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

v) The Girl Before Marriage
In the sub-title, love and courtship, we saw that inquiries are made by both parties to the proposed marriage. If the results are unsatisfactory, the marriage is dropped. To be able to pass the test of these inquiries both the youth and the maid have got preparations to make. We have seen the picture of the young man before marriage. About the girl before marriage, Basden has the following comment to make, ‘By the time they are nine or ten, they are regularly employed in fetching supplies of water. They take part daily in such duties as the sweeping of the compound, the rubbing of the house, the collection of firewood and the preparation of food. Soon after daylight the women folk leave the house in order to bring in the morning supply of water….. … On market days, practically the whole female population move to the market place either to trade or to enjoy the general entertainment such gatherings afford… “From the age of four and five, the women are taught to balance tiny pots of water on their heads so that they have a stately carriage. The job that takes precedence over all others is the visit with the waterpot to the stream or spring….”. This is the initiation of the girl into household duties and her success in this field counts very much in winning her a suitable husband. The way she went about her duties will recommend her as a suitable and capable housewife. Her family background and the character of the mother have a lot to add or to subtract as the case may be. Since in the past, practically all girls were meant for marriage, parents usually trained their daughters as future house-wives. They have their age-grades and dance groups. The Igbo girl at this stage begins to imitate the other girls of her age group and becomes more self conscious. Girls usually take pride in their physical features, especially where they have been fully developed and well-formed without natural defects, as Mr. Aniadi remarks. No girl would go to the public assembly without first carefully adorning herself. “Wristlets, ear-rings, necklaces and rolls of jigida on the waist were the prominent and coveted ornaments. To these Basden adds the following: “More widespread are the brass leg rings. For the complete outfit these are graduated in size from the ankle upwards, the number of rings depending on the size of the girl. Up to a certain age the rings must finish below the knees, at full age they must extend above the knees… These are worn prior to marriage and never after”. Besides these, bracelets of ivory or sections of huge elephant tusks are worn by rich ladies or women of high rank. The anklets are about nine inches in depth by from two to three inches in thickness. It is not at all comfortable to wear these, but the girls have to put up with them as being imposed by fashion. It is not only the Igbo girls that have had to undergo acute physical discomfort to find a husband. It has been known that western women used to wear a steel-framed corset, while in China mothers used to bind the feet of their daughters very tightly in order to achieve the love-fetish and attraction which lay in small and dainty feet. All these are equally of “The village belles take particular pains to attract the attention of eligible young men and do not hesitate to advertise their personal charms. On gala days, every available ornament is brought into requisition. The girls revel in dancing and seize every opportunity of displaying their charms”. Some Igbo girls add poise to their erectness by deliberately walking upright and chest-out. Why all this show? One would be inclined to ask. You would not blame them, if you understand the motive. This is the time for silent but vigorous campaign for a good husband. This ambition glows fervently inside every girl and restlessly demands an urgent satisfaction before the teeming full and pointing breasts sag and bow to age.

In the choice of a wife, the Igbo gives preference to a girl with long thin limbs which are regarded as signs of fast growth and hugeness later on in marred life. Whereas ideas of female beauty vary from people to people, the horror of disease or of physical deformity can be said to be universal. Nevertheless, what is beautiful to a European or to an Asiatic may seem repulsive to an African It is all a matter of taste and De gustibus non est disputandum as the old adage has it. For instance in Western Europe, fashion may decide the position and width of women’s waists, and corsets be used to emphasize them, while obesity in a woman goes against the established standard of female beauty. However among the Kirghiz of Central Asia and some West African peoples fatness in a woman is regarded as attractive. Also among the Igbos in the past, a prospective wife was set aside in a hut and fed and instructed without much exercise until she was well prepared physically and psychologically to assume the role of house wife and after a short time, that of a mother. This practice which no longer exists today, was referred to “ino na nkpu or npu’ (returning to the fattening house). top

Dr. Briffault said of the natives of the interior of Ceylon, that for them, a beautiful woman must have very long hair often touching her knees, a nose as sharp as a hawk’s, her breasts must be conical and her hips very wide and her waist so small that it can be clasped with one hand. We do not pretend to swear to the truth of this report, in its every detail but at least it helps to explain why the Igbo have their own canon for the perfect woman. As a general rule, fat young girls with stout brawny joined limbs (called ukwu nchi – grasscutters short legs) are not ranked among the beautiful according to Igbo standards. This is because such usually scarcely ever added an inch to their low stature later- in married life. A huge woman (not necessarily a fat one) is the choice of most people. This has many obvious advantages, for not only that she commands respect and is the pride of her husband, also she will be able to do farm work and in childbearing, she would generate her kind. Furthermore, it has an added social advantage. Such a woman because of her size is easily recognizable in the assembly of women. Given the average skill and intelligence she usually becomes the leader of her dance-group or the president of the women’s council

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