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

 i) Monogamy

Monogamy is the form of marriage prevalent among a civilised nations whose social structures are based on the Greco-Roman tradition and Christian religion. Primitive food collectors, for economic reasons were usually limited to one wife. Advanced nations of Europe and America, and the places influenced by European civilisation are for social and economic reasons also monogamous. The pygmies of the Congo basin and those of Asia, the Adamanese islanders, the Aeta of the Philippines, the Kubu of Sumatra, and the Semang of Malaya also have this practice of monogyny. What is said about the above mentioned peoples can apply to the Igbo, for although polygamy is practised, yet monogamy is the common type of marriage.

In the Igbo society, polygyny is not merely tolerated, it is encouraged and accepted, still monogamous marriages very greatly outnumber polygynous ones. Among the Igbo, a father accepts responsibility for all his wife’s children throughout his life. This makes the choice of a wife and the recognition of marriage an important matter for the community.

The normal age is 25-28 for the man and from 14 to 18 for the girl. In some parts of Igbo land, child-marriage (ldo-nkwu nwanyi, igudo-nwanyi) literally, bringing bride wine, staking bride claim, was practised. “Rich parents”, says Basden, “often select a wife (or wives) for a son, while he is still a boy, he probably having no knowledge of the transaction … This method of acquiring a wife is known as Nwunye-nwa-madu. It is a way of displaying well-to-do parentage”. However this is rather very rare and must have fallen into desuetude since Basden wrote. The normal procedure is that the young man chooses a wife himself, though it may sometimes happen that a father will make the selection and then quietly disclose his choice to his son. This is not in any case imposed on him, since his father, mother or guardian or whoever else makes the choice or pays the bride wealth for him may be regarded as his benefactors. He can reject the choice but in most cases he does not, for he trusts his father’s expert experience in this field. It is commonly accepted that the older people are more sober in choosing marriage partner. There is a good point in this, since eiders have had experience of marriage, and known cases of successful and unsuccessful marriages, they are in a better position to detect the qualities in a prospective housewife. We are still in the realm of monogamy and it may be important to point out that usually al1 marriages begin as monogamy but many end up as polygamous. This is because it does happen that the young man on growing up may take more wives according to his means and the circumstances in which he finds himself. The childlessness of the first wife is not the only reason. In fact there are many as we shall see shortly ahead.

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