Nigerian nuptials come with the fantastic opportunity to have up to three different wedding ceremonies, with a choice of civil, religious and traditional ceremonies. Of course a couple could choose to have just one or two, but it’s possible to have all three if you can afford it! Whichever you choose, each brings that legal bond as well as a highly festive and colourful celebration in true flamboyant Nigerian style!
Of course, like other parts of Africa and South Africa, Nigeria is a vast place and there are many separate traditions which are exclusive to different areas, so the wedding rites and costumes may vary across locations. If you are marrying, or attending a wedding in a specific area of Nigeria, do seek advice from those who know the local customs.
What the western world regards as an engagement period is often regarded as part of the actual marriages rites in some parts of Nigeria and can be a very formalized period of literal negotiation of the bride’s “worth”, followed by a significant period of fun and celebrations. Local officials and elders will oversee negotiations to agree the bride’s “price.”
Now, although this might sound distasteful, it’s useful to remember that this is an ancient custom and that the bride can be closely involved in this. Her “price” often includes gifts and offerings such as textiles, shoes, clothes, jewelry and bags. Like her Moroccan sisters, a Nigerian bride-to-be can find herself showered in gifts as the negotiations for her hand hot up! In some areas, this tradition is taken more seriously, whilst in the more modern cosmopolitan areas of Nigeria, this custom is likely to be played out as a fun way of passing over gifts and as a prelude to the engagement celebrations. Avoiding this custom altogether does not make the marriage less legal, it just mean less goodies for the bride!
Once an agreement is reached, the gifts are passed on to the bride’s family and celebrations, as well as preparations, begin.
In other parts of Nigeria, this whole negotiation period may be initiated by the suitor visiting the bride’s family. He presents a formal letter requesting his bride’s hand in marriage on a set date and then those negotiations and gift passing proceed, along with dancing and celebrations. The groom then returns on the evening before the wedding day to see if the wedding can go ahead!
In other Nigerian cultures, such as the Igbo culture, the bride’s family gives the suitor a list of different items. In order to earn his bride’s hand in marriage, he must gain all of the items on the list for them – and this list can include items as diverse as a car and an alligator tooth!
As with many cultures, the bride-to-be enjoys a period of female company and cleansing, before the ceremony. For a traditional wedding, she will be helped to bathe and prepare herself and will have Henna decorations to her hands and feet.