Marriage is a most important event in the Ibo's life. From the time that boys and girls are capable of thinking for themselves, marriage is set before them as the one object to be attained. During the earlier years it does not assume a serious aspect, but question any boy or girl, and the answer is certain to be that, in due course, they must marry. Celibacy is an impossible prospect. Unmarried persons of either sex, except in special cases, are objects of derision, and to be childless is the greatest calamity that can befall a woman. Hence a very high value is set upon marriage.
Courtship, as such, does not exist. The word "love" is not even found in the Ibo language. The nearest approach to the idea is "ifu nanya," i.e. " to look in the
eye" in a favourable manner. The verb "to hate" is constantly in use, and there is an expression "to look in the eye" which implies the reverse of love. I had a very
practical demonstration of this some years ago when travelling through a strange town. I believe it was the first appearance of a white man in that particular spot, and for a few minutes there seemed to be imminent danger of unpleasant experiences.
Our party consisted of four, three natives and myself, and as we pursued our way along a tortuous bush track, we suddenly rounded a corner and found ourselves on the edge of a large open square. The hubbub indicated that we had wandered into a market, but before we had opportunity to take note of our surroundings, an excited crowd of men, bristling with spears and guns, hustled us apart and hampered our movements and observations.
Eventually I managed to cross the market and later rejoined my companions. On putting the question, "Why did you leave me alone in the crowd?" the answer was immediately forthcoming, "Because the men — they look us." It was a most telling illustration of the text, "And Saul eyed David from that day forward."
Love, then, usually has no part to play in native courtship. Later a substitute for love may develop consisting of a certain amount of affection or favour bestowed by
the husband upon his wife. After marriage the woman is ranked with the other property of the husband with a proportionate value attached, but little greater than that of the cows and goats. Ordinarily the betrothed girl raises no objection to the prospect of marriage, but occasionally one will refuse to follow the intended husband
in spite of entreaty or applied persuasion. In such case any expenses incurred by the man must be refunded by the guardian of the girl.
AMONG THE IBOS OF NIGERIA By G. T. BASDEN, M.A., F.R.G.S. Pages 68-69 (1921)