For the Yoruba, marriage is more than just a union between a man and his wife; it is a union between the families of both couple. It is common for families to do a background investigation into the history of prospective spouses of their wards before they agree to allow such wards to go into the sacred institution of marriage. There’s nothing more sacred among the Yoruba of South Western Nigeria than marriage. After all is done and the two families accept that their children can go ahead and marry their chosen love interest, preparations begin in earnest for the big day.
Depending on the religion of the two families, they can choose to do it one way or the other. For the purpose of this study, I have chosen a wedding between two Christian families. Religion among the Yoruba is not very important. Unlike among other racial nationalities, religion has not been able to create a huge chasm among the Yoruba of different faiths. According to JDY Peel, a professor of history at the SOAS, London, who has studied religion among the Yoruba, the main core of Yoruba existence has been held together by a common secularity which has shaped their philosophy into four beliefs: owo, omo, alaafia ati ilosiwaju being wealth, children, health and prosperity. Hence, Yoruba people are least likely to fight over religion like most other people would. It is common in Yoruba land to find married couples practicing different religions i.e. Muslim husband and Christian wife and vice versa. But this is not about religion so we’ll go back to the wedding.
After agreeing on the wedding date and venue, this time for a Christian wedding, there are usually two ceremonies. There is the traditional wedding which usually comes up a day before the church or registry wedding as the couple may desire. It is usually held in the residence of the bride’s family with the groom’s family invited to come and make their claim for the bride.
I shall attempt to explain via the following images:
It is traditional for the bride’s family to request some items as part of the dowry for the bride. These may include yam tubers, clothing items, assorted drinks, bag of salt, fruits and sundry other times that the family may request for. This can be an endless list but there’s usually an agreement between both families to the extent and cost of what may be required. On the day of the ceremony, the women in the groom’s family bring these items and set it up in front of the venue for all to see, ostensibly to show the public that they are capable of the task of undertaking the business of marrying a wife for their son.
Like I said previously, a Yoruba wedding involves both families so when the parents of the groom arrive they greet their hosts, the bride’s parents, in all humility, by kneeling down in the case of women and lying prostrate in the case of the men. It is a show of good faith between both families. It in no way belittles any of the parties, rather, it ennobles them and shows their strength of culture and character. They in turn are well received by the bride’s parents with joy and laughter.
After the activity to receive the groom’s family is completed inside, the groom, who must have been waiting outside with his friends, is then summoned into the ceremony. Accompanied by his friends and the sound of gangan, traditional Yoruba talking drums, he saunters into the ceremony with all aplomb ready to meet his new family. According to Lagbaja, a popular masked Nigerian musician, “in Africa the most propelling things are the drums and the beats; we are about beats and grooves”.
When the groom finally arrives in the presence of his in laws, he is required to humble himself before them to receive blessings. He therefore prostrates himself as they pray over him.
From the depth of their hearts, the bride’s parents send her off with prayer. This sometimes takes a long period of time as the parents know that this will be the last time they can hold their daughter as theirs for in a few moments she’ll be somebody’s wife.
For one last time she sits on their lap as they all look on with blood shot eyes. It’s an awkward moment for she’ll be gone into the arms of her new family soon.
After all is said and done, both of them finally dance into each other’s arms. From sounds courtesy of the constant drummer, the groom begins spraying his bride with currency notes, a traditional thing among many Nigerian nationalities, to show his affluence and his ability to care for her. It also is a method for rewarding the graceful dance steps of the bride.
The traditional marriage process in Yoruba land is a type of coming of age ceremony. Many young people look forward to it with glee. It is one of the most beautiful spectacles in the world.