5 Strange Cultural Practices Associated with Marriage in Nigeria
According to the latest UN estimates as of February 20, 2019, the population of Nigeria was estimated at 199 million people. Among those people are over 250 ethnic groups and tribes, each with their own culture and traditions, including different languages.
It shouldn’t be a thing of surprise that in such a country with over 250 ethnic groups, some strange cultural practices associated with marriage exists.
However, it is good to have knowledge of people’s custom and tradition before taking some actions, making serious commitments and to avoid committing sacrilege.
“What you know and that which you know not can kill”.
Sharo, which means flogging, is used to test the bravery and courage of young male initiates who lash each other to the peak of endurance. This part of the festival begins with the arrival of young bare-chested, unmarried men who are escorted to the center ring by beautiful young girls. Hopes are raised by the melodious drumbeats and thunderous cheers of the spectators while contenders eye their challengers. The families of the contenders watch and pray not to be disgraced by their sons. This is because a son who cannot endure the flogging by begging his opponent to stop brings disgrace to the family.
The challengers are usually of the same age group and they come to the center of the stage, bare-chested and wielding a stupefying strong and supple cane about a half inch thick. He brandishes it with the sole aim of intimidating his opponent and inflicting pain.
Flogging his opponent without a bit of empathy with screams for more, the challenger continues until the other begs him to stop. Fortunately, a referee is provided to keep watch (every stroke must be hit right) so as to prevent serious and life-threatening injuries like blindness.
These severe floggings often leave scars on the proud contenders who believe the scars are marks of courage and a successful transition to manhood.
When the Sharo is over, the brave and courageous boys become men and are permitted to marry the girl of their choice from the clan. The Fulani agree with the tenets of Islamic religion so the men can marry up to four wives as long as they have the ability to provide for them equally.
Despite the diffusion of the Fulani culture with Islam, the Sharo Festival’s importance has ensured its continuous practice over the centuries.
In the Yoruba culture, this strange tradition of Magun means “do not climb”. It is done to restrict either man or woman from sexual promiscuity. Parents can place magun on their daughters to keep them from being promiscuous and punish anyone who rapes them, or it could be done by in-laws, lovers, spouses to keep husbands or wives from being unfaithful.
The magun is usually laid without consent of the woman. A broomstick or thread can be placed on a doorstep or walkway for the woman to cross over. Nevertheless, the result can be very deadly.
A woman with this spell that is unfaithful can get ridden with strange illnesses, boils, small pox or increased sweating, and could eventually die. A man with the spell who cheats could end up crowing like a rooster, enlargement of the private part, headaches, convulsions or somersaulting.
However, the most common manifestation of this charm happens when a woman with the spell commits adultery, the penis of the lover becomes stuck in the vagina with severe pains until the husband comes to nullify the spell.
Fattening Room is a room where young women are kept and prepared for womanhood and marriage. Among the Efik and Ibibio tribes, popularly referred to as the Calabar people of Nigeria, it is a pride for parents to give their daughters into marriage. The joy is made complete when the prospective wife is fattened and declared a virgin. They believe fattening brides prior to marriage makes them healthy and presentable to the husband and at the same time portrays her family as wealthy. It is common belief among both the Calabar men and women that a fat woman makes a healthy wife. The husband derives pleasure if the wife is fat; and the bride feels honored and respected when she is fat. The strong belief is that a woman’s beauty is in her big size.
While in the fattening room, the bride is fed on special delicacies such as ekpankuko (combination of slice unripe plantain, vegetable, fish and oil) and other special foods. She is forced to take so much garri (ground cassava soaked in water) and made to drink a lot of water. She is forced to eat more than her system can carry, after which she goes to sleep.
Bride fattening does not entail feeding only. It goes with body massaging. An older matron does a lot of work massaging the body of the bride. The matron uses local chalk on the entire body of the bride during the massage. The older woman first applies palm oil on the body of the bride before massaging with local chalk. She then uses a local herb called ’nsang’ on the palm and feet of the bride. After the massaging, ’akukin’, a body smoother is used to smoothen the body. The ‘akukin’ is also used to make colorful designs on the bride’s body.
At the elapse of six weeks, the bride is paraded in the market square. She is placed on a horse or carried by able-bodied men. She wears ‘ireke’ (beads), which are wrapped around her waist. Her chest is exposed and her breasts are kept bare. She wears precious jewels called ‘ntong’ on her wrists and legs. At some points she is brought down to dance and as she dances people shower her with gifts.
Shaving The Hair
The practice of shaving a widow’s hair is done in some parts of Igbo land, Benue State, Edo, Kano, Ondo and some other parts of the country. A woman who just lost her Igbo husband is usually taken through some cultural rituals to prove that she played no role in the death of her husband. One of the rituals, although somehow humiliating, is that she has to shave her hair.
This includes even the pubic hairs, with broken bottle for shaving the hair on her head and razor for the pubic hair. In some places, there will be certain designs on her head after literally scrapping off the hairs. The significance of this is that, since the husband is dead, there is nobody to beautify her hair for, at least for a period of time.
Death of husband and kids in Urhobo and Isoko Delta State
This particular tradition is common with Urhobo and Isoko people of Delta State. During the traditional marriage, the wife is asked to take wine to the husband and to sit on his laps seven times, which signifies the seven days ultimatum given to the cheating wife to confess before calamity befalls her family.
Usually, Eri/Erivwi, (the spirit of the ancestors) will attack the woman with some ailment and even kill her husband and children until she confesses or an oracle reveals it.
The atonement is based on a strongly held belief among the Isokos/Urhobos that one who has defiled the ancestors needs purification to avoid their wrath. The woman is stigmatized for the rest of her life and required to sacrifice a goat to appease the deity and to ritually cleanse her before she can continue her marriage if the man wouldn’t send her away.
Generally, cheating is not taken lightly in Africa; a married woman is expected to be faithful to her husband.