Urhobo traditional marriage is contracted in very unique customs and values handed down from centuries.
It is an enduring institution regarded as a sacred bond tying two independent families together forever, especially when the marriage is blessed with children, particularly male offsprings.
For Urhobo people, once the traditional marriage rites are fully performed, neither death nor divorce is able to unlock or separate it.
Again another distinct contrast between Urhobo traditional marriage system and that of western cultures (particularly the European based cultures), is the fact that Urhobo marriage extends beyond the couples directly involved.
Indeed, Urhobo marriage is a marriage of two families; it involves the union of families of the spouses and both play very central roles in ensuring the success of the marriage.
Right from the courtship through the marriage negotiations to the marriage, both families are deeply involved.
Divorce is rare in Urhobo traditional marriage; it contracted to endure beyond the life of the husband as the wife remains married to the man’s family, even in the event of her husband’s death
In such circumstance, the wife is passed on to a member of the husband’s family for the marriage to continue. It is believed that this continuity preserves the marriage heritage and legacy, whilst providing aasurances of emotional and material stability and security.
The families are also expected to intervene to rescue the marriage from adverse challenge or mediate when there are conflicts between spouses or when the marriage relationship is threatened unlike in western marriage system where extended family intervention is seen as interference.
There are several approaches to Urhobo traditional marriage proposals and they are all acceptable and recognised as norms. Some processes of marriage proposals or traditional marriages are as follows:
Esavwijotor occurs when parents propose marriage on behalf of their son or daughter at an early age. Marriage pledges and commitments of this nature are also made and redeemed, as a result of observed exemplary character of a young girl or boy.
Esavwijotor could be contracted as a reward for exceptional valour. Love between the spouses may not be the determinant of this type of marriage, but it does develop between the couple after marriage has been officially contracted.
Ose: This form of marriage evolves from taking a woman in as a concubine. Ose is a form of marriage recognised as binding, but in which the traditional bride price has not been paid and accepted as prescribed. Couples may live together or apart, but enjoy full de facto conjugal rights and exclusiveness but short of customary (legal) rights of husband and wife.
One of the inhibitions of this type of marriage is that such husband will not be allowed to bury and mourn his would-be parents in law, like a fully married man or the woman be allowed to mourn the man.
In this case, traditional marriage rites are carried out on behalf of the man who is usually abroad or outside Urhoboland by his parents or family, to marry a wife of their choice for him. Bride and groom may not have seen or met each other previously.
During the marriage ceremony of this type of marriage, the man’s brother or a nominated relative would represent him as the proxy groom.
In some cases the wife may be required to spend some time with the absent groom’s family immediately the traditional rites are performed before she is despatched to her new husband. Just like in the situation of Esavwijotor, love may, or may not develop when they meet for the first time. If they like each other, the may be consummated, and is likely to survive. In some cases, either party may refuse to go ahead with the marriage, and call it off.
Urhobo traditional marriage rites
The consent of both families is imperative before the marriage process is finalised. The marriage ceremony is hosted by the bride’s family at the bride’s native home.
A formal advance notice is given to the bride`s family for the august visit by the groom’s family. On arrival, the bride’s family will welcome the would-be in laws with drinks and kola nuts supported with some money, regarded as “wedge’” which customary in Urhobo tradition.
A spokesman for the bride’s family will make the presentation of the drinks and kola nuts with the money to the visiting family. The visitor’s spokesman will in turn accept the presentation on behalf of the groom’s family. After this initial customary entertainment, the visitors are asked the purpose of their visit.
The visitors would formally inform the bride’s family that they have come to marry their daughter for their son, who may or may not be present at this protocol. If the bride’s family accepts the proposal, they would go through a process of the identification of the bride they wish to marry as the host family would assemble their spinsters for the visitors to pick which among their daughters.
The interesting aspect of this identification exercise, is when the bride’s family presents another seemingly attractive girl who is not the bride, and she is paraded before the visiting groom’s family, peradventure they would opt for a new bride.
This customary exercise would be repeated about three times. Of course the groom and his family would reject those girls insisting on the bride they came for. However, each time a girl is paraded and rejected, the groom’s family would be asked to pay the rejected girl some money as appeasement.
Finally, the bride is presented to the groom to confirm the true identity of his chosen bride. Once this process is concluded, the bride’s consent would then be obtained. That is, she will be asked if she is willing to marry the groom. The family of the bride can only receive the bride price if she consents to marry the groom.
Although this process is mere formality on such event in most cases, as the bride price and all arrangements would have been agreed upon and concluded, since both families would have reached some understanding before fixing the ceremony.
It is customary that before the stage of pronouncing conjugal blessings and pouring of libation are reached, the groom and his family would paid several visits to the bride’s family. The purpose of these visits is to negotiate and to meet certain pre-marriage requirements stipulated by the bride’s family, such as the bride price which could be negotiated and agreed beforehand.
Also during these visits, the bride’s parents, uncles, aunts and the bride’s father and mother would be bought several gift items, such as walking stick and hat, tobacco etc, for the bride’s father; wrapper and other ceremonial accessories for her mother, and other items for her uncles, aunts, and other relatives.
Upon acceptance of the dowry, the bride’s father pours a libation. The libation is poured using a native gin (ogogoro) or may be represented by Gordon gin and kola nuts. The bride’s father offers a prayers and blessing in the native dialect for the couple.
At this point, the bride sits on the husband’s lap. The blessed drink is handed to the husband who drinks first; he then hands it to his wife to drink. The wife would drink and pass it back to her husband to finish, as a sign of respect. Then only are they declared husband and wife. Both family members present at the ceremony, would then shower the couple with money as gifts.
Then comes the reception of guests which the groom and his family members are also expected to cater for the entertainments of the guests, having pre-arranged with the bride’s mother for the serving of particularly a native soup called “ogwo’figbo” with starch, regarded as a ceremonial meal at such events.
This term describes the final stage of a full marriage according to Urhobo custom. It affirms the completion of all requirements from the in-laws. It involves the escursion of the bride by her family with her properties, goodwill, to the husband’s family, which becomes her new family until death of the bride as wife to the groom’s family.
A special ceremony is usually performed to invoke the husband’s ancestors to also receive her, and bind her over in fidelity to their son – the husband. The entire women receive the bride, eat and dance in the special room prepared for her till dawn of the following day.