By J. Joy.
Discussing the traditional marriage of the Esan people would definitely require a definition of the Edo people, especially in view of this article - Who are the Ishan’s? Where are they located? Where did they come from? A lot of theories have been propounded by different scholars and academicians in this regards.
INSIGHT: The major first languages spoken in the state are Edo language, Esan, Etsako, Owan, Akoko-Edo, Okpameri language and Ijaw. And the Edo people are known for their ‘Carvings’. IjawIjaw are a collection of peoples indigenous mostly to the forest regions of the Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States within the Niger Delta in Nigeria. Some are natives of Akwa-Ibom, Edo, and Ondo states also in Nigeria...
Although some contemporary historians tend to associate the Esan people with the migration theory of people who came from the Middle East, we have to point that there is no evidence in Benin or anywhere else to support that theory. There is a sizeable group, though, who can trace their origin to UHE which is identified as modern day ILE-IFE. The Esan-speaking people of Edo, especially in Southern Nigeria, have lived where they are now, for THOUSANDS OF YEARS.
For thousands of years, Edos have been getting married. It is unfortunate that, there is no more powerful corresponding word in Edo lexicon than ORONMWEN that captures the meaning of the word MARRIAGE, as in the Anglo-Saxon sense. The closest word we have is ORONMWEN.
All we have are descriptive phrases about marriage -
1. Okhia ye omo ye oronmwen - he wants to give the daughter away in MARRIAGE.
2. Okhia rie Okhuo - he wants to marry a woman.
3. Okhia romwen odo - she wants to marry a husband but sometimes an Edo man/person would say, "Ma khia du ugie oronmwen," which means, we want to perform the festival of marriage.
Before 1897, girls were generally regarded as ready for marriage between the ages of 15 through 18. Courtship can begin among the individuals during the trip to the river to fetch water or during the moonlight play – EVIONTOI.
Sometimes parents actually go looking for a wife or husband for their children. This led to the BETROTHAL SYSTEM where marriage were conducted with or without the consent of the individuals involved. Sometimes such betrothal, took place when a baby girl was born. Suitors would begin to approach the parents by sending a log of wood or bundle of yam to the parents of the child. You are likely to hear statements such as -" Imu' Ikerhan gboto"-I have dropped a log of firewood. When a boy decides to get married and the parents have accepted the bride as a prospective daughter-in-law, messages go up and down between the two families. This is called IVBUOMO-SEEKING FOR A BRIDE.
Series of investigations are conducted by both families - about disease, scandals and crimes which may affect the families. The term of the marriage which of course may include the DOWRY would be settled in some families. Gifts for mother of the bride and IROGHAE- members of the extended family would be part of the settlement. Then a date would be set for the ceremony which would take place in the home of the woman's family. This was called IWANIEN OMO in the old days the go-between for the two families must be somebody well known by both families. There would of course be a lot of merriment on the day of marriage when the bride and the bridegroom are presented openly to the two families.
Kola nuts and wine are presented. The OKA EGBE of the woman's family would normally preside over the ceremony. Prayers are said and kola nuts broken at the family shrine. Rituals vary from family to family. The woman always sits on her father's lap before she is given away. Amidst prayers, laughter and sometimes tears, the woman would be carefully hoisted on the lap of the OKA EGBE of the bride's family.
Many years ago, the woman would be sent to the bridegroom house about thirteen days after IWANIEN OMO and gingerly hoisted either on her husband's lap or the OKAEGBE of his family. They are done immediately nowadays in the home of the bridegroom. The bride, now known as OVBIOHA would be led by her relatives to the husband's house with all her property meanwhile the family and friends of the bridegroom are feasting, drinking, singing and dancing while waiting for the bride to arrive.
As the family and friends of the bridegroom awaits the OVBIOHA, messages will arrive suggesting that there are UGHUNGHUN-barriers on the road. The bridegroom has to remove the barriers by sending money to the party, bringing the wife to him or else the wife will not arrive. As they approach the house of the bridegroom, you can hear the echo of OVBIOHA GHA MIEN ARO-ARO, meaning “Bride! Be proud/ the Bride is proud." Arrival at the bridegroom's house is immediately followed by the ceremony of IKPOBO-OVBIOHA-washing of the bride's hands. A bowl of water with money in it would be brought out. A woman in the groom's family, sometimes his senior wife would bring out a new head tie, wash the hand of the Ovbioha in the bowl and dries her hand with the head tie. Both the new head tie and the money in the bowl belong to the bride.
A few days later, the bride would be taken to the family altar and prayers are said for her. She undergoes what is called the IGBIKHIAVBO ceremony-beating of OKRO on the flat mortar. This would be followed by a visit by the bride's mother-in-law and other female members of the family to the newlywed, if they are not living in the same house. She would demand the bed spread on which they both slept when they had their "first sexual relationship" after the wedding and if the bed-spread was stained with blood, the bride was regarded as a virgin and as such she would be given many presents including money. If it is proven that she was not a virgin, then the preparation for the ceremony of IVIHEN-OATH TAKING ceremony would be set in motion. First, she has to confess to the older women, the "other men" in her life before she got married. The husband would never be told any of her confessions, then, she would be summoned to the family shrine early in the morning, without warning to take an oath of FIDELITY, FAITHFULNESS, TRUSTWORTHINESS, HONESTY ETC, to her husband and family. This ceremony is the equivalent of the oath people take in the church, mosque or marriage registry. Once the oath taking ceremony is over, she would be fully accepted back into the family and immediately becomes married not only to her husband but to the family and sometimes to the community.
Christianity, Islam and Westernization of today have weakened the Edo traditional system of marriage. The traditional ceremony is sometimes done the same day with many of the rituals avoided in the name of Christianity or Islam and many women would rather die than take the oath we described above. It was the oath that kept Edo women out of prostitution for many years; thus making the Edo women in general to be regarded as very faithful, trustworthy, honest with strong fidelity to their husbands making neighboring tribes want them as wives. It also made divorce on the ground of adultery, less common in those days.