Marriage among the Igbo of Nigeria By :Celestine A. Obi

The Young Man Before Marriage

From all we have seen so far, it is evident that the Igbo does not step into marriage without preparation. It is a step which must be taken with the eyes wide open.

In what therefore does the preparation consist? In other words, what education is a young man given as a preparation for his marriage? What should ho know and how should ho behave himself when ho has grown to the ago of marriage? This stage is well described by Sporndli as follows: “As soon as a boy comes to the age of reason, he undergoes a civic juvenile test by which ho is initiated into the juju cult by iba nammuo (the walk to the spirit land)”. By this ceremony ho is initiated into the secrets of “egwugwu” and told of ana-be-mmuo’. These are secrets which, he can never reveal to anyone of the female sex nor to the yet uninitiated of his own sex. This is an age-old ordeal meant to test the psychological balance and the sense of responsibility of the boy. It is a rigorous training in personal discipline and strict preservation of secrets. Any young man who revealed these secrets was counted a big disgrace to his family. In the past he would either be killed or sold into slavery to a distant town. His family would be subjected to the payment of many heavy penalties. Thus the young man must be able to think his thoughts and keep them to himself. Reason above all must govern his emotional life. He has to prove his worth. “As the adolescent waxed into an adult man”, writes Mr. Aniadi, “he must now build his own separate hut in his father’s compound. He has his own weapons, farm implements and a barn…. It was time to distinguish oneself in competitive activities like wrestling, dancing, fighting, work and skill, especially when girls were among the spectators”. Here we have a summary of all he should be doing some years after the initiation in-to the egwugwu society. Of course Sporndli was not very accurate in his estimation of the age for initiation. It takes place years after coming to the age of reason (10-15yrs). After this then the youth begins to learn to tap palm trees for wine. At this stage he performs the ceremonial rites, for official entry into his age-grade. He thus gets into the category of those obliged to pay tax to the state.

Where the men have a lucrative occupation, like the people of Awka who were famous for black-smithing, the young man joins the working group and so begins in time to earn money rapidly. As we have seen in chapter one, “the men of Agukwu Nrí are the priests whose presence is necessary for a valid celebration of the ceremonial rites in connection with the coronation of kings. “They travel far and wide’, as Basden explained”. in the performance of these priestly functions”. Basden also testifies that the men of Umudioka – Dunukofia go from place to place to practice their trade – as they were the renowned experts in the cutting of ichi (tattooing the face, as a sign of mature manhood) or tribal marks. Young men born in these towns on growing up follow the trade of the men and easily make money to build their own houses, pay the bride wealth, and make initial payments in some of the common titles.

It is in place to remark here that what we have described in the last paragraphs belong to the past rather than to the present. All the different cultures have the following qualities in common: dynamism and susceptibility to change. Consequently what is described here is no longer completely true today. For instance, no young man wears the loin-cloth now. Tattooing has long since gone out of fashion, and blacksmithing has been replaced by more decent and more lucrative occupations like mechanised agriculture, carpentry, bricklaying, trading, clerical work and teaching in schools, colleges and Higher institutions. Western culture has been so mixed with Igbo native culture, that some old customs are no longer accepted, while some are accepted only in a diluted form in many towns. The change is very rapid but somehow unfelt by the younger generation

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