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Igbo Culture | Igbo Language

Traditional Family Ceremonies

Birth, marriage and burial are considered the three most important family events in most cultures, and Igboland is not an exception to that.

It is common to get invited to a traditional marriage (Igbankwu) and certainly worth witnessing one. Marriage in Igboland is not just an affair between the future husband and wife but also involves the parents, the extended family and villages. First the groom asks his potential partner to marry him. Assuming that this is affirmative, the groom will visit the bride’s residence accompanied by his father. The groom’s father will introduce himself and his son and explain the purpose of his visit.

The bride’s father welcomes the guests, invites his daughter to come and asks her if she knows the groom. Her confirmation shows that she agrees with the proposal. Then the bride’s price settlement (Ika-Akalika) starts with the groom accompanied by his father and elders visiting the bride’s compound on another evening.

igbo wedding
Traditional Igbo Wedding

They bring wine and kola nuts with them, which are presented to the bride’s father. After they have been served with a meal, the bride’s price is being negotiated between the fathers. In most cases there is only a symbolic price to be paid for the bride but in addition other prerequisites (kola nuts, goats, chicken, wine, etc.) are listed as well. Usually it takes more than one evening before the final bride’s price is settled, offering guests from both sides a glamorous feast.

Igbo wedding
Bride with Iko looking for husband

Another evening is spent for the payment of the bride’s price at the bride’s compound when the groom’s family hands over the money and other agreed prerequisites. The money and goods are counted, while relatives and friends are served drinks and food in the bride’s compound. After all is settled, the traditional wedding day is planned. The wedding day is again at the bride’s compound, where the guests welcome the couple and invite them in front of the families. First the bride goes around selling boilt eggs to the guests, showing to both families that she has the capability to open a shop and make money. Then, the bride’s father fills a wooden cup (Iko) with palm wine and passes it on to the girl while the groom finds a place between the guests. It is the custom for her to look for her husband while being distracted by the invitees. Only after she has found the groom, she offered the cup to him and he sipped the wine, the couple is married traditionally. During this ceremony, there is also the nuptial dance where the couple dances, while guests wish the newly weds prosperity by throwing money around them or putting bills on their forehead.

Nowadays, church wedding follows traditional marriage . During this ceremony, the bride’s train, made up of the bride followed by her single female friends, enters the church dancing on the music, while the guests bless the bride’s train by throwing money over the bride and her entourage. The groom receives the bride at the altar for the final church blessing by the priest. Sometimes, the traditional marriage is combined with the reception that is then preceded by the church ceremony.

igbo wedding 2
Igbo Church Wedding

Birth celebration, as the wedding ceremony, varies from village to village. On the eighth day, the child (male only, though there are some discussions whether it should apply females as well) is prepared for circumcision, and on the twenty-eighth day, the naming ceremony is performed, each event accompanied by a feast for the relatives.

Death in Igboland is regarded as the passing away of the person from the world existence to the spirit world. However, only after the second burial rites, it is believed that the person can reach the spirit world, as otherwise, the departed relative would still wander between earth and the spirit world. The honour of the death varies dependent on the background, title, gender, relationship with family and circumstances around the death. The corpse is normally buried at the village in the person’s compound after it has been preceded by the wake keeping. During the funeral ceremonies, relatives and friends of the deceased pay their last respect to the dead and mourn with the bereaved in colourful ceremonies marked with singing and traditional dances. In the olden days, the wake keeping was accompanied by masquerades, traditional music and animal sacrifices. A high-ranking chief or traditional ruler would be buried with two human heads alongside his body and would go along with the release of canon gun shots to notify the general public on the loss. Many more customs surrounded the burial rites, but the church nowadays has overtaken most of these traditions. To go in more details would go beyond the scope of this book, and I would suggest to read the books mentioned before for further research.

Conversation: Where is the Hotel?

♬ Click here to listen to this conversation.
- Biko, olee ebe ülö oriri dï?Please, where is the hotel?
- Ülö oriri dï na ndïda na aka ekpe.The hotel is down (this road) on the left hand.
N’ülö oriri:In the hotel:
- Ehihie öma,Good-afternoon,
i nwere mgbe?do you have a room?
- E-e.Yes.
- Ö dï igwe ntuonyi?Is it air-conditioned?
- Mba, ö dïghï, ihe o nwere bü nkucha oyibo.No, it is not, it has a fan.
- Ï chörö otu akwa ka ö bü abüö?Do you want one or two beds?
- Achörö m abüö. Nwunye m ga-anonyere m.I want two. My wife is joining me.
- Ego ole ka ö bü?How much is that?
- Ö bü otu puku naira na narï naira atö otu abalï.That is one thousand and three hundred naira per night.
- Ö dï oke ölü.That is expensive.
- I nwere ndörö mmiri?Do you have a swimming-pool?
- E-e, i nwere ike igwu mmiri ebe ahu.Yes, you can swim there.
- I nwere ebe ana agba bölü ebea?Do you have a football field here?
- E-e, ï ma ka esi agba bolu öfüma?Yes, do you know how to play football well?
- E-e, ama m.Yes, I know.
- Ka anyï gba bölü echi.Let us play tomorrow.
- I riela nrï ütütü?Do you have breakfast?
- E-e, anyï eriela nrï ütütü.Yes, we have breakfast.
Ügwö abalï ole ka ï ga-akwü?How many nights are you paying?
- M ga-akwü ügwö abalï atö.I will pay for three nights.
- Imela.Thank you.
- Kodi.Bye.

Vocabulary

ekpeleft
nrïright (as well as food as it is eaten with that hand)
akwüdoor
igodokey
mbaraliving-room
ülö mpositoilet
obubedroom
ochechair
usekwukitchen
akpatï nrïcupboard (box for food)

Grammar: Conjunctions

Words that can connect two words or sentences are called conjunctions. Most of the conjunctions start with an initial consonant:

kamainstead of
mgbe ahüthen
tupuuntil
makaas, so
otuas, that
manabut, if, that, whether
naand, that
ka mgbesince
kaso that, that

Examples:

achörö m anü kama öküküI want meat instead of chicken
i risie nrï mgbe ahü gabayou eat, then you go
eri kwala nrï, tupu na mü agabado not eat until I go
maka na ihea dï mma, ka m jïrï goro yaas this is good, I buy it
ö dï mma otu osighi wee dï önüit is good, as it is cheap
ïhea mara mma mana ödï önüthis is good, but expensive
mü na gï nö ebeame and you are here