THE PLACE OF DOWRY (BRIDE PRICE) IN TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE (IULEHA COMMUNITY OWAN, EDO STATE NIGERIA) by Sunny Orumen Akhigbe

Dowry is the money paid by a prospective suitor to the family of the girl he is proposing to marry. It is the single most important item in the list of traditional marriage requirements. The importance does not lie in the weight but the worth. It is a sum of money in the medium of exchange, the prevailing currency. In the days of old, it was said to be paid in cowries before the advent of metal and paper money.

In Iuleha, dowry is set and determined by the family of the girl or lady whose hand is sought in marriage now in modern language referred to as the Bride. It is always a moderate, fairly affordable amount not meant to strangulate the young man starting family life. There is no record of a particular formula by which the amount is determined and it is never aimed at acquiring any property of value like buying a Bicycle, Motor Cycle, Car, building a house or training the siblings of the Bride in vocations or school. As important as it is, it is symbolic hence in Iuleha, the amount is usually moderate. The worth of an Iuleha daughter cannot be paid for in cash. We do not sell our daughters!

On the set date and among other requirements, the payment of dowry is the central focus of the ceremony. In Iuleha custom, anything of value with high significance to be presented at a ceremony is never exposed and dowry a very revered item on the marriage list is not an exemption. Other items like kola nuts are traditionally covered too ( Avokpan ). Traditionally too, the person presenting an Okpan expectedly stands and the recipient, who is the eldest in the gathering usually in the family lineage of the Bride receives it seated.

The dowry is enclosed in a fanciful ceramic deep plate with cover. Before being handed over to the eldest in the gathering, the stage is prepared by spreading a mat on the floor at the centre of the gathering. All objects that would obstruct good view of the proceedings are cleared. A spacious area usually in the residence of the Bride is chosen. A male member of the family is chosen to sit on the mat with his legs spread out, a position only assumed in peaceful expectation of an important item. This moment is spectacular, very interesting and important. When seated, he awaits further instruction.

A male member of the gathering announces that the Groom has brought the dowry as agreed without mentioning the amount and hands over the Okpan to the eldest in the gathering who in turn after uttering few words of prayer hands it over to the one seated on the mat. The one on the mat receives it with both hands, places it centrally between the spread legs and opens it. He would carefully separate the money into the various denominations on the mat. This is the moment no one wants to miss. As if by decree, a pin drop in the room could be heard because of the silence. Everyone, elders, the old and the young cranes his neck to catch this moment. He counts the money out slowly to the hearing of all and announces the amount. No mistake is permitted in the calculation. A reasonably organised person is chosen for this very vital role, not a clumsy individual.

On announcing the amount, the eldest in the gathering asks the father of the Bride to the hearing of all if that is the amount he asked for as the dowry on his daughter and if he answers in the affirmative, the person who counted the money hands over the dowry to the eldest in the gathering who in turn hands it to the father of the Bride. He does not return back to the mat which is folded, signifying the end of this very important aspect of the ceremony.

Using their discretion, the dowry is shared among close family members amid prayers. This is not done in the open. Its sharing is discretional; there is no particular formula for it and it is an abomination to reject or dispute whatever amount one gets.

Dowry payment is the symbol of Iuleha marriage. A woman would not be respected in her husband’s house if her dowry was not paid. A husband is not one who didn’t pay dowry on his wife. Iuleha traditional does not encourage cohabitation of a man and a woman. If they want to be taken seriously, the man has to go and pay dowry on the woman. Otherwise, they are not accorded the respect of husband and wife and the two remain objects of snide remarks and backchat gossip!

Akhigbe is a Dental Surgeon, public affairs commentator and author of ITAN BI EVBERE: Handbook Of Iuleha Proverbs, Idioms, Adages; Their Meanings and Applications
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