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Marriage Customs

Author: nick on 13-09-2013, 15:00, views: 3 071


Mboppo girl in seclusion. Note the body painting designs. (Courtesy: Theresa I. Iwok)Mboppo girl in seclusion. Note the body painting designs. (Courtesy: Theresa I. Iwok)Preparing Girls for Womanhood


The young, growing-up girls were well cared for in the traditional way before they reached womanhood and got married to raise children. This was done by fattening them in stages, in confinement, while placing them on special sumptuous diet during the period. Ability to feed well and put on excessive weight testified to her parents' wealth and her healthy disposition. The girls were completely naked during the period and were supposed to be virgins before and during the period of confinement. Their bodies were rubbed with palm oil and they slept on bare bamboo beds. Specially trained women would come every morning and evening to massage their bodies with oil, ensuring that there is fat at the right places of the body. The following categories of traditional stages of seclusion and training were practised in the local government area:




This was the first stage the young girl underwent at about twelve years of age. In this case, the seclusion period lasted for about a period of one to two weeks.


Essien Emana


In this second stage, the period of confinement was longer, sometimes, up to two months. The girls in this stage were older, just getting into the puberty period. In the first two weeks or so, the girl was confined to her room or family backyard and was not to be seen outside.




This was the last process before the girl got married. The process lasted long, ranging from three to six months. By this time (probably about the age of fifteen), the girl already had a suitor. She had to be finally prepared for motherhood. It was during the early part of this ceremony that the girl was circumcised. In a particular village or clan, the period would start about the same time of the year and end on the same day, designated as the outing day of the Mboppo festival (Usen uwuo mboppo). In some cases, such days were staggered in a particular clan, to give people a chance of watching the nubile maiden dance display in the various villages, each village having the ceremony for all its Mboppo girls on the same day.


The ceremony ended after the fattened girl was taken to the market by her mother, on an important market day, for her friends and well-wishers to admire and note her beautiful appearance. This was a public declaration of the girl's availability for marriage and transition to the stage of adult womanhood, which entitled her to access to the women's associations and a new set of communal rights and obligations.




After giving birth to a child, particularly the first child, the young mother was, again, taken care of by the same process of confinement and health treatment for the first few weeks; but this time, she was free to move around and take part in some domestic activities. Usually, the young woman's mother would take her daughter from the husband's house, nurture her and the child for a period, ranging from six months to one year. This was done not only to restore the girl's health and prepare her to take full responsibility as a mother, but also to prevent her from getting pregnant and having another child so soon after the first one. During the subsequent deliveries, the young woman was supposed to have gained enough experience to take care of herself. Nevertheless, the woman could still be confined and fattened during the early periods after child delivery.


Marital Process


A young man had to prove that he was mature before he could get married. He had to undergo a training as an apprentice fisherman or farmer and, probably, must have reached the age of about 25. This apprenticeship could take up to seven years, working under his father, senior brother, uncle or a friend of the family. The girl had to go through all the seclusion processes, although, in most cases, Mboppo training was usually done after a suitor had been selected for the maiden.


Searching for a partner was done by the parents of the young man. They might have earmarked a particular girl for him, or, would start looking for a good girl when their son was found ready to start raising his family. The parents of the would-be bride would be approached, after the parents of the would-be groom had investigated the suitability of the girl's family. The girl's parents would ask for time, before they could give any definite response. During this period of waiting, the girl's family would also carry out an investigation into the family background of the young man. When the girl's parents were satisfied that there was nothing to jeopardise the future happiness and well-being of their daughter, the girl would be informed about the arrangement, and, in most cases, her opinion about the suitability of the man was not usually considered. She might have been forced to accept the man against her wish. The boy's family would be contacted about a decision on their request.


On the appointed day, members of the young man's family and those of the girl's would meet in the girl's father's compound, to negotiate the terms of the marriage. A bottle of strong drink (ukot mbip) would be provided by the young man's parents. The girl would open the drink, pour it into a glass, take a sip, and then give it to the man she would marry. The man would also take a sip, and then give it back to the girl, who will then present it to her parents. This ceremony, which may have varied in detail from village to village, confirmed the agreement of the two young people to get married and live together. The negotiation for the bride price started at this point. After the agreement on the bride price, the full marriage ceremony was set for another convenient time.


The bride price could be high, and may not be paid at one go. Payment by instalment, taking several years, could be arranged in some areas. It should be noted that the bride price was refundable and had to be paid back to the husband if the marriage broke down. In this case, some discount could be given for the number of children borne by the woman into the husband's family.


Filial Inheritance


Filial inheritance within the lineage is practised. A dead man's wife could be inherited by his son, brother, or any other male member of the family to ensure that she is taken care of within her husband's family. Before the expiration of the mourning period, the widow, no matter her age, had the right to choose her new husband within the family, irrespective of his age. In fact, the chosen person could be just a young boy, even, the widow's son. It

should be noted that with the imbibing of Western culture and civilisation, the traditional marriage custom has been destroyed. Young people can now choose their future partner themselves. The girls no longer undergo the seclusion and training process before marriage, and a good number of Western educated women resist the system of filial inheritance. Whether this collapse of the old system is good for the society or not, is debatable.

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Category: Tradition and Culture

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