Getting married in Nigeria – Part 1
Getting married in Nigeria can be a trying experience. It starts from choosing a partner, or when a partner is selected for or imposed on you, going through the entire process of finally living together as husband and wife. As a young woman of 25 or 30, educated or not, there is pressure on you to bring a man. ‘Bring a husband Salome; bring a husband for me so I can carry my grandchildren.’ This, as if the young lady should simply walk into a man’s house and bring him over as her husband-to-be! Some ladies therefore go the extra mile to search for a potential husband by joining a church or a particular group where they could meet a potential husband. In Nigeria, the subtext is that a lady who is unable to find a husband is a failure. I thought it was the men that should look for wives after a woman has made herself available!
As for the men, once they get a job and settle down, say at 30, the pressure begins. ‘Onome, you must marry a good girl; don’t you like Chief Edewor’s daughter, that one in the choir? She is a good girl, always well dressed and greets me properly. Besides, her family is a good one’! It does not matter that the man is not psychologically prepared for the life-altering experience. A young man with some means who is not married is considered irresponsible. If you are an only child, the pressure is greater – you must replicate yourself for your parents. Some parents do not mind bearing the costs of the wedding and looking after that grandchild who has come to extend the family line. This cuts across social classes, rich or poor. Of course the poor daddies cannot foot the bill of an elaborate wedding ceremony. Getting married and having children seems to be the livewire of most families.
The marriage process can be fun too, particularly if there is enough money to spend and the two families do not try to out-do and upstage each other in the process and one mother-in-law does not have the character of a confirmed witch and does not rudely legislate on all the issues before and during the ceremonies. Don’t know why mothers see the wedding period as theirs, not that of the couple! The feasting which follows every step of the marriage process is interesting to say the least. Somehow money suddenly becomes available, borrowed or stolen or whatever and there is plenty to eat. Often the marriage is not just a union of two persons; it is indeed a union of two families coming together represented by son and daughter.
Sometimes the families show up at the traditional marriage with ages of bias or assumptions or misperception and ignorance. Why do you show up at a wedding believing that your potential in-laws are descendants of cannibals and perhaps they still eat human beings and would your daughter not experience that same fate? If it is an interethnic or inter-religious marriage, it could be fun, and you witness clashing, sometimes funny aspects of cultural differences. People learn to navigate the tender lanes of relationships at such times. A woman is expected to give up her religion and join the man’s often. In some cases the two young fellows, the persons who want to marry, have little or no say in the process. They are simply commanded by parents and tradition to just obey! Indeed the wedding day appears to be a statement of how connected the parents are. As a result the parents tend to be on edge.
Marriage ceremonies throw up all the contradictions of modern life in Nigeria. We carry out acts that we do not understand or which ought to have been discarded ages ago. As a young man/woman, you have to face your in-laws before and during the traditional ceremony (paying the bride price or receiving the dowry), face the registry in a civil marriage, and the church or a Nikkai in a religious ceremony. You know, for the average Nigerian, god must have a stamp on the marriage even if the marrying persons have scant faith in God. For most Nigerians (parents and their adult kids), the belief is that except one goes through all the processes the marriage cannot be said to be complete. In other words, parental or family consent and blessing are not enough. God has to bless the union in church or in the mosque or wherever. To ensure that the man does not ‘misbehave’ later, they must go to the registry and have a civil ceremony.
In a sane and confident world, any couple which goes through the traditional ceremony should consider themselves married. For, this ceremony is representative of all that we stand for. Parents, extended families and the marrying parties are involved. There is a rich cultural exchange between the families in a well-established ceremony. In some parts of the country, the women of the family are totally excluded from the ceremony. In others the spokesperson for the family is a woman. But in 21st Nigeria, we are told that this is not enough. After the traditional rites, they then proceed to the registry to give the marriage a legal stamp – they might need this to secure a visa as a couple. Finally the entire world is invited to a church ceremony where a priest joins them in ‘holy matrimony’ even if the bride is already pregnant and is ready to unload in the next six weeks!
The truth is that these intrusions and contradictions sometimes impose challenges on the lives of couples. Being young they are sometimes unable to handle the fall-outs of pre-nuptial ‘seeds of destruction’ sown willy-nilly by external forces. Apart from incurring huge financial commitments in order to please guests at a one-day ceremony, the newly-wed enter the union with baggage created by others. For some, fights, psychological and/or physical, start from the first week. And if they are unable to resolve it, a path to separation or torture is already created.
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