Ekphei Traditional Marriage Rite in Etsako
Traditional Rites and Rituals are important in human life, and traditional marriage Rituals are not less important. Rituals are the easiest way we communicate with the Divine and our ancestors. Marriage rites and rituals are the bedrock of the foundation upon which stands the marriage and family life of the people of Etsako.
Etsako is a big place with diverse cultures, customs and traditions, but the basic elements are very similar; though there are just very little differences in the various local versions of these culture, traditions, and customs throughout Apemhai/Afenmai land. Remember, our languages and dialects are very similar also, hence we do understand ourselves without any need for an interpretation or an interpreter. The same thing appears to exist in our marriage rites and practices. There was a young Ekphei girl who was getting married in the USA sometime ago. I was and I am still so proud of her because far away in the United States of America, this young graduate from a British University with a Master’s degree from an American university requested to have an Ekphei traditional marriage Rite celebrated in the US. She telephoned, and sent me an e-mail message requesting me to tell her and the groom, what were involved in the traditional marriage Rites and how to celebrate it/them. My response to this beautiful lady, now a mother, is part of what is stated here for those who are interested in Ekphei, Etsako traditional marriage Rites.
It is fair to state that the young lady’s name, Iye, actually had the traditional wedding of her culture, and the traditional wedding took place in Michigan, USA. People came from Britain, Nigeria, and from around the United States. It was a beautiful ceremony. I happened to have performed the Libation (the offering of spirit/wine and kola-nut to our invisible Ancestors present). It was an extremely happy an occasion and all present were very appreciative of it all as we are here documenting it for posterity.
A Traditional Marriage Practice in Ekphei
Performing a traditional marriage Rite in Ekphei, Etsako, Edo State of Nigeria, is a milestone in the life of all concerns and especially the young female. Few implements are required for a traditional Marriage Rite, they include 3 three Inukpe – a set of traditional native drums, round and cone shaped, and the girls who will sing at the home of the bride to-be. Anukpe is singular while Inukpe is plural. They are in three different sizes carved from fresh obechi wood which was cut down for the purpose. Deer hide is used to make the drums. The drums are used at night by the girls (young maidens) for seven days in the home of a newly weded female. For the Rite to be a complete Ekphei traditional Marriage Rite, known as Urthuamhi, one needs to look into the following acts.
These are the items required by tradition on this trip or first “official” visit to the would-be In-Law’s home. The kola nuts and the gin are for the opening prayers before discussions begin. If the marriage enquiry is going to be considered, that is, if there can be such a marriage between the girl and the man; it is usually known from the acceptance of the kola-nut for prayers. Otherwise, if the suitor and the girl cannot be husband and wife, there will be no need for such a prayer. Actually, a sign that the journey or visit of the suitor is in order is that the host or the family of the girl will present a welcome kola-nut for the visiting guests with a prayer. This is why initial underground investigations are independently and secretly done by both families before any attempt by the suitor to “officially” visit the family of the girl. There could be a number of other reasons for such a visit to be avoided so that there could be no rejection right from the beginning. For example, if the girl does not like the man who is coming for her; if the family is related by blood to the family of the man who is looking for the hands of the girl in marriage, the parents of the girl will not allow the visit of the man and his entourage to take place nor will they present a welcome kola nut.
Additional traditional requirements on the list of items that should be conveyed to the family on the Third Visit and or before the wedding are as follows:
As soon as the material is put on her she becomes an “Ofaiko,” the name for the newly wed, and the women start to chant and dance around her. After the Ritual, she is taken by the women, led in her arms by the women while singing and chanting continue till she gets to her destination which is her mother’s home where a room has been specially prepared for the occasion. She remains in this room for seven days without performing any task of any kind except to sleep, wake, eat, and listen to Anukpe music played and songs rendered by the maidens of the community who were her peers before her Initiation to womanhood.
iii. On the Seventh Day, (Ivele) by 6.00 pm, the suitor with his entourage of friends and relations, will organize themselves; led by a team of young men playing Egbadi (native drums) and singing the songs for such occasions. The particular drumming and songs combined is called “Ayee.” The beating and rhythms are specific for the occasion as such drumming and songs are not played in any other occasions. As soon as the entourage reaches the home of the bride-to-be, the suitor and his friends and spokesman will move in to request the hand of their new Ofaiko. It is during time that a lot of traditional politicking is played out. It is also at this time that there is a formal Ritual in which the kola-nuts, anyo nokhua, and oil and salt, mixed, are used for invocative prayers while merriment waits.
The father of the day will lead in the prayer invocations; in the event the father of the day is younger than some elders seated, he will appoint an elder of his choice who must be a member of the family to lead the invocation. This Invocation is done before any one may part take in the drinks and food during this ceremony. In these kinds of ceremonies, Invocations must recognize the presence of God, the Gods and the Ancestors of our land must be called upon to avail themselves at the events to bless the marriage, the couple, and ensure that the right thing was done during the sanctification! The invisible God of our people is recognized and appealed to for a fruitful and productive marriage life, now and for ever more.
On this occasion, there is sumptuous food to go with the drinks. When food and drinks have been dealt with and the dowry paid, the father of the bride gives his assent for all other ceremonies to be concluded. This is the time to recognize family members. At this time, also, any of the younger or youngest sisters or brother may seize the mat which upon which the Ofaiko slept during the Seven Day confinement and it is very important in the whole affairs. The mat belongs to the Ofaiko and without it, she cannot leave the home even if the father of the girl has given his permission for the new bride to be taken away. So there has to be a negotiation with who ever is in possession of the mat to release it for the bride to go with the husband. In this case the one who seized the mat has to specify what he or she wants and until that demand is met, the Ofaiko will not leave for her new and future home.
Finally, after all the formalities have been concluded, the father of the girl will call on his daughter to come before him. In the presence of all assembled, he praises his daughter and requests of her to be obedient to her husband as her mother had obeyed him, and gives his blessings to his daughter to be fruitful in invocation while he holds his daughter’s right hand.
After blessing her daughter, he takes the right hand of his son in-law and charge him saying: Confide in your wife, “Odor ogbo,” take good care of your wife, never allow your wife to go hungry and be truthful to yourselves. The father then asks all present to silently join him in prayers to the Ancestors and the God of all creations, to bless the marriage with male and female children,
Here is the Prayer for Handing over or Joining the Girl with her Husband.
Vha kha vhbio Okpo, vha vha Amhi; lo kho Olama na pi.
As you bring forth male children so too will you bring forth female
This he invokes as he places his daughter’s right hand into the right palm of the young man and requests the Divine and the Invisible Ancestors to accept and grant the new couple, their needs and the best of all at all time, in the union. Concluding, the father says: This marriage is for eternity here and hereafter, and every one present will respond by saying AMI, ITSE (AMEN).
Immediately there comes the sound of a Dane-gun on the outside. It is the signal that the new bride is ready. Those who came to fetch the new wife will dance away, and singing the song, “Ododo nokpugho, ukha emae nu ke khe mhe o, okhokho o ya ame ye okhui ya o !!!” Translated, Ododo nokpugho, means my pretty Rose Flower, whenever you eat, do not forget me because no fowl ever drink water and forget the sky. (If you have ever seen a chicken drinking water, you may have noticed that the chicken always tilts its head backward while its beak points to the sky for the water to go down). Remember the music and dance, it is called, Ayee. (A acha yee de), meaning they are now bringing the new wife. To the best of my knowledge this is how we install marriages in Etsako which reduces the degree of marital instability in our land. I am sure that most marriages in Nigeria may take similar procedures with little variations as applicable in the various cultures, traditions and customs.
Omoh T. Ojior, Ph.D.
Professor of Political Science
Onima Institute for Tradition and Development USA, Inc.