17 June 2010

The 7 Wonders of Nigeria Part 5 - The Nigerian Wedding

I have always loved weddings. As a young boy, I longed to have a big wedding. I can remember the joy of a couple whose wedding reception I stumbled upon at the University of Ibadan. I watched as the groom was celebrated and the bride danced with panache to the beat of the uninvited gangan drummers.
I enjoy the solemn part of weddings more – the joining at the church when vows are taken and the couple pledge their undying love to each other. I like the bit where they invoke the name of God to confirm in the presence of witnesses that only death could do them part. I love the fact that it is only in marriage that the Christian faith expressly allows two people to become inextricable.
As a licensed registrar and pastor, I usually come into my elements when I conduct weddings, I often invite the couple’s parents to pray for their children, I would do everything possible to make it a special day for the couple. Weddings can make me teary-eyed in a joyful way. I would advise the couple to get the photography and video right and of course the groom to arrange a fantastic honeymoon for his bride.
I’m sure my love for weddings have something to do with the choice of the ‘Nigerian Wedding’ as a wonder of Nigeria. Additionally, the choice is influenced by the undeniable fact that Nigerians know how to put on a spectacular wedding celebration. The event usually provides an opportunity for Nigerians to cast all aspersions to the wind and indulge in our greatest and probably only national pastime, the owanbe party celebration.
Nigerians go for broke when it comes to weddings and usually the bride and groom are not the only celebrants. For some parents, it’s an opportunity to be in the limelight, to show off their wealth, who they know and to measure the level of goodwill they enjoy, so they go for broke. The couples themselves are extremely joyful and rightly so, they too go for broke.
The wedding proper is preceded by an engagement party - an understated name for a traditional wedding that is as elaborate as they come – usually on the eve of the wedding proper. The engagement party is an entirely African show with colourful African attires, tradition, songs and sometimes pranks like getting the groom to carry out military exercises or press-ups before he can claim his bride. This is usually at the instigation of the hired representative of the bride’s family (known as alaga ijoko). This 'entity' called alaga ijoko can determine the success of the engagement party. Some really good ones do things in moderation and carry the crowd along. I have also encountered some terribly bad ‘OTT’ ones who have messed up the show.
The Nigerian wedding is not complete without the aso-ebi, sometimes several aso-ebis. Aso-ebi is the uniform for the special day, the parents of the bride will have theirs, so will the groom’s family and sometimes friends of the bride will get theirs separately. The men in the family may wear a different aso-ebi from the women or they may just go for special caps matching the gele (head-tie) for women. The Nigerian wedding is an extremely colourful experience.
Nigerian women usually come up tops at this gathering. They are always pushing the boundary with their innovatively-designed dresses, exquisite jewelry and matching shoes and bag. This is topped with sharply crafted geles that ooze ingenuity and industry.
The Nigerian wedding is a public affair, meaning that literally anyone could attend. No matter how well you plan the day, even with RSVPs, British MI5, EFCC, American FBI and Russian KGB in tow, many of the guests will bring their own uninvited entourage. These guests don’t mind to bring their own food to augment the catering arrangement by the celebrants. Any right thinking planner of a Nigerian wedding will need to cater for at least an extra 200 uninvited guests depending on the social standing of the family.
The wedding day is also an occasion for the chairman of the wedding reception to show off. Many of them go on and on with stories and advice that are stale and cold. My advice to couples is to do without a chairman or read the riot act to them before the day.
The Nigerian wedding is also for area boys who will invade the wedding perimeter in their numbers.
Both the engagement party and the wedding reception are concluded with music and dancing, a live band in the case of high society weddings where the couple, their parents, family members and the musician will be ‘sprayed’ with money. To my knowledge, only the Greek have a similar tradition. I still can’t figure out why we love to publicly ‘spray’ money when you can financially support the celebrants privately
I can’t do justice to the Nigerian wedding without bringing in the Nigerian party. The highlight of any event in Nigeria be it naming ceremony, wedding or a funeral is the party. In reality many guests do not give a toss about the event proper; if you get half of your guests at the main event, you will be lucky. Most people come for the party afterwards where they will eat, socialise and dance.
Not forgetting that the celebrant and friends and families of the celebrants dole out gifts to their guests at the party. These gifts can range from unwanted cups, plastic bowls to clocks, notebooks, mobile phones and sometimes very expensive gift items. The one that really got me laughing and intrigued at the same time was the party where the important guests were said to have each received a party gift of live goat tied to their respective seats.
What a party souvenir. What a people.
I have always wondered why Nigerians love partying with a capital ‘L’ and I have come to realise that without the social parties, dancing, and aso ebis, the suicide level in Nigeria will probably be astronomical. For an average Nigerian, the weddings and the parties acts as stress relieving opportunities from the vagaries of lack of electricity, bad roads, inept politicians, poor sanitation and other challenges that daily confronts our people.
For its colour, its tradition, its stress relieving power and for the way it adds colour to the lives of Nigerians, the Nigerian wedding is a wonder of Nigeria.


Seyi said...

I could not agree any more than it being part of stress busters, my recent encounter in Nigeria during my father in law's funeral opened my eyes to so many things I never thought could happened. One thing that stands out more is that it is more of an unhealthy competition and the cost of it makes people broke, it can breed criminals and expose the celebrant’s vulnerability. For me, the disadvantages outweigh the stress bursting effect, but the question remain what can you do?


Bash said...

Heartening write-up as usual... The title "The Yoruba Wedding" would have been more apt as the traditions you wrote about are mostly unique to the Yoruba traditional wedding ceremony.

Postcard from Lagos said...

I agree with you 'Bash'. It probably should have been 'The Yoruba Wedding'.

Charles Ohikhuai said...

This is a picture of a wedding in any part of the country. Well after the wedding comes the marriage. It is better to give more time to the marriage than the wedding. After the wedding all the guest will go back to their homes, the couples will be left to themselves. What happens next?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Bash, an Ibo traditional wedding is not fun, it is an opportunity for the bride's family at large to recoup all their financial expense from age zero, so they will do whatever is possible to skin you dry. Anyways, I am still trying to get over our exit from the world cup, I think a piece on the super eagles (or should i say Super Chickens) will also be appropriate at this time. I will like to see what spin you can pull on this subject.

Unknown said...

Yes, Bash has said it all. Anyway, that is one of things that make us (Nigeria) the most happiest people in the whole World.