KALABARI TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE RITES
This is the last of our Kalabari series and it was incredibly humbling to have Professor Golden Cyril Dapper pen this down for us with Ogbemi Thomas. Thank you.
A big thank you to one of our favorite instgrammers Enefaa Thomas who made this possible by talking to his brother Ogbemi who in turn reached out to the professor.
It’s a long read, but we’re sure you’ll enjoy it.
So you finally met the woman of your dreams, the one you intend to spend the rest of your life with. However she’s Kalabari and you have no clue as to what Kalabari marriage rites require.
Bliss Iyalla in his paper KALABARI IYA MARRIAGE, recorded seven forms of marriages in two major groupings of IGWA and IYA where 6 of the 7 are merged into one leaving the other prominent and paramount. His groupings were unwritten and the various forms of marriages were untitled. Golden Cyril Dapper in his article KALABARI CONJUGAL RELATIONS published in the September 2010 edition of Kalabari paper titled and rearranged the 7 groups not by degree-wealth but by bonding/permanence.
The Non-Naturalization Marriages are:
Basic Marriage (igwa sime)
This is a modest marriage with less cost and fanfare. This is a general and standard rite. It is usually done where the man cannot afford a big ceremony or where the chiefs refuse to allow the man marry off their daughter. Partners may at any time of their lives naturalize (iya). In death and in mourning, the wife shall sit by the head-side of the bed of her husband.
Token Marriage (Ari-i-bara-emi)
It may be expedient or convenient for the suitor to introduce himself with token drinks but without the mandatory bride price. The family of the bride will recognize his intention to complete the rites at a later date, and without penalty. In death, the wife shall sit by the head-side of the bed and mourn her husband.
Concubinage (Olo sime)
In this sort of relationship, there is no marriage arrangement between partners. The partners may sometimes shack up in skid rows and fishing ports but back home, the husband lives in an apartment separate from the spouse. She prepares his meals and either delivers them personally or sends a child. The relationship may end up in marriage or not, yet they presume rites. In death and in mourning, the wife shall NOT sit by the head-side of the bed, but shall join the parade along with her off-springs from that relationship.
The Naturalization Marriages (Iya sime):
This type of marriage is a union that affects not only the individual but in addition brings about an insoluble union of two families. At the contracting of the marriage, the woman relinquishes (or used to) all her rights in her father’s family or home.
Internal Naturalization (Kalabari na Iya)
Here, the bride is consigned for naturalisation. This was exclusive for the chiefs and the noble men, those who could force the consent of another chief to allow them to marry off their daughters.
(to be discussed in detail later on).
Exotic Naturalization (Birin Tubo Iya; Mboko Tubo Iya)
Exotic here refers to the hinterland (Birin Iya; MbokoTubo Iya; etc). In olden days, the practice involved slave girls and till present day in Kalabari land, a person can own male (s) and female (s) who may marry to repopulate the family.
Child Marriage (Tubo Iya)
There is of recent a ceremony to confer the rights of the naturalised kid on a child born otherwise. This was first introduced by a chief whose wife had returned home with their son meaning he had collected the bride price
Household Marriage (Tubo Iya)
Bliss also recognised WARIBO BE IYA amongst couples without biological affinity but of the same ancestral origin. This form of marriage may be transacted by mere handing over of the maid to the man by the family head over a few drinks and gifts. In all forms of naturalization marriages, the wife shall sit by the head-side of the bed in his death and mourn her husband.
It is pertinent to note here that in all forms of marriages, the remains of the wife shall be returned in death to her ancestral home. However, if she has had a son well-established in her husband’s place, he may bury the remains of his mother (he represents her family). This last part is for suitors living far from home. The injunction was to safeguard the daughters from physical harm, culpable homicide and interment as returning the corpse will make it possible for her family to ascertain the cause of death. The fellow who fights over his Kalabari wife’s corpse may be likened to a vulture. A violation of this provision brings shame on the family.
Internal Naturalization (Kalabari na Iya)
This form of marriage appears to be the most prominent amongst the other forms of marriages today. Therefore it deserves to be discussed in detail.
As earlier stated, it was exclusive for the chiefs and the noble men, those who could force the consent of another chief to allow them to marry off their daughters. It may also be consummated between partners previously basically married: three-pence (toro) added to the provision for upkeep for mother and new-born baby (ye dogi) especially for a love child, is an indication of willingness to naturalise the union.
The ceremony was usually not celebrated on Saturdays. Bridals usually start on a Wednesday and end on a Friday when the chiefs witness the transfer of the maid from one ward to another. Thus this final or ultimate marriage confers complete patrilineage to the off-springs, characterised by transfer of the membership of a person (the bride) to another family; all rites having been fulfilled, the bride loses her inheritance in her family home, and so do her off-springs. During the naturalization ceremony, an additional bride prize is paid for each child born before the ceremony. It is pertinent to state here that this ceremony is reserved for Kalabari women alone. The reason is, Kalabari is a matrilineal society. The mother has first right on the child and the mother’s side of the family gets preference over the child. The Iya ceremony was introduced to confer first rights on the children to the man. Given the permanent nature of the union, after the ceremony, the wife is meant to be presented with land in her husband’s house as she is no longer going back to her father’s house. This land is called “Iyaerebor kiri”. It’s more or less the wife’s territory within her husband’s household. Even if her husband says he is no longer interested in the marriage, she still stays in the “Iyaerebor kiri” as she is now a full member of her husband’s household. If by any design, she has a baby while she is separated from her spouse, such and such a child belongs to the original husband.
Ordinarily, the Iya ceremony is irrevocable. However, in the 1940’s, there was an incident where a husband who had completed the ceremony was maltreating his wife. The issue was brought before the Kalabari Union which ruled that the woman should pay back her bride prize into the treasury, after which she was free to leave the marriage.
Notwithstanding the irrevocable nature of Iya, after the death of the woman, her remains are brought back to rest in the bosom of her ancestors by an injunction “what is for sale is the flesh not the bones” (meni fe bo mgbe fe-a). It is for this same reason; her off-springs are requested to maintain contact with her native place as they may face penalties for self-isolation and home neglect (aju anda).
Introduction/Requesting the hand of the maid in marriage by the bridegroom’s family at the bride’s parental/ancestral home
The couple may have brought their fiancé/fiancée home to their parents earlier but this ceremony presumes the groom may not even have seen her or approached her and that she is unknown to the man. So female emissaries of the groom’s family go knocking on the maid’s home door, knock to wake sleepers, make them listen, in wine and laughter state their mission, and if the maid is available, take a date and the prize of marriage.
Tendering the bride price and bride wealth.
Specifications of bride wealth are a box of wrappers, one each of every cloth known to Kalabari people for basic marriage “sime” but three each for internal naturalization marriage (iya). The trousseau, here and now termed bride wealth is actually an insurance against slatternliness, and rather a mechanism to ensure that their daughters are preened for any occasion, wherever they may be married to. Preening is our business.
The bride wealth is delivered in a procession with the maid of honour, a virgin in front bearing the bride price in a saucer to deliver to the high table. No bride price may be accepted in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage as long as the subject is pregnant (Kalabari fur ate nama deri-a). Indeed, a pregnant woman is not given in marriage.
Invitation to table/ Authority to eat (Bibife) segment
There calls for a sanction when a Kalabari person dines with a stranger, thus the Kalabari person is careful what he puts in his mouth; if asked if he will eat, his answer is unmistakably ‘No’ ! Furthermore, the Kalabari person does not eat indiscriminately like someone in want of food, therefore he does not eat uninvited and will only eat when persuaded. Therefore this segment applies to a marriage of a Kalabari maid or a Kalabari man marrying a maid from without. In this segment, the bride’s mouth is unveiled as she is introduced to all Kalabari meals to partake of and to serve. Thus at supper time, a procession of women escort the maid to the husband’s house; she shall be seated at the oak table where an array of Kalabari cuisine shall be on display. The husband accompanied by family members shall place their offerings in a saucer on the table (she puts on a permanent smile but some other woman says the ‘thank you’ for the money) before she commences to taste the meals. Indeed all meals known to Kalabari people will be presented so she may freely partake of them when the need arises.
A female procession dispatching the maid (boroma) with send-off gifts of domestic wares and utensils to her husband’s home.
The night of the Iya Ceremony
Another female procession shall dispatch the maid with gas light to her husband’s residence for the very first carnal knowledge (bo-ari-i-lekiri). In the morning, the bride’s family is meant to come and dress the bed. The bed is meant to be soiled with evidence of the bride’s virginity, which is a source of pride for her family.
Now I don’t know about you but that was very educating and we’re sure you know just a bit more about the marriage rites of the Kalabari people.
To catch up on the other articles in our Kalabri series, you can start from here.
Do you have something interesting about your culture that you would like us to feature, please email us.
Have you ever been to a Kalabari wedding? How was it?
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