The Benin Wedding Tradition

The Bini are essentially a polygamous tribe. Polygyny involving adults predominates. The Bini cling tenaciously to this marital form because it was practiced by their forefathers. A typical Bini man who marries as an adult commands a lot of respect. People in the community hold him in great regard.

The general public accepts polygamous marriages as a way of life for a number of reasons. These include the necessity of a man having many women to assist him with his domestic and economic (primarily farming) tasks, as well as the financial and social benefits of having many children. Males also aim to have children from numerous women due to the idea that having five children from five different women gives a guy more “doors” than having all of his children from one woman. The latter is referred to as a “Odafen” by society since it is believed to contain numerous “doors.”

A man’s ability to defend his family against any sort of assault is also believed to be correlated with how many children he has, particularly in the past when interethnic conflict was a frequent occurrence. The typical Bini-man also needs a proper funeral after his death, which is another factor to consider. It is believed that having many of kids around would make the burial occasion more glitzy. This explains why some families enjoy demanding that numerous “Oton” be performed by the deceased’s children during the outing-ceremony or parade along the main streets in the Community.

In addition to being a sign of a person’s wealth in his community, having a large family is also one element used to determine whether the Oba of Benin or the Enogie of a particular village will bestow chieftaincy titles on a person. It is considered that a man who is married to just one woman will find it difficult to handle all the duties of being chief, especially at festival times.

Partner Selection: Typically, a man’s parents or himself make the decision about his spouse. Most of the time, the man makes the decision, and depending on how well known the girl and her family are, his parents may agree with it. If parents learn that the girl’s family is not respectable or acceptable, they can object to their son’s decision.

The Negotiating Phase: There are various steps in negotiation. First, it is done through the Odibo who is acquainted with the members of both families in question. By doing so, he creates a favorable environment for future negotiations. He relays communication from the girl’s father to the suitor’s father and the other way around. He is the one in charge of everything throughout the wedding rituals. In any dispute, he also serves as an arbitrator.

Later on in the negotiation, all parties get more involved. The parents of the prospective bridegroom, along with other family members and the middleman (the Osuomwan), now visit the father of the girl to discuss the possibility of marrying his daughter. Evening time is when this event takes place.

The girl’s father offers them kola nuts and, based on his financial ability, either a keg of palm wine or a bottle of hot gin while pretending not to know the purpose of the group’s quest. Before breaking the kola nuts and consuming the wine, the suitor’s father now reveals the goal of his mission. This is carried out with the assumption that only a fool would consume alcohol prior to declaring his mission’s goal at his future in-laws residence.

The would-be father-in-law asks which of his daughters’ hand is being sought in marriage after learning the reason for the visit is revealed. The suitor’s father then offers the would-be father-in-law a keg of palm wine, a bottle of hot gin, and four kola nuts through the middleman. This is declared. The eldest guy in the group then breaks the kola nuts in the usual manner. In certain cultures, the father of the girl’s daughter accepting the drinks and kola nuts is a sign that he will probably accept the suitor as well.

Following this public agreement, the communication between the two families becomes more friendly. The parents of the suitor start to identify as Orhuaen and frequently visit their future in-laws.

Courtship: Due to the lengthy nature of courtship, the potential pair has plenty of time to get to know one another and learn more about themselves. The suitor also makes frequent trips to see his fiancée throughout this time. The prospective bride also occasionally sees the mother and other family members of the suitor. Her mother-in-law and other family members are being introduced to her during these familiarization visits so they may get to know her better. During the courtship phase, sexual contact between the couples is prohibited. Even so, doing such an act covertly is quite usual.

During this time, the suitor and his father give their future in-laws some service once a year. The girl’s parents are also given presents during the yearly “Igue” and “Eho” festivities, including an antelope leg, palm wine, and kola nuts. In addition, the girl’s mother receives some yams and a piece of cleared land from her in-laws to farm. The capacity of the suitor to uphold these standards contributes to enhancing the already-existing bond between the two households.

Identification Parade: The identification parade held to identify the bride-to-be is one of the most thrilling moments of the wedding ceremony. During this ritual, the capacity of the suitor or his father to recognize the woman he wants to wed is put to the test. As is customary, the girl’s family members organize a parade of all the female members of the home. They emerge in disguise, one after the other, wearing vibrant outfits. It is up to the potential bride-to-parents be’s or the suitor to identify her. Typically, the prospective bride is introduced last. When the bride is revealed, her father asks her if she intends to marry the prospective husband.

When she replies positively, the same query is posed to the suitor, who also gives a positive answer.

The prospective bride’s family sets the bride-price when the questioning is finished. Every family has a different idea of what the bride-price is worth. Before the invention of modern money, the bride price was paid in cowries (Ikpigho), which were split between the female family’s maternal and paternal kin and ranged in value from forty to sixty (40 to 60) cowries.

When modern money was finally adopted as a medium of exchange, the bride-price was set at the customary amount of £12.00 or N24.00. The girl’s father receives this sum. In addition, the mother receives five pounds (5.0O) or ten naira (N10.00), while the bride receives three pounds (3.OO) or six naira (N6.00). When the marriage is completed, the girl’s male and female relatives known as “Ibieguae” are also paid the sum of three pounds, three shillings (i3.3s) or six naira sixty kobo (N6.60).

The current view is that some wealthy families do not even accept bride-price from their future spouses. They follow through with all wedding rituals and urge that the bridegroom provide their daughter with proper care.

In this case, the suitor pays a betrothal price of twenty-five kobo (25k) and presents twenty kola nuts, native chalk (“Osorhue”), a keg of palm wine, and a bottle of native gin, “Ogo-uru,” to solemnize the marriage in front of members of both families. One of the bride’s relatives addresses the suitor seven times as he is on his knees during this presentation. He reacts with the word “Eyo” after hearing his name seven times.

Later, the father of the bride states that his daughter is now to be handed to the suitor as a wife. The Bridegroom then takes a seat again. The groom’s father is symbolically regarded as the bride’s spouse, hence the girl is obliged to sit on his laps. Later, the father of the bride visits his ancestral shrine with his daughter, her husband, and a few members of each family to offer prayers to the ancestors for the couple’s blessing and a long and happy marriage. The bridegroom presents forty kobo, a bottle of local gin, and four kola nuts for this ritual (40k). There once were four cowries here.

Following this ceremony, the pair is said to be officially husband and wife. Later, a date is set for the Bride to move into her new house. It is important to remember that in the past, male and female adults used to have tribal marks inscribed on them before getting married. This practice was seen as an initiation of the bride and the bride groom into adulthood. Due to modernity, the ritual is no longer frequently performed.

The bride leaves for her husband’s residence:
A typical wedding starts out with a jam-packed day of fun activities. The delivery of the Bride to her husband is scheduled for a market day. A market day is seen to be a lucky day for a wedding. On the evening of the agreed-upon day, the bride’s family and well-wishers assemble at her father’s residence to get her ready for the trip to her husband’s residence. She is instructed to behave properly when she arrives at her marital house because her family’s respect depends on it.

The bridegroom prepares his home and other details in anticipation of his wife’s arrival so that they can welcome her in style. Additionally, he notifies his family and friends of his in-laws’ plan to keep his word and send his bride to him on the scheduled day. To welcome the Bride to her new home as husband and wife, the Bridegroom’s family, friends, and well-wishers gather in his home.

A vibrant procession carrying the bride makes its way to her husband’s home. Some of her family’s female members assist with moving her dowry, which includes garments, gold jewelry, brooms, goats, and other items. In addition, she is required to have a mature woman relative stay with her for seven days so that she can observe the happenings in her marital home and report back to her parents. She also instructs the Bride on how to handle marital affairs.

The women sing accolades to the bride and her family as they parade along the street. On occasion, a wooden barrier (ughughun) that is imagined to be blocking the road prevents the procession from moving on. The bridegroom symbolically cuts the wooden barrier by handing her four kola nuts and a sum of money, which are typically handed to her escorts. Before the bride and her party enter her husband’s home, the bridegroom typically performs this symbolic removing of the roadblock three times.

Upon entering her husband’s home, the bride and her entourage are greeted with four kola nuts, forty kobo (40k) (forty cowries in the past), a keg of palm wine, and a bottle of local gin. The oldest man in the bride’s party accepts these gifts. He claims they have brought his wife to him in good faith and sets the Bride on the lap of her husband or his father.

The family, friends, and well-wishers of the bridegroom then offer gifts to the bride’s party. While the celebrations are still going on, the bride’s entourage leaves with a greeting from the groom to his future in-laws. Additionally, he sends nine (9) kola nuts and sixty-six (66k) kobo (sixty-six cowries in the past) to the bride’s father through the leader of her retinue.

The bridegroom hosts visitors and well-wishers on the second day of the celebration. The bride stays in her chamber with her friends and several older women who visit to welcome her and give her advice on the difficulties of marriage. Those who accompanied her to her husband’s home on the first day return to visit her and gauge how well she is adjusting to her new life. They are amused by alcohol, kola nuts, pounded yam, and twenty (20k) kobo (twenty cowries in the past).

The third day, the bridegroom visits his father-in-law to express his gratitude for the honor bestowed upon him. Furthermore, it is customary for the couple to share their first sexual experience on the third day. The bridegroom made a thorough effort to prepare for this. His bed is neatly made, with a white bed spread. When the girl’s virginity is proven, the bride receives rave reviews.

The bride is said to have been met at home by her husband — Odo ore vbaa ore vbe owa. If opposite is the case, the bride is made to confess before her husband’s family all those that have “talked” to her as well as made love to her. If she feels ashamed to name them, if more than one, she throws up some grains of sand which indicates that the number of the persons is much and this is at once understood by everybody present there.

A goat is slain and both “offenders” are given an ear to share and eat while an elder uses a cudgel to flog them for committing such an offence in the case when she was involved in a love affair with her relative, let’s say cousin. Again, if the person is unrelated to her, she is forbidden from greeting and conversing with him for the rest of her life. If she is unable to avoid greeting the person, a kolanut is given to the man in order to lift the taboo. A returnee divorcee can also use this cleansing method.

The newlywed is awakened by her husband one early morning and taken to his ancestral shrine after she has fully “settled her waist” in her wedded abode (Aro-Erha). Kolanuts and wine are placed in front of her as she takes an oath and is forced to swear under penalty of death the following:

“Now I am married to Efehi and if in any way I plan evil against him and his people, may it boomerang. Or because I have sworn, I decide to employ somebody to carry out the plan for me, may it also boomerang”

She bites off a chunk of kolanut, chews it, and then takes a sip of wine.

It is customary to host guests from both families on the fourth and fifth days of the wedding festivities. On the fifth day, the bride’s father is required to deliver his daughter to her husband’s home early in the morning with pounded yam and excellent soup made with antelope’s legs. Tradition dictates that the Bridegroom should show his gratitude by giving the people who provided the food a gift of forty (40k) kobo (forty cowries in the past), four (4) kola nuts, and palm wine.

Later that day, the father of the bride and a few of his family members and friends pay a visit to his in-laws’ home to pay them a visit and to check on the welfare of his daughter. Four (4) kola nuts and a bottle of palm wine are offered by the bridegroom to his in-law and other members of his party. The event is a time for joy and celebration. Before giving away the presents that the bridegroom, his family, and friends had given them, the visitors gave the couple some advice.

Several intriguing events are also documented on the seventh day of the wedding ceremony. The bridegroom makes exquisite soup with antelope meat and pounded yam for his mother-in-law and her usual visiting relatives on this day. They are greeted with a boisterous welcome as soon as they arrive at the bridegroom’s home. Prior to accepting anything from her in-laws, she consults with her daughter about her general well-being and her husband’s sexual prowess.

No mother would want her daughter to marry an impotent man, regardless of his social standing, and that is the reason behind this. This is also a good time to tell the bride’s mother that her daughter’s virginity has been discovered. The white cloth they used for their wedding night is also given to her. The bridegroom and his family then give her a number of gifts in appreciation for raising her daughter well. Then there comes celebration and revelry. Later in the day, the bride’s mother and her entourage return home with a number of gifts and a message of goodwill for the groom’s father.

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