Recently, there have been arguments about bride price. Our ancestors never paid the bride price. Ịkwụ ụgwọ isi nwaanyị was never part of Igbo culture. That was not the original name.
“A naghị ere nwaanyị ere”
This is an Igbo constant adage. A woman cannot be sold. You cannot sell a woman.
Let us get to the business of discourse.
Ask your grandparents what is called “ịtụ ngọ”. In some Igbo culture it’s called “ngọ” or “ịgba ngọ” or “ịkwụ ngọ nwaanyị”.
It is this culture that was replaced with what we now greedily call bride price which causes some of our young people to see marriage as a big task. You must be materially rich before you get married to someone. The rapid change in the societal value of money makes it so.
Remember in the past, there was nothing like money. Money was alien to us. Although there were methods of exchange for goods and services. Ayọrọ was there. Okpogho was there. These weren’t paper money, but cowries and a metal iron used for the exchange of value.
During this traditional rite called ịtụ ngọ, the man about to marry a wife will not be there. A stick or broom will be used for ịtụ ngọ by the ụmụnna (kinsmen) of the woman. Each stick or broom represents whatever they demand from the in-laws. It could be clothes or any affordable item. It might be cowries depending on what is agreed. It is a symbol of bond.
This ngọ is for the groom to show appreciation to the bride’s family. If tomorrow, the marriage is dissolved through another traditional rite called “ịgba alụkwaghịm” (divorce), the ngọ will be returned so that the woman will be able to remarry another man; and then, her ụmụnna will be able to do another ịtụ ngọ.
This practice was never a means to enrich any family. Instead, it was a bond, binding the couple together.
There were processes in Igbo traditional marriage rites that cost just a few things. From ịjụ ese, ịkụtụ aka and ịtụ ngọ/ịkwụ ngọ. These activities cost palm wine, kola nut, and a few things like food.
In some communities, relatives and friends might contribute to support someone. Marriage rite cost almost nothing.
Bridal families also support the union materially.
During ịtụ ngọ, there is no amount of things one must bring.
As Western civilization came, money was interchanged in the form of ịtụ ngọ. Even at that, there was no particular amount one must pay. Anything. The reason is not to buy up the woman, but to show appreciation and regard for the woman. To create something so significant as a bond. It serves as a purpose of bond between the two people getting married.
I know a man who collected N10 naira as ngọ for his daughter. He told his wealthy in-laws that Igbo culture anaghịerenwaanyị ere. He too is not hungry or poor. But he understands this aspect of culture. No woman is a commodity.
NOTE: Ịtụ ngọ stands for the bond between the man and the woman getting married, not as money the family of the woman will use to feed. The bond can be broken when they eventually get divorced by returning the ngọ. It money, or material thing that was given as ngọ nwaanyị will be returned once the marriage is dissolved. It’s not a price paid, but a bond for the significance of the marital union.
Borrow borrow culture and greediness destroyed this important aspect of our culture. We now give lists, lining up like vehicles in Lagos traffic. We now decide how much to be given to us. Trailers of yam, bags of rice, a wrapper for all the family, building a house for the bridal family, training her siblings in schools, feeding the family of the woman, feeding the ụmụnna; list for ndị youth, list for ụmụada, list for ewu na ọkụkọ, etc.
The dynamism of this aspect of culture re-changed its name to suit a borrowed tag “bride price”, now called “ịkwụ ụgwọ isi nwaanyị”. It was never called ụgwọ isi nwaanyị before, this expression is not core Igbo.
When a slight misunderstanding ensues in a marriage, then, some men roar:
“I used my money to marry you. Lee nwaanyị m kwụrụ ụgwọ isi ya. See a woman I paid her bride price”.
Igbo culture does not see marriage or recognize it as an entity of favor done for anyone by marrying her.
Because of this dynamism, you will see a lot of bachelors in Igbo land today waiting to make it big before they get married. You see the married ones struggling to live up to unnecessary expectations. In the past, just be a man enough to provide for your family. Be hardworking. A few drinks and a little food would solve the problem. It’s not an avenue to feed the world.
There was never a bride price in Igbo culture but ịkwụ ngọ. There was no list upon the list in our culture. All this nonsense and exorbitant bride prices came as a result of the greed of some people, especially after the war. Just as our adage says: “ihe ọjọọ gbaa afọ ọ bụrụ omenala“. When the wrong thing persists, it becomes a culture.
I was confused the last time I attended a traditional marriage ceremony in my village. Things have changed. I asked one of the elders why such a drastic change. He said, that when they travel to another place to marry, they would be given a high price of things. Lists. Bride price. They now saw they were dashing our women out, freely; therefore they readjusted to compete with others. Imagine. It is now like a competition.
I know a man in my village who told his ụmụnna not to bring such greediness to her daughter’s day. None of them trained her for him. He urged his in-laws to do what he could. He shouldn’t go more than his strength.
Culturally informed men who understand this aspect of our ways of life don’t fix the high rate of price. A naghị ere nwaanyị ere. They will collect something as ịgba ngọ since money can now replace other things in the past.
Nowadays, some greedy parents now keep their daughters for the highest bidder. Bride Price is now a poverty alleviation program. Once a man finishes spending, some begin to maltreat their wives after considering how much they have spent.
We need to change this and stop hiding such greediness in the name of “it is the culture and tradition of our land”. You and I are the culture. You and I are the tradition. There is no culture or tradition without a people.
Ohhh….how things have fallen apart.
The outrageous list should be kicked against. It is very bad.
Bride price bụ okwu Bekee. The English word, not asụsụ Igbo.
Now, ngwa…. ya kpọtụba!