|Urhobo Historical Society
Onoawarie Edevbie, M.A.,
When Harriette Cole, a former editor of Essence magazine, published her book Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner in 1993, she was said to have noted that
Marriage is one of the most sacred junctions [in life]. And for people who are culturally aware, it’s only natural for them to want to incorporate aspects of their culture in their wedding. [Nicole Volta Avery, About Time Magazine, August 1966.]
Jumping the Broom happens to be one of a number of unique wedding traditions that were created by African-Americans in spite of their difficult circumstances during the era of slavery. In some of the colonized regions of the New World, particularly the
The restrictions placed on the lives of African slaves, could not however prevent the spread of African cultural influence that followed them in the journey across the Atlantic to Europe and the
The success stories reported for slave settlements in
Harriette Cole and others like her who were imbued with the spirit of African renaissance in the
Well, dey jis’ lay de broom down, ‘n’ dem what’s gwine ter git marry’ walks out ‘n’ steps ober dat broom bofe togedder, ‘n’ de old massa, he say, “I now pronounce you man ‘n’ wife” ‘n’ den dey was marry’. Dat was all dey was t’it -no ce’mony, no license, no nothin’,jis’ marrin.” [Description of the wedding of a slave woman named Tempie Durham as cited in Jumping the Broom, p. 8.]
The use of the broom to sweep the street and family compounds or living quarters is well known in African communities but to give the impression that it forms a part of traditional wedding is another matter. A number of African communities, such as the Kgatla people of southern Africa and Isoko-Urhobo of
Besides Cole, a number of other African-Americans took the trouble to travel to different parts of
While the kind of inventions advocated in Cole’s book may serve a useful purpose of reminding African-Americans of their heritage, many recent immigrant groups of Africans fear that such activities have the potential to create illusions about life in
The lack of access and exposure to African culture is even more acute for children born to families of Isoko-Urhobo groups who are among recent immigrants to the
This text was prepared to stimulate cultural awareness as parts of continuing efforts to create a bridge to bring Isoko-Urhobo people in the Diaspora closer to their heritage and to help in sustaining their culture. In a sense, the text is a familial road map that points to essential features that one could consider in order to design a wedding that will honor all aspects of the culture. The program suggested here for the traditional wedding, relies heavily on the use of family members who are essentially called upon to witness the occasion. It is also designed to take place at a home usually that of the parents or guardians of the bride being a way of bringing the two families involved together, and of establishing ties that could guarantee life-time commitment to love and stability of society. The ceremony as programmed is set to take place in the evening when most individuals have returned home from work.
The idea of this text was first broached when an African-American young lady, Efia Nomsa and her then fiancé Peter Howell, approached Ovieh and Beauty Onomake, an Urhobo couple, to help arrange an Urhobo traditional wedding for them at Onomake’s family home in Michigan in June 1996. The Ajovi Scott-Emuakpor family adopted a modified version of the text for the traditional wedding of one of their daughters at their home in
The text is organized into five segments for ease of flow, indicating how events move from one stage to another. It begins with an announcement page which provides the names of the bride and bridegroom and of that of their parents or guardians. Next is the list of those officiating at the wedding that may well feature in a second page. A close-up sketch of how the officials operate figures in a seven-step procedure for the ceremony. A suggestion for a message of goodwill from the bride and bridegroom is made, followed by a brief description of the cultural elements involved in the Isoko-Urhobo traditional wedding. The message of goodwill is however optional and the couple involved can choose to replace what is suggested with a piece of their own design.
1. Title of Program:
EMUERUO R’ AYE
Traditional Wedding of
(Name of Bride) (Name of Bridegroom)
Conducted in Accordance with the Traditional Laws and Customs of
Name and Address of the home where the ceremony will be conducted.
Date and time of Ceremony: ______________________________
2. List of Individuals Officiating at the Ceremony:
Ọkpako-ro-orua (Head of the Bride’s family):__________________________
Ọsẹ v’ oni r’ ọpha (Parents/Guardians of the Bride):_____________________
Ọtota I (Spokesperson) for the Bride’s family: ___________________________
Ọtota II (Spokesperson) for the Groom’s family: __________________________
Parents/Guardians of the Groom: __________________________________
Usuọvwa (Groom’s lead person): ____________________________________
Ikọpha (Traditional bridesmaids): ___________________________________
Bride fee settlement team(Four-member team made up of two representatives from each side of the families, including their spokespersons): ______________________
Music: (indicate musical group hired to perform): ________________________
3. Procedural Stages for the Ceremony:
10. Usuọvwa (bridegroom’s official representative)
1. Presentation of articles of Isoko-Urhobo traditional welcome including
kola-nuts and drinks by Ọtota
I on behalf of the bride’s family
followed by the sharing of kola-nuts and drinks
4. Reciprocal treatment: Presentation of kola-nuts and drinks by the Ọtota II
on behalf of the Head of the family of the prospective bridegroom
5. Acceptance of offerings by the Ọtota I for and on behalf of the bride’s
6. Offering of prayers by the Head of the bridegroom’s family followed by the
sharing of kola-nuts and drinks
5. Ọtota I, inspects the candidate’s prime facie fitness as a worthy bridegroom
Ọtota I, if satisfied
candidate’s fitness, proceeds to the next stage of
Presentation of the Bride
family presents a number of eligible
girls including the bride
is asked to identify the choice of the bridegroom from among the girls
bride chosen standing by her mother or female guardian is asked by Ọtota
Ito indicate her acceptance of the
marriage proposal made by the Usuọvwa on
behalf of the
the bridegroom and his party shower the chosen bride and her mother
for accepting the proposal
bride is led away to another room where she is joined by her bridesmaid
6. Ọtota I calls on the bride’s family to go into umẹ (short or impromptu meeting) with him to deliberate further on the proposal
7. Ọtota I returns from the meeting with an answer for the bridegroom and his family
E. Settling and Payment of Bride Price and other Traditional Nuptial fees
1. Igho-rẹ- erhu, ubiọkpọ vẹ ogbru (fee to honor the bride’s
father, usually intended for him to purchase for personal use
erhu ( hat), ogbru (man’s wrapper) and ubiọkpọ (staff or traditional
2. Igho-ugbe-rha-re (fee to recognize and to show appreciation for the
mother’s labor pains during the birth of the bride)
3. Igho-ru-ughwa -raka (fee required to buy a bag of salt for the women of
the bride’s family to compensate them for their services)
4. Emu-ra-aye (bride’s fee negotiated between representatives of the families
of the bride and bridegroom’s families and presented by the Head of the
5. The Head of the bride’s family concludes his prayers by pouring libation
(offer of drink from the glass to God and in remembrance of the ancestors).
He leaves some of the drink in the glass which he offers to the bridegroom
to drink. The bridegroom after drinking some, in turn passes the same glass
to the bride to drink whatever is left, to signify her consent to the
Drinking from the same glass is thus the bride’s acknowledgement that the
Head of her family has indeed spoken for her, and the signal needed to
indicate that members of the groom’s family are now recognized as in-
laws. The bride now returns the glass through the groom to her family
Head, a process that essentially declares the couple’s willingness and
commitment to live together as husband and wife.
6. The bride is handed over to the Head of the groom’s family, who
henceforth assumes responsibility to ensure that the husband and
his family will take good care of their new wife. The bride is directed to sit
on the laps of her new husband in their first public display of life together
as a married couple
7. The public reacts to the display by showering gifts on the newly wed as
both remain sitting.
G. Wedding Dinner and other festivities
1. Serving of bridal dinner provided by the bride’s family for the new in-laws
and their friends who witnessed the occasion
4. Message of Goodwill from the Bride and Bridegroom:
Message from Umukoro and Umukọkọ
(first name of bride) (first name of the groom)
To All of our Friends and Families
To our friends and well-wishers, this day is our chance to thank you for your presence, all the advice you gave, the many tears and laughter you shared with us, the many hugs you gave on demand and of course for all the phone calls and long e-mail messages we received from you,
To our families, we thank you for the loving companionship offered over the years by your presence in our lives as siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and children, and for all the fun we had together,
To our parents, we cannot find enough words to say thank you for your never-ending patience and love, for always being there for us to turn to, just as much as when we did not need you as much as when we did. This day is in honor of you as much as it is a celebration of our love, and
To all present, we will send each of you a note as soon as we return from our honeymoon to settle down to our married life. So, we would really appreciate your kind gesture by signing our guest book and indicating your mailing address and phone number if you have not done so.
We hope you have enjoyed the celebration as much as we did. And we thank you so much again for honoring us with your presence to day.
5. Brief Description of Elements Involved in Traditional Wedding
(A Glance at Traditional Wedding in Isoko and Urhobo )
Isoko-Urhobo people, one of the major ethnic nationalities in southern
In order to preserve family values and to ensure the stability of the society, the process of bringing two individuals to live together in marriage, is undertaken with care and a great sense of responsibility. Among the Isoko-Urhobo, the process of bringing a man and a woman together in marriage is an elaborate one and it could take months and even years to complete. The parents, guardians or family elders tend to take a tremendous amount of interest in the selection of mates for their children and younger relatives. When successfully contracted, the marriage becomes a union not only of a man and a woman but also of families, communities, and a blending of cultures if the individuals so connected, come from different cultural settings.
The process starts with the suitor or his family using a friend or a family member to help convey interest to the family of the girl being considered for a wife. The friend or family member thus becomes the intermediary between the families during the pre-nuptials, the ceremony, and the duration of the marriage.
Before an intermediary is engaged, standard practice in Isoko-Urhobo requires the man’s family to conduct discrete inquiries to rule out any evidence of undesirable hereditary or genetic diseases such as insanity, leprosy and any other debilitating disease in the girl’s family. The inquiry can be extended to include finding out whether the girl’s mother is hot-tempered, quarrelsome, and lazy or is known to exhibit some unacceptable form of behavior that may render compromises in a married home difficult or capable of disrupting the running of a home. Many among the Isoko-Urhobo, believe that the behavior of a mother is a good indicator of how well the daughter will behave or perform in her own matrimonial home.
Once the man’s relatives are satisfied with the result of the inquiry, a formal approach is made to the girl’s parents through the intermediary. The first meeting with the girl’s family offers the suitor and his family the opportunity to officially declare their interest and intention to marry. Usually the girl’s parents are showered with gifts to promote the likelihood that the family of the girl will treat the request in a favorable light. Usually, no formal response to the marriage proposal is given until after a considerable length of time and the intermediary may return several times before he receives an answer.
The delay in rendering an answer gives the girl’s parents the time they need to conduct their own inquiries about the family of their prospective son in-law and to consult and intimate other members of their family about the proposal. If the results of the inquiries are satisfactory, the intermediary is so informed, and it becomes his duty to relay the message to the suitor and his family of the acceptance of the proposal. The intermediary will also proceed to arrange for the suitor and some of his friends and family members to meet the girl’s family.
The meeting after the conclusion of inquiries by the girl’s family sets the stage for preparation for a marriage ceremony. The suitor and members of his family offer more gifts not only to express their joy for the approval of their proposal for marriage but also to seal the engagement. In addition to the offering of gifts, the man is expected by tradition during the period of engagement and continuing as long as the marriage lasted, to render services to his in-laws and it is not unusual for the girl’s mother to call on the man to help with a number of chores such as work on her farm or carrying out repair work on her home. Negligence in any of the obligations to the fiancée’s family could be interpreted as acts of irresponsibility, which could lead to dissatisfaction, and even to the break-up of the engagement.
The actual marriage ceremony begins with the payment and acceptance of the ‘bride wealth or fee’. The bride fee is more than a money payment as it includes some other symbolic presents in the form of kola nuts, bitter kola, honey and a few bottles of gin or wine. The fee being paid is regarded by some as nothing more than a token of appreciation for all of the efforts expended by a family in raising a girl.
Speaking of the payment of bride fee as a token of appreciation is however an understatement. The role of bride fee in Isoko-Urhobo traditional wedding is rather unique as it places a number of obligations, duties and responsibilities on many of the individuals involved in a series of events as they occur before and during the life of the marriage. One prime reason for the demand of the bride fee is the need to secure, legitimize and enhance the place of a woman in a home. The proof of payment of bride fee remains the sole indicator in Isoko-Urhobo culture, of the transition from being an unmarried woman to a position of respect and honor in the society as a married woman. Without the bride fee, the place of the woman in Isoko-Urhobo society is not secure, neither do women feel obligated to a man who is yet to make the payment. Hence until the payment of the bride fee is made on her behalf, the woman in Isoko-Urhobo culture is not regarded as legally married to anyone. Thus an essential purpose of the bride fee is to help put a stamp of approval and legality on the living arrangement between a man and a woman as some would say, to keep the wife in her husband’s home. A man who has not paid the bride fee for a woman has no claim under Isoko-Urhobo traditional laws and custom to being called the husband of the woman even if he lives, or has children, with her.
The payment also provides the necessary legitimacy for the place or role of children in many Isoko-Urhobo families. Children whose fathers failed or omitted to pay bride fee, are regarded as emọrọse (children born out of wedlock) and are known to have been discriminated against or have been denied family privileges. Some individuals have also raised doubts about the legitimacy of emọrọse especially during the discussion of contentious family issues such as those involving funeral, inheritance and property rights. Before the advent of DNA tests which are now being used to settle contested issues of biological paternity of children, Isoko-Urhobo society of earlier times, and even today, relied heavily on payment of bride fee as evidence that one’s parents were married and only then can one assert his or her rights to family privileges.
Isoko-Urhobo people also believe that the payment of the bride fee reminds the husband of the need to hold his wife in high regards or esteem. The acknowledgement of a special place for the wife as indicated through the payment is expected to help create a bond which insures that the husband does not maltreat his wife but appreciates, adores and loves her. The payment above all, ensures that the girl retains linkage and ready access to her family of origin or orientation. The payment and acceptance of the fee paid, is considered a proof that the bride’s family sanctioned or approved her marriage. The bride therefore goes into the marriage with confidence and a high degree of conviction that she can rely on her family back home for support whenever the need arises. Members of the family particularly those who received and accepted portions of the bride fee paid to them are by tradition obligated to the bride and are therefore expected to stand ready and be prepared to intervene and protect her interests during times of crisis in the marriage. Many marriages are known to have been saved by various levels of intervention including counseling or mediation by family members who are committed to the welfare of their relative.
On the other hand, a woman who enters into a living arrangement with a man without securing her family’s approval as expressed through the payment of bride fee on her behalf, is considered to have strayed away from home or as some would say to have given herself away cheaply. This type of estrangement may be due to the decision of the girl to abscond or elope with a man of her choice after refusing to go along with her family’s choice of a marriage proposal. By Isoko-Urhobo standards, she is essentially on her own. In times of trouble with her unrecognized man or her adopted family, she may find it difficult to attract sympathy from members of her family some of whom may have felt slighted by her unilateral decision.
In order to avoid potential pitfalls regarding the choice of husband for a girl, many families in recent times, have chosen to pay particular attention to the feelings of the girl involved. In the past, discussions regarding the acceptance of a proposal were considered a matter of private affairs best left for the two families or the girl and her mother to handle. Nowadays, some feel that it has become necessary to ask the girl in public view to know whether she is willing to accept the marriage proposal endorsed by her family before the bride fee is negotiated and paid. Those who advocate this approach do so, to ensure that the girl does not feel she was coerced into the marriage but that she understands the implications, and therefore willingly accepts some degree of responsibility for the marriage. Some others in various communities also contend that girl confirms her approval when she agrees to share a drink of gin or wine from the same glass with her husband, presented to him by the Head of the bride’s family when offering the special wedding prayer. Thus the sharing by the couple of the gin or wine, offered by the family head is a solemn act of validation of the marriage.
Although the bride fee in each locality is known, the settlement of the fee can be a protracted business. The transaction can become highly technical as individuals involved, tend to converse in less than clear language, using rich idioms and proverbs in Isoko or Urhobo to give instructions or to make demands though more often than not in polite manner. Although many of the proverbs and idioms used can be understood only by those with a deep knowledge and understanding of the customs and tradition of Isoko-Urhobo people, there is hardly any dull moment as one hears a lot of laughter and expressions of fun, poetry, merriment and joy from those involved in the transaction as they go about their business.
During the negotiation of the bride fee, the tendency is for the bride’s family to ask for more money, basing their argument on the special qualities and character of their daughter. The groom’s family tries to reduce the price demanded by the bride’s family by entering a plea for leniency and asking for consideration of all their pre-nuptial efforts. The family of the bride more often than not, will respond favorably. Such favorable response by itself does not necessarily mean a settlement has been reached, as the groom’s family is usually quick to seize upon the show of magnanimity as an opportunity to yet ask for more reduction of the bride fee. The family of the bride tries each time to placate the prospective in-laws but will never allow a reduction that falls below local standards. In many cases, those who took part in the negotiations from the bride family ask for and are entitled to some token fee in addition to the bride fee to compensate them for their time. Although the issues involved are clearly defined, the argument over what the bride fee should be, can drag on for a long time until both parties find themselves worn out and so decide to reach an amicable agreement.
In spite of all the arguments, only a reasonable proportion of the fee agreed upon is ever paid on the premises that the less than full payment arrangement precludes the husband from ever establishing any right of full ownership of the personhood of his wife. It is in fact a taboo to pay the bride fee in full; it is neither offered or accepted. Once the bride fee is paid, the couple involved is declared husband and wife under Isoko-Urhobo or Urhobo traditional laws and customs by the Head of the bride’s family. The Head, usually the oldest male in the family, makes the solemn declaration in a spirit of ẹkpẹvwẹ (thanksgiving) to God and in remembrance of the ancestors, whom he calls upon to bless the marriage. The Head in a special wedding prayer, invokes the five themes traditionally used in Isoko-Urhobo prayers, namely ufuoma (peace), omakpokpọ (good health), emọ (children), efe (wealth) and otọvwe (long life). In the strict sense, it is only from this moment on that sexual relations between the couple is allowed or authorized.
The payment of the bride fee also marks the end of the first phase of journey for a young man preparing to assume his place in the society as an adult. The ability to pay bride fee in Isoko-Urhobo society is therefore considered a major accomplishment for both the man and his family. For the Isoko-Urhobo, a man is someone who is able to get married, has become established in his profession or career and have children needed for the continuity of his lineage.4The feeling of accomplishment is thus a cause for joy and the rest of the wedding ceremony after the payment of the fee understandably involves feasting during which the relatives of both families, well-wishers and friends eat, drink and dance. The festivities at this stage essentially become a celebration of the attainment of the status of manhood for the groom and the becoming of age for the bride.
The bride fee paid is distributed or shared among family members who feel happy for being recognized and appreciated as relatives of the bride. In spite of the acceptance and distribution of the bride fee, Isoko and Isoko-Urhobo society regards the offer of a daughter in marriage as a life-time loan given to her husband’s family with the proviso that on death, her body will be returned home for final funeral rights and interment among her ancestors. If her husband dies before her, the widow can also opt to return home if she refuses to be reassigned as wife to any of her husband’s male relatives. In this case or any other situations in which a woman finds cause to end a marriage, her family is obligated to refund the bride fee paid for her hand in marriage. The refund is regarded as the final act in the divorce process and thus provides the official recognition of the dissolution of the union.
Following the wedding ceremony, the newly wed are expected to establish their home among the groom’s family. Both families again meet but this time to set a date to move the bride into her husband’s home. Usually on the chosen day, there is marital blessing during which the parents and older members of the family pray and bless the bride and her marriage.
The bride dressed in some of her finest wear, leaves for her husband’s home in company of a group of family women and bridesmaids under the escort of one or two strong men. The presence of men in the delegation is needed for security reasons especially to forestall any possibility of the bride being abducted by a rival man who may have failed in earlier attempts to secure her hand in marriage. Once the delegation arrived safely at the entrance to the groom’s home, the men consider their mission accomplished and they are expected to return home promptly.
Waiting to welcome the bride at the groom’s home are family members, friends, and well-wishers of the groom. Festivities celebrating the arrival of the bride will continue all night and well into the following morning. The bride and her escorts are showered with money and other forms of gifts. After a brief farewell ceremony, the women escorts return home, leaving the bridesmaids behind to keep the bride company. In some cases, the women escorts take home with them gifts for the bride’s parents including the hind leg along with the tail of the animal slaughtered for the ceremony, for the bride’s father back home. The gifts are presented to the bride’s father when the escorts give report of what transpired during the festivities, as proof that the bride was well received and accepted by her husband’s family.
The bridesmaids left behind with the bride are expected to assist the bride in performing many of the initial duties expected of her as she settles down to a married life. The bridesmaids eventually return home, though not all at the same time but gradually, usually one or two at time, but not completely until the bride has built a fairly good amount of confidence in herself to stand on her own when left alone at last to continue life with her husband.
Avery, Nicole Volta.1996. Kiss of Culture, Ethnic Wedding Traditions, About Time Magazine, August 1996.
Cole Harriette. 2004, 2nd Edition.
Jumping the Bloom: The African-American
Sumani. “Africans in the New World.” http://dickinsg.intrasun.tcnj.edu/diaspora/nworld.html
Oyeneye, O. Y., & Shoremi, M. O. (eds.)
1985. Nigerian Life & Culture. Ago-Iwoye,
Yoruba History Page.