The first daughter in Ibibio tribe of Akwa Ibom State, known as Adiaha, is often seen as a prized item by their parents, who place high value on her. For this reason, it is often with some sense of ‘loss’ that parents in Ibibioland give out their first daughters to a man, even though none wishes that their daughter remains unmarried.
Marrying an Ibibio first daughter with a view to separating the Adiaha from their parents has often been ‘difficult’ for some parents as it is also inevitable that an adult daughter must be given out in marriage so that she does not end up bringing shame to the parents by not being married.
However, in order for any man to qualify to marry out an Adiaha, there are specified rituals that he, his family and that of the parents must perform in order to make the marriage a reality.
Although traditional marriages in the Niger Delta are similar in nature to other parts of the Niger Delta or South-South, the performance of the traditional marriage rites in Ibibio land (Ikot Obio Atai, in Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State) in respect of first daughter (Adiaha) and the special rites (Awa Oduongo) must be solemnly executed for the woman to be considered as having been properly married by the man.
This is because the specified rituals are usually marked by individuals, families and communities with stipulated fanfares and ceremonies.
The Ibibio are of short stature and may have probably derived their name from the word ‘ibio’, which means short. The Ibibio share boundaries with the Igbo of the East Central and the Kalahari people of Rivers State on its Western side with principal towns such as Uyo, Etinan, Eket, Onna, Ikono, Ini, Ibiono, Itu, Nsit Ibom, Nsit Ubium, Uruan, Ibesikpo-Asutan, Nsit Atai, Ikot Abasi and Mkpat-Enin.
The people are principally farmers, traders and fishermen, while their major economic products are palm oil and palm kernel.
First ritual: Awa Oduongo (Sacrifice and throw away)
The Awa Oduongo ritual usually takes place when an Adiaha (first daughter) in a clan (Ekpuk) that practices this ritual is about to have her traditional marriage. It commences when the lady takes home her suitor and his selected family members to go and introduce to her parents and they have to come with many specified natural items to offer to the bride-to-be parents. This is known in Ibibioland as the Nkon udok (knocking of door). After collecting the specified items and entertaining the groom’s family, thereafter sets a date for them to return. Such time line could span a month or two and the space is to allow the bride’s family to carry out a holistic investigation of the potential groom and his family background.
Such enquiry extends to finding out the health, social, religious and medical status of the would-be husband and his source of income as well as the overall integrity level of the man and his family so that they do not give out their daughter to a questionable person who can bring shame to the family.
Once the family completes the enquiry and is satisfied with the status of the groom-in-waiting, a date is finally fixed for the first ritual- Awa Oduongo-‘sacrifice and throw away’. This is often preceded by the parents inviting the potential husband to come and collect the list of items he is expected to produce for the first ritual, which is often conducted on a particular market day in Ibibio land, such as fiong aran or fiong etok market day.
Items required for Awa Oduongo rituals:
Erong anana nnuk( Hornless sheep), ikid (tortoise) Uyai adua( Squirrel), mman iyak (female fish, one stick),inaha iyak(one stick),imin iyak, nice fish, one stick) 6 bottles of Schnapps, 1 jar of local gin, 5 jars of palm wine,25 pieces of yam,1 tin of palm oil,afang,ikon, mmeme(assorted vegetables), ifia oton and other types of firewood, a bundle of plantain, a piece of wrapper, cartons of beer, crates of softdrinks, Esarisa unen( a special breed of female chicken).
RITUAL OF ‘AWA ODUONGO’
The Awa Oduongo ritual ceremony starts at anytime of the day when the items are brought to the family members. Usually, the groom’s family informs his prospective in-laws when they would be coming in with the items on the list.
On this day, the males in the bride’s family await their arrival by digging a very wide pit at the backyard of the compound where the ceremony is to take place, in preparation of the ritual.
When the groom and his family members arrive, the bride’s parents and kinsmen welcome them and the ritual ceremony commences immediately. The bride and groom are escorted to a spot in the compound where the ritual is to take place usuallythe backyard.
At the spot where the sheep is to be slaughtered, two long sticks named Eto itumo and eto okono are pegged in close proximity to each other, into small dug holes that hold them in place. An odon (woven in form of a mat) is used to cover the two sticks. There would be an opening between the odon to make way for the slaughtering of the sheep.
The bride and groom stand between the odon facing each other and a small hole is dug between them so that the blood of the sheep when slaughtered would be collected in the hole.
After the sheep is slaughtered, incantations are said for the fertility of the bride and prosperity of their family. Then, the person performing the rites dips his hands into the blood of the sheep and smears it on the forehead, breast, navel and abdomen of the intending couple. Prayers are then said to the gods of the land at this point.
While this is going on, the items brought by the groom and his family are prepared and cooked for the celebrations. All the items brought must be cooked and consumed on the same day the ritual takes place. Parents of the bride are forbidden from taking part whatsoever in the eating and drinking that goes on. In fact, they would be given long chewing sticks to chew while they stay and watch the eating and drinking celebrations going on
After the items have been cooked and eaten, the remnants or leftover of the food is emptied into the deep hole that had been dug in the compound, incantations and libations are poured. A curse is placed at this juncture on the head of any partaking family member who decides to use any piece of the ritual performed to perpetrate evil on the family of the bride. This is because, if any item from this ritual erroneously or otherwise finds its way close to any item belonging to the bride’s family, it brings about deaths in the entire family except sacrifices are done to counter or avert such occurrences.
AWA ADIA CEREMONY
The Awa Adia ceremony is essentially for the groom and his prospective in-laws. This ceremony takes place exactly one week after the Awa Oduongo ceremony. At exactly 5a.m on the day of this ceremony, the groom is expected to be at the bride’s family house where different dishes would have been prepared and laid out for the groom and one or two of his family members.
During the breakfast, the bride’s father would take a bite of food and remain same for the groom, drink and remain for the groom from the same cup he drank from. The groom accepts everything offered him at the breakfast table and shows appreciation to his in-laws by thanking them for the kind gesture. After this special breakfast, the groom goes back to prepare with members of his family for the big feast which would take place later in the day in the bride’s family compound.
It is important to mention at this point that, though this ceremony is a very expensive and elaborate one, if not performed, in the event that the lady puts to bed and the mother visits, she would not eat any food her daughter gives her without paying a token amount of money, which interprets that she is paying for the food offered her because this brings about strange illness and eventual death to the mother.
Concession however is given to the poor in the village in that, the groom’s family is permitted to source for the items demanded in bits and pieces so that they too could perform the ritual ceremony.
However, this task, undertaken by this group of people is without its stress and risks because caution must be taken when buying these items that, one is actually buying what is demanded for.
They really are a pitiable sight when spotted at Urua Itam (Itam market) on a given market day. They have to plead with whoever is selling to be sure they are getting for e.g the Erong Anana Nnuk is truly a sheep without horn. Considering this stress and uncertainty, it is always safe for one to go the whole hog when performing this ritual so as to avoid the attendant repercussion that could present itself if a wrong item is bought by way of cutting cost.
This is followed by the marriage proper, which takes place after the final list of items had been presented by the bride’s parents and accepted by the groom’s parents and a date is set for the grand marriage ceremony.
Items required in Ibibioland for the Marriage proper are: White Horse (three-in-one) one bottle, one carton of whisky, 3 cartons of beer, one carton of stout, 2 cartons of wine, 3 crates of soft drinks, 4 bottles of kaikai(local gin), one sheep goat, 3 tails of stockfish, kolanuts, wrapper/hot drink for the mother of bride and N30,000.
Before going to do the marriage, the groom must provide the following to be shown the way to the father-in-law-to be compound.
The next set of items is for the phase of the marriage ceremony called ‘Know the Family’, followed by family marriage items, Village drinks, family women items, father-in-law items, Mother-in-law items and Village youths items etc.
When all these are provided the marriage proper is performed and the man and woman are formally joined as husband and wife and are prayed for.
The piece, which was based on the marriage culture of IKOT Obio Atai in Itu LGA of Akwa Ibom State, was contributed by Mrs. Emem Mfon Ekpoh, a curator with the National Museum and Monuments.