Fulani Marriages vs. Igbo Marriages
Marriage is an interpersonal relationship between a man and a woman. It is often referred to as a contract between couples. Marriage unites a man and a woman as husband and wife. After a couple agrees to get married it is often declared by a marriage ceremony. All over the world couples engage in marriage ceremonies. However, the way it is celebrated varies with geographical location, culture and ethnic groups. In my recent study of Yola Fulani traditional marriages and Enugu Igbo traditional marriages, I have concluded that Fulani societies have less respect for their women’s wishes than Igbo societies.
In the two types of marriages a prospective husband and his kinsmen visits the girl’s family to declare their intentions to her parents. It is like asking for their blessing, or permission. If the girl’s parents approve the proposal, then the man goes ahead with marriage ceremony arrangements assuming the girl also concurs. In Fulani culture, however, the girl has little control over who she is betrothed to. Her parents have the right to choose her husband for her if she had never been in a marriage. This contrasts to Igbo culture in which she is free to approve or disapprove a prospective husband.
The most common traditional practice in Igbo marriages is called “icho di”. This is performed during the traditional marriage. A prospective husband shuffles himself into the crowd to hide from his bride. The oldest man in the village gives her a cup of palm wine, and then she has to walk around and search for her husband among the crowd. When she finds him, she kneels in front of him and gives him the cup of palm wine, which he must drink to show the crowd that he is “the one”. This signifies that she has chosen her husband. In contrast to Fulani traditional marriages, the groom comes with a guarantor who vouches for him. The guarantor may be his uncle, his friend or his father. In this rite he agrees to take good care of his prospective wife, and the agreement is between his guarantor and the girl’s parents. This clearly shows that the girl has little or no choice when it comes to choosing a husband.
Moreover, a typical prospective couple in Igbo culture would have known each other for a while before the first visit of the prospective husband and his kinsmen. This initial intimacy helps to build a lasting and satisfactory relationship, because the couple must have gotten to know each other well before deciding whether or not they are suited for each other. In Fulani culture a man cannot approach a lady he wishes to marry until he obtains permission from her parents to do so. If her parents approve his proposal he goes ahead to approach the girl and let her know. In this case she has little or no choice if her parents are already impressed with the man. In other words, her parents have the right to choose a husband for her. Thus, the marriage is “rushed” into without prior intimacy or relationship.
Conversely, in Igbo culture a girl can get married when she is matured. She can get married at any age she pleases or feel that she is mature enough to endure the demands of marriage, but the ideal age is between 20 and 25 years. This is in contrast to Fulani cultural ideology in which a girl can be betrothed to a man when she reaches puberty. Her parents can give her away to a man she knows little or nothing about. At such a tender age she has no control over who she is going to spend the rest of her life with. She also finds it difficult to cope with demands from a husband at such tender age.
When married, a husband can decide whether or not his newly married wife should receive formal education. Her faith is at the mercy of her husband’s decision. More so, she may find it extremely difficult to combine the demands of academics with the demands of marriage and family even if her husband decides in her favor. This results in a reduced literacy rate among Fulani women, whereas in Igbo communities a lady has the right to education. It is entirely up to her to decide if she wants to receive formal education, and it also depends on the availability of resources.
The maximum number of wives for a typical Igbo husband is one. He is allowed to have one wife, although in some villages a titled man is permitted to have a maximum of three wives. This is divergent from the Fulani custom which permits a man to marry as many as 4 wives. A king can marry more than 4 wives. He is only restricted to choose his additional wives from his slaves. Those additional ones do not have the same status as his first 4 wives, and are more or less baby factories. In such polygamous families, the wives often fall out with each other in their bid for attention from their husband.
During the marriage, the Fulani bride to-be wears brown beads around her neck and wrists similar to the kinds worn by the Igbo bride. Skin art around the wrists and face of the bride is also common in both. Also, in both types of marriages the relatives of the bride and the groom wear clothes made of similar fabric for the ceremony, so during the ceremony it is easy to tell the relatives of the bride or the groom from friends and well wishers at the occasion.
Although there is some vestige of similarity between these two highlighted marriages, their differences set them apart. The Fulani ideology neglects the woman while the Igbo marriage tries to respect the wishes of both parties.