The Yoruba traditional marriage ceremony even though a serious affair, is full of playful banter, rich contemporary Nigerian music, graceful colours and sumptuous meals. Weddings in Yoruba land is an occasion to show your best outfits, handbags, jewelry and even dancing styles. The traditional wedding is an occasion to alleviate the drudgery of normal life and are greatly anticipated by friends and well-wishers.
In the introduction, the families of the bride and groom meet long before any engagement ceremony takes place. The groom visits the family of the bride in company of his father and some family members. The occasion is an informal introduction without fanfare but a cordial atmosphere to know each other.
The informal introduction does not require elaborate presentation of gifts except some tubers of yam and a few bottles of wine. The family of the bride hosts the visitors with a simple meal of their choice. Apart from all round introductions, they might discuss when the event would take place, this is not a hard and fast rule and such discussions might take place later.
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 round her waist and is usually ankle length. The colours she chooses reflects the colour 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.
The groom can 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 colour combination should complement the bride’s and reflect the colour his family has chosen.
The traditional engagement is carried out by a contracted professional called the Alaga Ijoko which when translated, means the traditional master of ceremony. The professional could be a member of the bride’s family or a complete stranger. The Alaga Ijoko is usually a woman and her duty is to properly officiate and coordinate the proceeding so that each provision of tradition is strictly adhered to. There are different stages she coordinates and each stage might elicit the picking of sprayed naira notes which the Alaga keeps.
There is the formal introduction of the groom accompanied by his age mates and friends which also involves prostrating to the family of the bride to formally request their daughter’s hand in marriage. The groom’s family also hire a professional called the Alaga Iduro which means the standing master of ceremony, who follows the groom and family to ask for the hand of their daughter. The Alaga Iduro is also a professional custodian of Yoruba wedding tradition. She could be a family member or hired for the occasion.
Other festivities include the letter reading which is read by a young lady from the groom’s family also asking for the hand of the bride in marriage. The bride’s family also responds with a letter of their own. The engagement is an integral part of the traditional marriage and as the ceremony proceeds, items listed for the engagement that was given to the groom’s family is presented. The items vary slightly in each Yoruba traditional wedding but the general articles are the same.
Some of the items demanded by the bride’s family include: bag of sugar, bag of rice, alligator pepper, large number of bitter kola, bag of salt, and kola nuts. If they are Christians, a bible, keg of honey and about forty large tubers of yam are included in the items. Non edible items could include expensive materials like lace, several pairs of shoes, wristwatch, a gold engagement ring and head tie.
There is no fixed amount of money for the bride price, as it is usually dictated by the bride’s family and is subject to negotiation. However, there are other fees to be paid by the groom/his family (which are also negotiable). One of such is the Owo Isigba – N500. This is used to open the packaged gift items brought by the bridegroom. Others are Owo Ikanlekun (entrance fee) – N500, Owo Ijoko Iyawo – N1,000- this is the money given to elders in the groom’s family, Owo Isiju Iyawo (fees paid to unveil the bride) – N500, Owo Baba Gbo – N500 (this amount is paid to ask for the bride’s father consent), Owo Iya Gbo – N1,000 (this is the amount of money paid to ask for the bride’s mother consent), Owo Omo Ile Okunrin – N500 (this is the money given to all male children in the bride’s family), Owo Omo Ile Obinrin – N500 (this is the money given to all female children in the bride’s family), Owo Iyawo Ile – N500 (this is the money given to all wives in the bride’s family), Owo Ijoko Agba – N1,000 (this is the amount of money reserved for elders of the bride’s family), and the Owo Alaga Ijoko (amount of money reserved for the MC) – N500.
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 colours by the wedding planner.
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.
Yoruba traditional marriage is seen as an occasion for family members to reunite and catch-up on current happenings. It is an occasion to get together with 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.