her attendants retire to her home where the girls disperse to their respective homes.

The girl meets her man in the church on the wedding day. During the wedding in the church, the girl is formally handed over to her husband by her father or his representative. In the reception that follows, the articles used for Odudu Nwanyi are carried to the reception hall, where they are handed over to the husband. In return, the mother-in-law is presented with a piece of cloth of 3 fathoms of high quality, a high-quality blouse and a pair of shoes or cash in lieu of shoes. In the same vein, the father-in-law is also given a traditional apparel and a trouser length of cloth, a hat and a pair of shoes. A sum of money is given for the sewing of the trouser. These gifts are handed over to the women who brought the household articles. The gifts are for the bride’s parents. The women leave the hall for their homes where they hand over the gifts to their respective owners amid joyful cheers.

Nkwa Nwite

There is a general notion nowadays that Nkwa Nwite is elucidation, and in order to dispel this erroneous conception, it is pertinent to briefly explain what Nkwa Nwite is. But before this is done, it is necessary to look at its preamble.

Ebu Mbe:

There is a festival celebrated by Mgbom and Amuro villages in Afikpo known as “Ebu Mbe.” The feast holds annually in the later part of October. It is an event that lasts for two days. It starts in the evening of an Orie market day and ends in the evening of the following Afor market day.

In the night of the particular Orie market day, various women age grades join up to formulate and practice songs associated with the event. It is usually a hectic time for the women because throughout the night, defamatory ballads about men who committed crimes are formulated and practiced in song, and acted by women for presentation to the public on the eventful Afor market day. In the same vein, men folk also formulate and practice their own kind of defamatory songs and acts about women who committed abominable acts. They accompany their songs with instruments which consist of 2 or more cylindrical wooden drums called ‘’Nkwa,’’ a small piece of smooth, hollowed wood drum with 2 drum sticks to match, called ‘’ekwe,’’ 2 gongs and a pair of maracas (ahia). After the practice in the night by both parties, the men and women present their respective plats to the public in the daytime.

When spectators are gathered at the playground (Ogo) at about 10:00 AM, both parties sing and dance up and down parts of the play ground simultaneously, but in opposite directions, dramatizing the atrocities committed by the respective members of the opposite sex. By means of this action, culprits are exposed to public ridicule, and this is intended to serves as a deterrent to others who may intend to do so in the future. While the women sing and dance without musical instruments, the men accompany theirs with the instrument aforementioned.

As the merriment goes on at this tempo, some morally deranged boys and girls engage themselves in immoral and indecent expressions and actions inimical to decency. Such actions are permitted only on these two days. The event also takes place simultaneously at Amuro in the same day and at the same time. The two sister-communities exchange visits during the occasion at the close of dance in the evening. There is usually general entertainment of visitors by villages concerned, punctuated with feasting with guests by individual families.

Nkwa Nwite, Continued

About 52 years ago (1954), during the usual practice of “Egwu Ebu mbe” in the night of Orie market day, an age grade, whose turn it was to head the women-dancing group in the event, introduced an innovation. As already noted, musical instruments were never used by the women during the practice and exhibition of “Ebu mbe” dance. But in the night of the Orie of that particular year, the united women age grades led by two prominent singers, Madam Ogeri Aluu and Ugo Akpu Ori, wives of one man, Mr. Oko Ude Ofia of Ezi Abaga Mgbom of Afikpo, introduced the use of musical instruments during the practice. The instruments were a small pot (Nwa ite – Mgbuku a.k.a. udu), two pieces of bamboo with openings at the end of each other, “Ekpele,” a small smooth stone and a pair of maracas (ahia). Using these instrument in their songs, they produced fantastically hilarious music that can set a ballet in a frenzy. In great elation of their success in the experiment, they unanimously decided to display this feat at the playground on the following Afor market day.

When the playground was packed full of people, the women emerged in the centre with their musical instruments. When their music rent the air, it was received with mixed feelings. While one section of the people gave it approbation, it was repugnant to the others, who were mostly men who felt that it infringed the norms and practice of Ebu Mbe ceremony. They felt it was a defilement of “Egbele Ogo,” the renowned deity of Ogo cult. The men wanted to know the name of the dance. The women gave the dance the name, “Nkwa nwa ite” (dance of the small pot). This name is derived from its main instrument, ”Nwa ite” (small pot). Obviously, the men did not take the action of the women kindly. So, they prohibited the women from further use of the instruments in future Ebu Mbe dance.

The directives from the men did not go down well with the women. In reaction, the women defied the order of men and used Nkwa Nwite in the Ebu Mbe dance of the following year.

Angered by the persistence of the women’s group and in a bid to be heard, the Nkwa nwa ite dance group exposed the injustice meted out to them in a song that they waxed in a disc and tape records, and it ran thus:

“A-nichie – ri ayi Nkwa Nwite:” (twice)
Obu Nkwa Nwite n-emedi ume nwa . . .
E-he! Mkpa nga nga ya burum iro!
“-a Nkwa Nwite n’ ume ji” . . . .
E-he! Mkpa –a nga –nga ya burum iro . . .

This is interpreted to mean:

“As you ban Nkwa Nwite from us, does Nkwa Nwite cause frequent death of children in succession? Does Nkwa Nwite bring about poor yam harvest? E-he. “Merriment making has brought me enmity.”

The above song can still be heard on discs and tapes. Nkwa Nwite is a dance group, as noted above. The first outing of Nkwa Nwite dance group was symbolic. It was the first women dancing group that welcomed home the first Afikpo indigenous female that went to study in England. This lady was the former Miss Benice Iduma (now Mrs. Chukwu), who trained as a nursing sister. The group received her at Macgregor Hill Afikpo, from where she was ushered into the town and led in a procession to her father’s residence at No 2 station Afikpo. There, she was accorded a rousing reception. The news of this historic occasion echoed through the whole of Afikpo and ignited the desire of many young ladies in other villages to join the group. Thus the membership of Nkwa Nwite cut across the length and breadth of Afikpo.

In time, Nkwa Nwite became so famous that no ceremony was worth any salt in Afikpo without the group gracing it. For example, in 1955, the then-notable political party, The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroun (N.C.N.C), led by the late Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (Zik of Africa), made it the official organ of the women wing of the party and used it for election campaigns and for other official ceremonies. Similarly, the dance became a regular feature at Odudu Nwanyi ceremony. Later, Nkwa Nwite became the official music of Odudu Nwanyi ceremony and Odudu Nwanyi became synonymous with Nkwa Nwite. Because of the seeming “marriage” of the two, Odudu Nwanyi assumed the name “Nkwa Nwite.” Categorically speaking, Odudu Nwanyi is not Nkwa Nwite, as is erroneously believed by some.

Although Nkwa Nwite was a premier women’s dance group that enjoyed wide acceptability in the past, it has now out-lived its usefulness. The group is no longer invited to many ceremonies in Afikpo because the dance is outdated. It has been overtaken by modern dance orchestras. That it is still heard of today is because its name is erroneously tied to “Edule Nwanyi.” If not for this erroneous association with Edule Nwanyi, Nkwa Nwite would be unheard of today.

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