Irehu Iruvo – Ebira Bride – Ebira is one of the tribes in Kogi State, North Central Nigeria and just like many other Nigerian tribes, there are age-long cultural marriage practices that have stood the test of time, against religion and modernisation.
One aspect of the culture that holds strong even today is the bestowing of a wooden stool, Irehu uruvo (loosely translated as bottom stool) to a bride by her family, which she must take along to her husband’s home.
Not your usual stool that can be bought off a furniture shop, the stool is made from any of three kinds of wood, vitellaria or Mahogany or the Parkia biglobosa tree, known for their spiritual potency and fruitfulness.
Before it is handed to the bride, old women in the family pray over the stool to fortify it, interceding for peace, fruitfulness, and wealth.
The stool is significant and considered a symbol of the woman’s place in the home, a woman that has come to stay. The woman is expected to carry out most of the important duties of her marital life such as bathing her babies, breastfeeding, cooking for her family and weaving clothes while sitting on this stool.
It is believed that this stool is charged with so much power that prayers made while sitting on it are answered. In times of discontent, she sits on the stool to pray for justice.
Isa’ewere, which literally means the hidden things, is another important aspect of Ebira marriage custom.
The Asema of Uka clan, a custodian of Ebira culture, and an authority in Ebira folklore, HRH Momoh Nasir, explained that the rite derived its name from the tradition of privacy that is associated with it.
According to him, when a man goes to declare his intentions to marry a girl, he brings a monetary gift for his prospective in-laws and also gives money to the people and children he meets in the house to share.
Isa’ewere rite used to be performed at night in the olden days to guarantee its secrecy but is now done in the evening, between 4pm and 5pm. During this rite, female members of the prospective groom’s family, numbering not less than 10, deliver 24 yam tubers, two big fish, a bag of salt, 10 liters of red oil, at least N5,000 and two wrappers. Of these items only the wrappers are meant for the bride, while the rest are given to her maternal family or the person that raised her.
Once this rite is completed, the girl cannot receive proposals from other suitors unless her parents cancel the earlier promise of marriage. These days, Muslims pay sadaqi to save the couple from temptation.
Isa Obanyi, literally meaning the big one follows and is usually a day before the religious rites. The prospective groom also bring items including yams, rice, fish, oil, wrappers, shawls, jewellery and underwears which are given to the bride’s paternal family.
As part of the ceremony, the bride is bathed, perfumed and dressed in woven clothes made by her family.
On the day of the marriage festival, the bride and groom sit on wooden stools facing each other, with the bride’s face shielded. The groom is customarily accompanied by his uncle but on rare occasions, his father comes as the witness and keeps the money for the rites to be performed, while other members of the groom’s family sit behind in two rows, men in front, and women behind.
A male representative of the bride’s family takes charge of this aspect. He seats facing the two and addressing the bride by her name, and asks her if she met the groom by herself and wants to be with him.
If she responds in the affirmative, the groom gives her a gift, eiza ipapa, of one each of the lowest and highest denominations of the available currency. In the olden days, it used to be N101 but now N1,005. The significance of this is that there will be high and low moments in the marriage.
Other rites the groom must perform are ekehi are’a onwu (helping out on the father in-law’s farm) a rite which is now paid for with at least N50,000; ekehi enyara (money for older sisters); ekehi enebeni (money for older brothers) and ekehi enyara (money for younger ones).
Muntasir (second name withheld), a native of Zaria, Kaduna State, said his wife’s family was very considerate of the fact that he came from far and after the first visit, he took a compressed list from his then in-laws to be and went home to discuss it with his parents and returned with the required items and his relatives for the ceremony two months later. Isa’ewere and Isa’obanyi were subsequently performed on the same day and the Nikkah followed the next day, after which he took his bride home.
Mr. Adeola (second name withheld), a native of Ekiti State who lives happily with his ebira wife in South Hampton, United Kingdom, said he was made to follow through the maze of activities one after the other before wedding his Ebira bride in church, as they are Christians by faith.