By Yetunde Arebi
Marriage is not a frivolous matter. It is so important that it is considered an institution and not a venture you go into dilly dally. Before taking the decision to marry someone, it is believed that you have taken out time to study the person and you are convinced that together you can ride the tides and weather the storms of life. Thus, when a bride or groom decides to abscond on the wedding day, it is not only shocking, it has far reaching consequences as well.
Marriage in this clime is considered a life time bonding of not just the lovers but of two families, extended families and friends, and in some instances, a whole clan. That is why wedding ceremonies are planned and executed by older members of the families once an intent to marry has been declared by lovers. Many ceremonies precede the wedding ceremony. All are designed to give the families opportunities to evaluate and re-evaluate each other, to be sure that not only are the lovers good for each other, the families also are ready to tolerate each other for the sake of the lovers.
In the 70s and 80s, perhaps even leading to the early 90s when the economy was still thriving, there could be as many as four or five ceremonies before the real wedding took place. First was the introduction ceremony where close family members and friends of the groom would pay courtesy visit to the home of the intended bride.
A separate day will later be picked for the ‘letter-carrying’; This is split into two, the proposal and the reply. If the families wish to cut down on cost, the two can be performed on the same day, otherwise, the ceremonies take place differently. Then comes the engagement ceremonies and finally, the formal wedding which holds either in the church for Christians or Nikkah for Muslims.
For the Ibos, the wine carrying and dowry negotiation are ceremonies that bring the two families together before the final wedding rites are eventually performed. All these ceremonies present opportunities for the lovers to retrace their steps if they suddenly discover any reason they are not likely to live happily together after the wedding. So, why should a bride or groom wait till the wedding day before they take to their heels, causing confusion, pandemonium and heartbreak for their unsuspecting partner, family and friends?
I have never attended a botched wedding, thanks to God. But I have witnessed one up close. It happened many years back at my aunt’s church. The bride’s family were prominent members of the church; the bride was long overdue as most of her peers were already married and raising families of their own. Besides, she’d made a mistake while in her teens which many adduced as reason for the lack of eligible suitors for her hand. So nearly everyone in the church was involved in the preparations and my aunt was helping out with the cooking also.
Everyone considered the groom a good catch too. He was resident in the USA and would be taking her back with him after the wedding. But after the engagement party on Friday night, and while the women were still engrossed in the cooking, sounds of wailing filtered out from the house and pandemonium broke out. A few hours after the engagement ceremonies, the groom came back with his younger brother who was to be the Best Man to see his would be parents-in-law.
He asked them if the “baby of the house” was indeed their last child or his bride’s child. Trapped, the parents affirmed that the baby was the bride’s, a mistake from her teenage years which they had to help her cover up because she could not identify the father. He had no cause to worry as she had turned a new leaf, went back to school and even acquired a degree and a good job too.
He was free to adopt the little girl as his, they assured him. He got up, thanked them and informed them that the wedding was off as he would not be coming to church the next day. Then, the wailing and cursing began. But really, who was to blame, the bride who refused to disclose her secret to her groom when it counted, or the groom who stuck to his principle? The story went out like wild fire in the neighbourhood of Iwaya, Yaba, Lagos Mainland and became history.
In recent times, I have come across similar stories on the pages of national newspapers. First was the story of the banker who was arrested by the Police in Ilorin on his wedding day. He, along with some others had stolen millions of Naira from customers through ATM fraud. His excuse for committing such a crime was his desire to have a classy, talk of the town wedding.
Well, he sure did, and his bride will remember the day for the rest of her life! Another wedding was botched when the Police, again arrested the groom for armed robbery. In these two instances, though the grooms were willing, the weddings could not take place because their sins caught up with them. But this is not the case for the bride who abandoned her groom at the altar because she discovered he did not work with a telecommunications outfit like he had told her.
He was a poor, self employed, struggling commoner, and his bride could not see herself settling into such lowly status after the wedding. A few weeks ago, another bride walked out on her husband-to-be after sighting her old lover in the church. According to her friends, she was still deeply in love with a man who had walked out on her several years back and realised she could not love the new man like she did the former.
While one may not be able to fault the decisions of these run-away lovers, one cannot be wrong either in asking why they left it till the last moments before taking those decisions. Especially, considering the huge resources and efforts put into planning an average wedding in our society. The financial implication of organising a wedding can be overwhelming, a reason many eligible brides and grooms opt to remain single until they can save up enough for the huge expenses involved.
The same reason may also account for why the ceremonies have been compressed into a day or two event, rather than the several months it took some years ago.
Each of the ceremonies gulp money. The list of items are inexhaustible. From the basic essentials of Venue: Hall/Canopy, sitting arrangements, decorations, food, drinks, DJ/MC, musical band, Video/Picture coverage, Cakes, Clothes for parents, the couple and family members (at least two sets) the rings, items for the traditional rites, Registry/Court wedding is no longer brief and cheap (the officials have turned it into a money spinner for themselves) Nikkah and Church: honourarium for officiating ministers, ushers, choir, transportation, honeymoon, etc, all come with great expenses especially in this economic recession.
Besides the financial waste, the emotional, psychological and social implication of a botched wedding can be a harrowing and traumatic experience for both sides of the families. They become stigmatised, a reference for what should not happen to anyone. In fact, other members of the families might have a difficult time getting spouses in that community.
The spiritual angle cannot be ruled out also in a society such as ours where everything is now hinged on spirituality. The enemy has either attacked one family or God has saved the other from imminent bondage with satanic people! The fact of the matter? Everyone has been put to shame! So, why wait until the very last moment before summoning up courage to speak up if you have serious doubts about such an important milestone event that may make or mar you for a lifetime?
It is a fact that no one desires a bad and unhappy marriage, but if you take a survey of marriages in any community or society, you will be surprised at the huge number of unhappy couples living under the same roof, for various considerations. Yet, they manage to put their best foot forward, anytime they step out into the public.
While one cannot advocate that couples walk into bad marriages with their eyes wide open, the option of running away at the altar must not be encouraged either. It is a bad joke that is becoming rampant in our society. It should be left to the Hollywood/Nollywood movies where another groom can be picked from the crowd and the jilted groom will magnanimously give his approval. And there was nowhere in the story that the former lover took the place of the groom either.
This is real life situation and we are not starry eyed emigrants from Cloud Nine. Personally, I am of the opinion that running off at such a crucial moment smacks of nothing but great cowardice, irresponsibility, insensitivity, self centerdness and disrespect. Such a person has no love in their heart for anyone, not even themselves. The moment of truth does not suddenly dawn upon a run-away lover at the altar, it would have happened sometime before that day. Couldn’t she/he have confided in someone and plan a better way out, rather than turn up a trick which can only bring public shame upon all concerned?
A Yoruba adage, “Iku ya ju esin lo” is apt in this instance. It means that sometimes, death is better than shame. The marriage can be annulled afterwards and everyone would have been saved from the shame of an unnecessary drama. I have attended a wedding where the bride walked out on the groom two weeks after the lavish ceremony and the heavens did not fall. They are both living happily in their separate worlds today. There is also something called divorce, a more decent and less dramatic option still, I believe. Running away is not, and cannot be the right solution. Please, this is open to debate and I would really love to read from you via the contacts above.
Do have a wonderful weekend!!