Urhobo Historical Society
FOURTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE AND MEETING
October 31 - November 2, 2003
By Ms Janet Oromafuru Eruvbetere, LLB (Hons.)
1.1: Collins Concise English Dictionary defines the word `marriage` as: “the state or relationship of being husband and wife.”
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary also defines `marriage` as “the union of a man and a woman in order to live together and often to have children.”
I am reasonably certain that if we were to consult many more dictionaries, their definitions would be relatively similar but with minor variances. Their central theme would be on the state / relationship or union between man and woman. From the above brief review of the term marriage, I believe we can safely deduce that the concept of marriage in historical terms is based on the relationship between man and woman.
a Christian perspective, the Holy Bible proffers that when God
created the world, He first created a man called Adam, and seeing that
would need companionship, God created a woman called Eve to be Adam’s
From thence on, the concept of marriage between a man and a woman was
However, God made man the head of the family and the wife or woman as
helper, and God blessed them, and commanded them to go forth and
Therefore, there is no leadership contest between the husband and the
made the pronouncement that the man is the head and leader of the
then, Christ our Lord commanded that as He loved the Church and died
for it, so
must the man love his wife and die for her .
2. Who are the Urhobo?
Urhobo are one of the many Nigerian tribes, and are the largest
single tribe in the present
3. What Do We Mean By Urhobo Traditional Marriage?
Urhobo traditional marriage by definition bears some semblance to the above definitions in paragraph one. The similarity is only as far as the process of marriage revolves around man and woman.
Urhobo traditional marriage is unique to Urhobo culture and traditions. Indeed, marriage in Urhobo worldview is an enduring institution. It is sacred. It looms large enough to tie two independent families together forever. When blessed with offsprings, especially male offsprings, the nuptial knot is wedded with a cord that neither death nor divorce is able to unlock or separate.
I will like to state from the very onset that the principal and most central difference between our marriage system and that in western cultures (particularly the European based cultures) -- is the fact that Urhobo marriage extends beyond the couples directly involved; it embraces the extended families of the spouses. Indeed, Urhobo marriage is a marriage of two families. This is so because the families play very central roles in ensuring the success of the marital relationships from the time of courtship through the marriage negotiations to the contracting of the marriage. Divorce is rare; Urhobo traditional marriage endures beyond the life of the husband. In fact, it is the wife’s life span. This is due to the fact that on the death of the husband, the wife is passed on to a member of the husband’s family for continued marriage. This custom provides emotional and financial stability, and continuity of the marriage. The families are also expected to intervene or mediate when there are problems or conflicts between husband and wife, and when the marriage relationship is threatened in any way – this is in total contrast to the western marriage system where family intervention is seen as interference.
The nucleus of Urhobo
traditional marriage takes various forms. From time, there have been
distinct processes of marriage proposals or types of traditional
of these marriage forms are recognised by our society, as they form key
of our customs and traditions. These are :
Esavwijotor occurs when
parents propose marriage on behalf of their son or daughter at an early
Pledges of this nature are also made and redeemed, as a result of
exemplary character of a young girl or boy. It could be made as a
exceptional valour. The uses or instances of this concept are infinite.
Normally, with this type of marriage, love develops between the couple
marriage has been officially contracted .
This is akin to concubine. Admitting language limitations in describing one concept by another language, ose is a form of marriage recognised as binding, but in which the traditional dowry has not been paid and accepted as prescribed. Couples may live together or apart, but enjoy full de facto conjugal rights and exclusiveness but limited customary (legal) rights of husband and wife. Some notable distinctions of this type of marriage are that such husband will not be allowed to bury and mourn his would-be parents in law, like a fully married man.
4. Arranged Marriage in absentia
In this case, the male who is usually abroad or outside the Urhoboland, would request his parents or family to marry a wife of their choice for him. Both potential husband and wife 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 husband of the bride.
The wife may be required to spend some time with the absent husband’s family before being despatched to her new husband. Love may, or may not develop when they meet for the first time. If they like each other, the marriage 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.
5. Boy-Meets-Girl and Modern Courtship.
This is more or less a modern concept and is not unique or particular to Urhobo culture or tradition of marriage terms.
I need to state in passing that this process has become one of the
approaches used by modern day boys and girls. In most cases, the
not know of the initial courtship until their son or daughter informs
Both families then get involved. If they agree, marriage plans are then
The process may first be to do the traditional marriage rites, before
proceedings to either the Church marriage or the Registry .
6. The Marriage Process.
This is the final stage of the traditional marriage arrangements. Whichever of the above routes the process of courtship or engagement may have taken, family consent is imperative before the marriage process is finalised.
The marriage ceremony follows the meeting of both families. Both families would meet at the bride’s home. An advance notice is given to the bride`s family for the visit. On the said day, the groom’s family will arrive at the bride’s home. First the bride’s family will welcome them. Drinks and kola nuts supported with some money will be offered to the visiting family, as is 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 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 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 this explanation, they would go through a process of the identification of the bride they wish to marry. The visitors would be told that the family has many daughters; as such, its members do not know which of their daughters their son would like to marry. The bride’s family would then bring out a girl who is not the bride, and parade this girl in front of the groom’s family. The groom would reject this girl saying that she was not the one he wants. This formality would be repeated about three times. Each time a girl is paraded and rejected, the groom’s family would be asked to pay the rejected girl some money. 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 dowry if she consents to marry the groom. This process is only a formality on the day because in most cases, the dowry amount and all arrangements would normally have been agreed upon. That is, both families would have reached some understanding. The groom or his family would pay a dowry to the bride’s family. The dowry is the price money paid to the bride’s family on account of the bride.
It is worth mentioning here that, it is customary that before the stage of pouring the libation is reached, that the potential husband and his family would pay several visits to the family of the bride to be. The purpose of these visits is to negotiate and to meet certain pre-marriage requirements stipulated by the bride’s family. For example: the dowry would be negotiated and agreed beforehand; the bride’s uncles, aunts and the bride’s father and mother would be bought several gift items, such as walking stick and hat, etc, for the bride’s father; wrapper, tobacco, etc., 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 prayer / blessing
for the couple. At this point, the bride sits on the husband’s lap. The
drink is handed to the husband who drinks first; he then hands it to
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
members present at the ceremony, would then shower the couple with
final stage of a full marriage according to Urhobo custom. It denotes
completion of all antecedent requirements necessary on the part of the
It is the escorting of the bride by
her family with her
properties, goodwill, to the head of the husband’s family, and handing
over until death of the bride as wife to the
groom’s family. A special ceremony is usually performed to invoke the
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
prepared for her till dawn of the following day .
7.2 Implications of Polygamous Marriage.
9. The Male’s Perspective.
male finds the
system of marriage as a gross and unwanted interference upon their
tradition. They see it as a restriction, and an infringement of what
come to believe as their natural right to enjoy the marriage of many
they choose .
10. General Enlightenment / Education.
With more women being more educated, this brings about economic and financial independence. As such, women can afford to pay off their dowry, acquire their own property, which they can retain in their own rights.
As a conclusion, I would like to suggest that both polygamous marriage (Urhobo) and monogamy (Western) have their merits and demerits, as contained in the body of this paper. However, it is my opinion that our daughters have come to reject Urhobo traditional marriage.
This is because of the implications of the polygamous practice connected with the Urhobo traditional marriage. Our mothers of old only married once in the traditional way, and were contented with it. Modern Urhobo women can no longer tolerate the practice of polygamy, hence their preference for the Western marriage which excludes the marriage of other wives.
They also cherish the fundamental marital rights, which the western marriage offers the woman, e.g., property rights. Ultimately, I believe that there ought not to be any provision for the continuity of polygamous marriage in modern day Urhobo society, particularly when today’s fathers give their daughters away in a church or registry marriage ceremonies, having themselves performed the traditional Urhobo (polygamous) marriage. Have the men stopped to question why their daughters now prefer the western type of marriage to the traditional Urhobo marriage?
If modern Urhobo fathers, who ought to be the custodians of our customs and traditions, now encourage the practice of giving away their daughters in marriage at the Church or registry; knowing that this excludes Urhobo polygamous practice, does this not mean that they now give greater credence to the Western form of marriage than to Urhobo traditional marriage?