Marriage (also referred to as matrimony or wedlock) is, by simple definition, a socially or legally recognized union of a man and a woman establishing an agreement between them to live as husband and wife with the rights and obligations between them attached thereto. This is the western concept of marriage.
Marriage in Arondizuogu tradition differs from the western concept of marriage which, essentially, is a union of two people. Like most Igbo communities, marriage in Arondizuogu is considered more of a union of two families, two kindreds, and two villages. This is expressed in the idiom: “ogo wu ikwu ato” (in-laws are a third kindred). A woman from Ndianiche married to a man from Ndiakeme, for instance, is regarded as “our wife” by everyone from Ndiakeme – men and women alike. On account of that single marriage, anyone from Ndianiche is at liberty to address everyone from Ndiakeme as “ogom” (my inlaw) and vice versa. Traditional marriage in Arondizuogu, therefore, is pervasive and establishes an extensive relationship bond that affects even families that have no filial relationship.
B. BRIDE SELECTION
In traditional Arondizuogu society, when a man is ready to settle down, he informs his parents who begin scouting for a befitting bride for him. In some cases, the scouting and selection of a prospective wife may have been concluded already by the parents of the groom before the young man even comes of age. Arondizuogu men and women sometimes reserved future wives for their sons from among the adolescent daughters of their friends. Through periodic gifts and gentle notification, they placed a marker on the preferred maiden while waiting for her as well as their own child to mature. At the appropriate time, they would come for formalization of the relationship. This informal but accepted means of betrothal helped in perpetuating friendships but it is no longer in vogue.
In Arondizuogu, the selection of a wife was mostly by “nwhuta” (recommendation). A mature young man seeking a wife depended on the recommendation of wiser relations and family friends. In such cases the parents of a prospective suitor drop the hints to their relations and close family friends that their young son is in need of a suitable bride. The recommendations made by the close relations and friends are narrowed down by elimination using such broad parameters as physical appearance, pedigree, education, social standing and family background, etc. Eventually, the short list is reduced to one prospective bride. Sometimes, the suitor and would-be bride do not even meet until the traditional marriage process commences. If they do, it is only for a few stolen moments involving minimal physical contact. In most cases, the coordination of the relationship is carried out by a third party known as “Onye aka ebe” (Go-Between, Guarantor or Referee ).
The Go-Between (Onye Aka Ebe)
The Go-Between (Onye aka ebe) was usually a mutual friend of both families or, at least a responsible person known to both families. The Onye aka ebe is is saddled with the duty of going back and forth to initiate, explain, convince, assure, and conclude arrangements between both families. In other words, the entire traditional marriage transaction is masterminded and midwifed by him.
In more contemporary times, a young suitor chooses his brides and informs his parents. Some even introduce the bride to their parents and vice versa. On the lower side of the moral spectrum, prospective spouses even co-habit before the initiation of the marriage process – a practice unknown and certainly unacceptable to Arondizuogu culture.
C. THE TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE PROCESSES
When a choice of prospective bride is made, the traditional marriage commences. Traditional marriage in Arondizuogu is not a ceremony, it is more like a series of events or processes. Essentially, there are seven steps or traditional marriage processes in Arondizuogu. Even though sometimes these steps are abridged, combined, merged or glossed over, they are still observed one way or the other. The seven steps or marriage processes in Arondizuogu are as follows:
1) Iku Aka or Iku kpam kpam
2) Ajuju or Mmii Ajuju
3) Ipia Akirika
4) Ibunaga Itotu
5) Ibu mmii
6) Igba Ndu, and
7) Idu or Imekwa Nwanyi
For a better understanding of the various steps, we shall look at each one individually in Part 2