Folklore plays a major role in Igbo culture. They represent creation, life, and even death. Through elaborate tales, the Igbo people pass on their beliefs about how their people came to be. While the tales focus mainly on animal characters, they represents many aspects of everyday life. Igbo folk-tales, like American fables, are useful teaching tools for the young. The stories are spread through youth, encouraging positive behaviour.
Before missionaries arrived, Igbo folk-tales were the primary source for learning everyday life lessons. Certain tales such as “How the Tortoise Got Its Bumpy Shell” warn children against greed and untruth and instead encourage honestly, and the mutual support of those around an individual. This is important in Igbo society because they are a people who are very much reliant on their neighbours. They borrow seeds in the planting season, and assist each other in building up compounds. Connectedness is considered essential for the Igbo people, and many decisions are made by a large part of the clan, instead of an individual.
While Igbo folktales teach many important lessons to the people, they are also a sort of religion for the masses. The folktales tell of how things came to be in the natural world. From the creation of the earth to the reason a mosquito buzzes in a person’s ear, almost anything can be explained by an Igbo folktale. They are to the Igbo people are, what the Bible is to a Christian. The tales are not only a rich way of preserving beliefs, they are the values of the people. They teach Igbo people how to become a better person in societyThe Igbo have a system of folk beliefs that explains how everything in the world came into being. It explains what functions the heavenly and earthly bodies have and offers guidance on how to behave toward gods, spirits, and one’s ancestors.
The Igbo believe the world is peopled by invisible and visible forces: by the living, the dead, and those yet to be born.Reincarnationis seen as a bridge between the living and the dead.
Throughout Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, many lessons are taught and many stories told. Over the course of the novel, Achebe inserts smaller stories which are the folktales of Igbo society. The folktales connect to their place in the novel, and give the reader a sense of what Igbo values are. Achebe includes five folktales throughout the course of the story. They are:The Vulture and the Sky, Mosquito and the Ear, Leaves and the Snake-Lizard, How Tortoise Got His Bumpy Shell, and Mother Kite and Daughter Kite. Each story has its own meaning, and its own reason for being in the story. The stories are powerful, and Achebe uses their power to captivate the reader.
Though, it is important to note that none of the stories appear after the missionaries arrive. If the folktales represent the perseverance of Igbo culture, the missionaries are the force that drives it back. Just as the people stop practicing their original Igbo religion and switch to christianity, the folktales also stop. Achebe portrays this amazingly. It represents a cultural shift of the Igbo people. Okonknwo does not participate, but it is clear in the novel that the tide is slowly changing.
The folktales that are told in Things Fall Apartusually come from an older person to their children. Ekwefi tells the story Enzinma. Folktales, like Igbo proverbs, enhance the language that is so greatly respected. If one can tell a good story, they are regarded as wise, and a good orator.
Achebe also uses folktales to help get the story across. They represent larger, real life stories, but are hidden in the folklore of Igbo people. The folktales often times represent the invasion of colonizers into the Igbo society. Colonizers are portrayed as greedy, and abusive of their power. One of the strongest examples of this representation, is the folktale “How Tortoise Got His Bumpy Shell.” In the tale the colonizers are the Tortoise and the Igbo people are the welcoming Birds.
Common Igbo Folkore
The eastern part of Nigeria largely occupied by the Ibo tribe, is rich in culture, customs and traditions and one of the tenets that has survived the rage of civilization and modernization is the art of storytelling. Interesting and educative folktales which have been passed down from generations to generations from the ‘ancestors’ are told to children in the bid to preserve the norms and culture of the tribe, imbibe good morals and instill the spirit of communal love amongst members of their society. These Igbo folktales which paints colourful pictures of spiritual life and traditional aspirations are regarded as fictitious, incredible, mythical and totally removed from real life situations. However, with regards to their functionality, these folktales exhibit elements of truth that translate into realism. Jovago.com, Africa’s No.1 online hotel booking site offers 4 common traditional folktales you should seek to hear while visiting eastern Nigeria.
Usually accompanied with a song, this folktale tells of a young pretty girl who meets a great misfortune due to her defiance and decision to disobey her parents. Set in a time when demons and spirits roamed around villages, the girl called “obaledo” was instructed by her parent before embarking on their trip, to remain within the confines of their home and eat just yam and snail when hungry. The parents asked that she roast the yam first before the snail, as the snail would eventually quench the fire. Unfortunately, the girl, being greedy and having a strong lust for meat, roasted the snail first and fire went off. Still hungry, she set out of her home, in disobedience to her parents, to get a matchstick from neighbors. On her way, she encounters a demon that steals her beauty and leaves her with his own ugliness.
The King’s Drum
This story tells about a greedy tortoise who ends up trapping himself in his own greed. The tortoise, envious of a rich king who had a drum that would produce food and great wealth each time it was beaten, set a trap for the king’s wife, and when she fell for it, he demanded the drum as his only compensation. Unknown to him however, the drum only produced the luxury he has seen on certain conditions and was bound by a juju. Eventually, the tortoise and his children break the juju that was bound to the drum and instead of food and riches, each time he beat the drum, some men will emerge and whip him thoroughly. Defeated, the tortoise and his family made their home underneath the prickly tree, and according to the tale, that is the reason tortoises are always found living under the prickly tie-tie palm, as they have nowhere else to go to for food.
The disobedient daughter who married a skull
This tale narrates the story of a maiden who was so pretty she had suitor from around the world. Unfortunately, she was very picky and was never satisfied with any of the offers. A demon from the spirit world in the form of a skull , fell in love with her and was determined to marry her. He went round villages collecting body parts and became extraordinary handsome. As expected, the maiden fell in love with him once she set her eyes on him and agreed to marry him. After the marriage, the demon took the maiden to the spirit world where she suffered. She was however very nice and helpful to the demon’s mother and in appreciation of her acts of kindness, the demon’s mother helped her escape and sent her back to her parents. On getting to her parents’ home, the father asked her to marry a friend of his, and she willingly consented, and lived with him for many years, and had many children.
Why a Hawk kills Chickens
More of a fable than a story, this tale tries to justify or give reason to why the hawk always attacks the chicken or steals the hen’s chicks. The story tells of a love story between the hawk and a pretty hen which was aborted by a desperate cock who was in love with the hen. After the hawk had paid the bride price of the hen, married her and taken her to the land of the Hawks, a desperate cock who encountered her fell in love with her and crowed beautifully when he accosted her. Unable to resist the sweet sound of the crow, she absconds her husband’s house and returns to the land of fowls with the cock. Angry and feeling cheated, the hawk demanded for a return of his dowry as it was the custom, but since the hen’s parents nor the cock could pay him back, they took the case to the king of animals who then decreed that the hawk could kill and eat any of the cock’s children whenever and wherever he found them as payment of his dowry, and, if the cock made any complaint, the king would not listen to him. And so from that time until now, whenever, a hawk sees a chicken he swoops down and carries it off in part-payment of his dowry.
Nigerian culture has a flamboyance that is unmistakable (after seeing the Bride List you can understand why). It matters not whether the Nigerians are from the North, the West, the East or the South of the country. Nigerians of all works of life tend to be extravagant, dramatic and love to have a good time. And nowhere is this reality more obvious than in a special act reserved for Nigerian ceremonies and functions. Anyone that has been to a Nigerian wedding, for instance, has either witnessed, or if bold enough to make it to the dance floor, been the subject of spraying. Nigerians spray dancers or special individuals with money during celebrations, delicately placing each individual note on the head of the subject. This process has a lot of similarities to the “Dollar Dance, Money Dance, Bridal Dance or Apron Dance” are various names for this very popular custom performed in many non –African wedding receptions all over the world.
A bride, for instance, can be overwhelmed by the amount of bills placed on her head while dancing away at her wedding. So much so that a family member is usually required to be on standby with a box into which the sprayed money will be collected. During the wedding process this money is way of guest to give the Bride and her Husband contributions towards their marriage it is also their way of contributing towards the overall costs of the wedding which they really appreciate. The guests are expected to be generous when paying for a dance, because the money is used to help the couple set up their new home or with their honey moon.
Or as it is originally known as Aso ebi (pronounced ASHO EYBEE) is a uniform dress that is traditionally worn in Nigeria and some West African cultures as an indicator of cooperation and solidarity during ceremonies and festive periods. The affordability of fabrics such as Ankara has contributed to the popularity of uniform dressing for social occasions in Nigeria.
The purpose of wearing the dress can be to serve as self-identification so that guests without have to ask can work out how each other are related to the Bride or Groom. For example during a typical Igbo wedding there would be different aso-ebi’s for:
- Family members (Brother’s and Sister’s)
- Extended family (Aunties, Uncles and Cousins)
- School friends (Primary, Secondary or University)
Usually at weddings, the various fabrics for the aso-ebi are decided by the bride, and are then announced to all the guests’ months in advance so they can prepare their outfits. Guests are usually expected to buy the aso-ebi from the bride, but close friends and family members and certain prominent individuals may be presented with the aso-ebi as a gift. Aso-ebi for parties and funerals are generally simple, but aso-ebi for weddings may involve many complex changes with entirely different aso-ebi for different days of the wedding, and for the reception.The affordability of fabrics such as Ankara has contributed to the popularity of uniform dressing for social occasions in Nigeria.
Birth, marriage and burial are considered the three most important family events in most cultures, and Igboland is not an exception to that.
It is common to get invited to a traditional marriage (Igba nkwu) and certainly worth witnessing one. Marriage in Igboland is not just an affair between the future husband and wife but also involves the parents, the extended family and villages. First the groom asks his potential partner to marry him. Assuming that this is affirmative, the groom will visit the bride’s residence accompanied by his father. The groom’s father will introduce himself and his son and explain the purpose of his visit.
The bride’s father welcomes the guests, invites his daughter to come and asks her if she knows the groom. Her confirmation shows that she agrees with the proposal. Then the bride’s price settlement (Ika-Akalika) starts with the groom accompanied by his father and elders visiting the bride’s compound on another evening.
In the final stage of the traditional marriage rites, the groom will go to the house of the bride-to-be with his immediate and extended family, villagers and town’s people with the above items. Host families will prepare different kinds of indigenous dishes to entertain their guests.
The wedding day is again at the bride’s compound, where the guests welcome the couple and invite them in front of the families. First the bride goes around selling boiled eggs to the guests, showing to both families that she has the capability to open a shop and make money. Then, the bride’s father fills a wooden cup (Iko) with palm wine and passes it on to the girl while the groom finds a place between the guests. It is the custom for her to look for her husband while being distracted by the invitees. Only after she has found the groom, she will kneel down and offered the cup to him and he sipped the wine, according to our customs once the cup is empty the couple is married traditionally.
The parents and elders in the family of both the bride and groom will pray for the newlyweds and for the success of their marriage. During this ceremony, there is also the nuptial dance where the couple dances, while guests wish the newlyweds prosperity by throwing money around them or putting bills on their forehead.
When the ceremony is over, the bride will go home with the family of the groom signifying that the two are now husband and wife.
In some communities in Igboland, “Idu Uno” is practiced. Idu Uno is when the family of the bride officially goes and visit the home where their daughter will be living. Note that the previous ceremony and meetings took place in the bride’s family home.
The bride’s family buys cooking utensils, bed-sheets, boxes, sewing machine, bed, pillow cases, plates, clothes and other things newly married couples need to start a life and family.
Also, the bride’s family along with their extended families sets a date to visit the couple with all the goods they bought. On “Idu Uno” day, the wife’s family will give the newly married couple all the things they bought for them.
This is usually done to give newly married couple a head start by defraying some of their expenses. Marriage ceremonies in Igboland can be a long and expensive undertaking, but they are usually worth every kobo.
Now this is where the fear of marrying an Igbo person comes from especially for those who are outside of the community. In terms of what it takes to take a bride from any of the eastern states in Nigeria, it is said to not be a walk in the park. The Igbo tribe take pride in their daughters and don’t hesitate to show any potential suitor how ‘highly rated’ she is. The Igbo bride’s traditional wedding list is probably one of the most discussed topics whenever a man indicates interest in taking an Igbo wife.
The “Bride List” is simply seen as a gift/reward for raising such a beautiful and talented daughter that should be shared amongst those that helped in raising and nurturing her (typically her compound).This list factors in all of the achievements of the Bride such as education, career, progression etc. Items can be negotiated (Top-tip is to have a good negotiator on your side) The list can be modified depending on the family of the bride, i.e. the bride to be can negotiate on behalf of the groom’s family so that the list is trimmed.
Just like every other traditional marriage in Nigeria, The Igbo traditional paying of dowry is very important and the process/lists differ from state to state or clan to clan. It is an obligatory part of completing the Igba Nkwu (traditional marriage) as the items on the list are said to be symbolic, covering different part of the marriage.
EXAMPLE OF A BRIDE LIST
Typical Igbo Traditional List for the Groom also applicable of Mbaise of Imo state.
Section A: UMUADA (All Kindred Daughters)
– Wrappers and Blouses (Nigerian Wax/Hollandis or George)
– Jewellery (Gold plated earrings, necklaces)
– Head ties and Shoes (a pair each, different colours.)
– Hand bags and wrist watches (Different types and colours)
– Toiletries (Body creams, bathing soaps, detergents, etc.)
– Beverages and food items
– Cash gift (not specific)
– Ogwe ego Drinks (Malt & Minerals)
Section B: NMANYA UKWU (Big Wine) UMUNNA (Kinsmen)
The items in this category will be shared amongst the heads of the extended family of the bride to be.
– Bottles of Seamans Schnapps (millennium brand)
– Kola nuts
– Gallons of Palm wine
– Cartons of Beer,
– Malt and Mineral drinks
– Heads of Tobacco with potash
– Rolls of cigarettes
– 1 goat
– Cash gift (not specific) Ego Umuna
NB: Items in Section A&B are usually in 3 pieces or in cartons, cannot be negotiated by the groom’s family except the bride’s family is lenient enough to cut down the items, or the numbers of items to be presented in these sections.
Other cash gifts that may be demanded during the course of the ceremony Ego nfotu iteö
(cash to bring down symbolic cooking pot) – 1,000
– Ncha kishi udu (Toasting of wine) = 1,000
– Ego Ogo cherem (money for the in laws) = 50,000
– Ego maternity (money for future maternity) = 1,000
– Ego Onye Eze (money for village chief) = 1,500
– Ogwe Ego (lump sum) = 5,000
Section C: NMEPE UZO (General list/Opening of Gate)
– 30 tubers of Yam
– 2 bags of Rice
– 2 bags of Salt
– 2 cartons of Star Beer
– 2 cartons of Guinness Stout
– 2 cartons of Maltina
– 6 crates of Minerals
– 3 bottles of Seamans Schnapps (millennium brand)
– 30 bulbs of onions
– 1 gallon of red Palm oil (10 -25 litres)
– 1 gallon of Groundnut oil (25 litres)
– A basin of Okporoko (Stockfish)
– 2 pieces of Goat leg (Ukwu Anu ewu)
– 25 loaves of Bread
– 1 carton of Tin Tomatoes
– 1 carton of Tin Milk
-1 carton of Tablet soap
– 20 Pieces of canned facial powder
-1 gallon of Kerosene
– 20 heads of Tobacco
– 10 packets of cigarettes
– 5 pieces of George/Hollandis/Nigerian Wax
– 3 pieces of Umbrella
– 1 Big Box (Apati)
– 2 Big Basins
– 2 pieces of Igbo Blouse
– 2 pieces of Headties
– Gold necklaces and Wrist watches (minimum of 2 pieces)
– 1 piece of Lantern/LampôIkpo
– Onu Aku Nwayi (Bride price) Non-negotiable, though some families makes it very minimal and almost insignificant. (Reason being that they are not selling their daughter).The things we do for the ones we love.
Ultimately the reason the list is so long is because the bride’s family know that once she is married her commitment is now to her husband and his family. All the kids she will have will automatically belong to him and his family, even when she dies and is buried she is buried in his compound. The list represents all the gifts and support they would have received if she was to stay with them and not get married.
Once the bride has returned back from a successful probation period and both families are happy with their enquiries the bride price and list is generate by the Bride’s Family.
A rough date is also booked for delivery of the items on the list (typically the wedding date/ feast date)
Upon payment and delivery they are now considered to be traditionally married (pre-Christian religion)
Most people have a fear of the “Bride Price” but usually the bride price is a very low amount to emphasis the woman is “NOT BEING SOLD”. The Bride price is what would need to be returned back to the Groom’s family if they were to every filed for divorce (not that they would ever want it to happen).
During this phase the Bride-to-be is now re-invited to go and spend some quality time with her future in-laws. Here is her first real opportunity to bond with her future in-laws (especially her Mother In-Law) and his female siblings after all she will become another daughter and sister to them so it is important they can find common ground to start building their own relationships.
During her stay which is around 1-2 weeks she is typically set household tasks to test her (set by mother-in-law and sister-in-laws) such task as cooking, cleaning, shopping etc.
To the outside world this phase might seem weird or “slave like” but it has a much deeper purpose. For what her in-laws are really checking is her ability to complete many household tasks (especially her temperament and ability to follow orders) after all once she is married she will be expected to do these tasks, and they also want to check how well she copes with pressure (don’t worry not everyone gets tested in this way).
For the bride-to-be (especially those who have been raised culturally) this is really her opportunity to demonstrate how domesticated she is, which is often a testimony to how well her mother has raised her. As well this is as an opportunity for her show case her cooking and entertainment skills
The most important element of her probation period is that before she gets married she is also be given the opportunity to learn from her in-laws how to cook native dishes that her Groom to-be is accustomed to (to see how their recipes differ from hers) but also to learn new dishes that she might not have had growing up because they were not popular in her state.
If successful at the end of this phase she is typically presented with many gifts from the Grooms family to return home with. This is a sign/symbol to her family that her in-laws are happy with what they have seen. These gifts are to be given to her mother as a symbol of appreciation for raising such a wonderful woman.
This is also referred to as the Enquiry phase. During this phase BOTH FAMILIES start the investigation on their in-laws. One or multiple members of each family will take time off and travel down to their future in-laws to source further information that might not have been revealed during the knocking to door phase. Typically information about the groom and his family will be gathered from their neighbours, people in their village and people who know them.
Family members are mainly looking for answers for the following:
- Family History
- Social Standing of the family
- Medical History
- Strange deaths (life expectancy)
- History of infertility
- Criminal Acts
- Family worship
- Family Wealth
- In general are they Good people
This process can last for months especially if it is hard to locate the groom’s compound or family members.
This phase is so important to a lot of families because they know it can be very easy for people to show you only their good sides, but this person might have bad intensions or habits (such as gambling, or heavy drinking) therefore it is in their child’s interest to really take this section seriously. Please note that during this phase if one or both families are not happy with what information they have come across the courting process can be called off.
Step 2: KNOCK THE DOOR
At this phase the Groom-to-be travels to meet the Bride’s family typically going to her village compound or family home (for those who now live in the cities). The Groom normally gives his Bride-to-be a heads up about his visit just so she can gently inform her family members to make sure the house is ready to receive visitors (to ensure they are available and not travelling, that the house is cleaned, they have food and drinks to offer etc)
Unlike western culture the Groom does not make the journey alone to his future in-laws alone. Typically he would be accompanied by his older male relatives (his Father, Uncle, Brothers or Best Friends) who will act as his representatives. Within the Igbo community your representatives say a lot about you and your character so it is always worth investing in people that really know you and can sell your value to your future in-laws.
When the Groom-to-be arrives at the bride-to-be’s compound it is customary to brings gifts of Kola-nut and Palm Wine, as this is a sign of cultural respect.
The Proposal is done by Intermediary’s meaning the Groom does not ask directly for the Brides hand in marriage it is asked for by his representatives. Who typically will say something along the lines of “There is a Beautiful Girl her by the name of Ngozi that we have been told lives at this compound and we want to make our intentions known that someone want to marry her”. Please note that at this stage the Bride-to-be is not present during this phase.
On hearing these intentions the bride-to-be’s family must first respond to the proposal. Before they respond they might ask the representatives some questions about the groom-to-be such as his career, where is he from, what type of family does he comes from. There is no limit to what types of questions they can ask but the groom and his representatives must be ready for anything.
Once the bride’s family has given their response the bride-to-be is then invited into the room (for the first time) and she is asked if she is happy to accept his Proposal. If she says yes this initiates the Enquiry process. Because of this traditional Igbo proposals do not have engagement rings which a lot of western engagements now incorporate.