In my workplace the other day (yes I work, in Nigeria you can get jobs provided you are not paid beyond the minimum wage), a colleague began to say something about Igbos selling their daughters in marriage. He had done his NYSC in Anambra State and felt he knew everything about Igbo sociology and culture. I tried to reason with him, but as most three-quarterly educated Nigerians, he didn’t let me talk. He said Igbo girls were becoming old maids at home and that was (and is) why there were so many Igbo reverend sisters. People laughed.
Another fellow supported him, claiming that he was once in a marriage negotiation team to Igboland and that the list the bride’s parents gave them was longer than his bony arm. The third being who (I swear) had never passed River Kaduna, shouted endorsements and said shame, Igbos sold their daughters to the highest bidder and that never, he wouldn’t marry Igbo. An Igbo lady was there but her mouth was sealed.
I chipped in few counter-points now and then but it was useless. How do you reason with a mob? Why waste my breath? So I decided to write about the issue; I will invoke all points and lay them like a patient due for surgery on the table, and see what truth holds in the statement, Igbos sell their daughters.
First, this belief is hinged on an error, that Igbos like money too much. I thought the Igbos were creative and innovative in their pursuit of naira. I thought everyone liked money, needed money. But Nigerians say Igbos liked, nay, loved money. Assuming this was so, do the Igbos place their daughters like vegetable on the shop shelve for sale so as to satisfy their insatiable hunger for naira?
Again, this belief is promoted by the half-baked Nollywood which passes a crude resemblance of Igbo culture as the true Igbo culture. So most Nigerians watching Patient Ozokwor pursuing poor Emeka Ike from her daughter and dancing on the wads of naira notes from the affluent Kanayo O. Kanayo assume it is the Igbo way. Very funny. Literature mirrors the society, they say; agreed, but Nigerian films don’t mirror the society.
Wait! Before you curse me, look at this case. Nollywood shows that pre-colonial Igbos had Kings, powerful kings whose words carry fire and thunder. This is not true, ancient Igbos had no king. Apart from Onitsha who were influenced by the Benin Empire, the Igbos ran a village democracy where titled men and elders sit on serious issues and made decisions based on simple majority. Go read Achebe’s Arrow of God and Things Fall Apart or Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine or Flora Nwapa’s Efuru. Igbos know no king. The rulers you see today in Igboland are mostly creations of 1960 upward. The movies where you see Van Vicker and Ali Nuhu as Igbo princes in a very, very large palace with fifty maids and hundreds of guards are pure Nollywood bullshit. Igbo kings today are mere ceremonious heads who live in grumbling one-storey buildings they built with their railway pension!
If Nollywood distorts the truth in representing Igbo leadership structure, why take them serious when they show greedy Osuofias, Larry Koldsweats, Chinwetala Agus sweating over their son-in-law’s money before marriage? Accepted, Igbo weddings are expensive but so are their funerals and New Yam Festivals and Ofalas and Ozo title receptions and bazaars. Expensive, does it mean Igbos sell their daughters? My colleague who served in Anambra must have seen the sheer demolition of naira notes in weddings and assume that the bride prize must have caused a fortune. No sir. Now what is the real thing?
I have four sisters, all of them older than me. Three of them have been sold and the fourth who has thus attracted so many customers will most likely be sold this raining season, wrapped in a paper like agidi and carried under the arm by her in-laws/buyers. Haha. So how much did my father sell his daughters? Well, when the groom’s people came for my first sister, the first thing our kinsmen did was appoint one of them (whose mother was from the in-laws kindred) to sit with the in-laws and make sure that they were not exploited whatsoever. Negotiations begun and the groom’s people handed over seven thousand naira as bride’s price. The money was counted and four thousand naira returned to the groom’s people, accompanied by the strong murmur tempered with humour, ‘we don’t sell our daughters’. And don’t think my sister is ugly or old or uneducated. She is a graduate, a tall, fair angel (even more beautiful than Omotala) and was twenty-six years old then. She was hot cake having rejected one thousand marriage proposals. And don’t think her groom is poor, on the contrary he is an Alaba INTERNATIONAL importer and exporter.
In our custom, once the bride’s prize was accepted the woman officially becomes your wife. Igba-nkwu or traditional marriage or any other such celebrations are mere formalities. But because we are Christians, my family said the marriage was incomplete until church wedding. The groom people said they would wish to do traditional marriage as well.
Traditional marriage is no compulsion but grooms wanted it for their ego. Bragging rights and all that. For the traditional marriage, my people gave their in-laws a list. Wait, wait! Before you shout ‘I said it’ check what the list contained. It contained a set of names of Umuada who would be given wrappers on the igba-nkwu day, not more than fifteen of them. How much does a miserable wrapper cost, anyway? Other things in the list include a set of drinks and kola-nuts. There were no such things in the list as paying siblings school fees, buying Papa a motorcycle and all those fiction you hear.
For the food, the groom would take care of meat, fish, rice, drinks and soups. The foo-foo aspect, the abacha ncha delicacy and its accompanying garden eggs and ose-oji, my family bore the cost. As the traditional wedding took place in the bride’s house, we fuelled the generator, brought the water, firewood and suffered the petty thieving that came with such crowd. One of my sisters lost a prized pair of shoes.
My father who wasn’t rich spent so much for this traditional wedding. If he had sold his daughter, he didn’t make any profit, in fact he lost. After this, he vowed that his other daughters wouldn’t have traditional weddings.
You don’t mean it! His second daughter had a traditional wedding. The groom’s people said they would do a small one but my father ended up spending twice as much as the first. I was in the university when the third groom came and I urged my father to hand me my school fees and pocket money before the spree. It was that bad. Yet some people open their mouths and pour phlegms about Igbos selling their daughters.
Now, was my family and village an exception to the Igbo matrimonial buy and sell? Of course not. I am from Ogbunka in Anambra and Anambra is not the whole of Igboland. But in my research, talking to cousins and uncles and senior friends who married in Ebonyi, Enugu and Abia, I discover to my shock that most are more or less like Anambra. I stopped researching when I heard of the man, in Imo who collected ten naira… yes ten naira for his daughter! This transfer fee ought to enter the Guiness Book of Record.
The Igbo man! A proud man, he considers it an insult if you suggest he sold his daughter, hence the stipends he collects. Igbo girls are even prouder and if their fathers sold them, they were finished; where would they run to if their husbands maltreated them?
And for the records, no man on earth cherished the male child like the Igbo man. If he sold the girls for money, he would have cherished them more.
What about the list? you insist. I have told you that the list is exaggerated. Okay, let’s assume the list contains the budget of a state… well, Igbo people are well-to-do: To start with, they have the largest number of middle-class in Nigeria. They are not that poor. They don’t beg. Most Igbo guys can easily afford to foot the bill in the list. Marriage is once in a life-time affair, they reason, so why wash hands in spittle, counting in kobos? Igbos who are not as rich as Dangote form a committee of friends who help with the cost. Accepted, it is not only Igbos who marry Igbo girls but the non-Igbo groom can also take the committee tactics. And this is no lose-lose endeavour as majority of attendance in igba-nkwus are Igbo bourgeoisies who compete on who would spread the couples with more naira (and even dollar) notes. These currencies are gathered by the committee of friends and although the bride’s father provides the venue, he doesn’t smell one naira.
Dear, it is not everything you watch in Nollywood that is Igbo culture. Every Okeke with money can produce a movie in Nigeria. Again, it is not everything that your Igbo-hating friends tell you about the Igbos that is true. To verify, always ask me. As for my colleagues, I will take a double barrel to work tomorrow, and if (walahi if) anyone mentions ‘Igbos sell…’ crack, crack, crack, I blow someone’s coconut head off!
Let’s hear what you have to say about this. Meanwhile tweets to @oke4chukwu