Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Igbo Marriage Rites Full of Tradition, Modified!

Chidi’s Igbo Marriage

Igbo marriage rites were in full swing when my husband Clem went to Hemet, California, for the wedding of his nephew Chidi.

Other African customs were in play too. Clem’s younger brother Godwin, Chidi’s dad, died a few years ago. So Clem is the stand-in father. As he said, “I have no choice. I have to go!”

Would that be a requirement, not an option, for the oldest American uncle if his brother had passed on?

Clem and I, with our daughter Beth, had gone to the earlier Igbo marriage event, Iku Aka Na Uzo, or knocking on the door, in June. That’s when the bride ‘accepts’ her groom.

Igbo marriage. Chidi and his bride at traditional ceremony

Igbo marriage. Chidi and his bride dressed for the traditional ceremony Igba Nkwu.

The traditional Igbo marriage itself is called Igba Nkwu – carrying palm wine. Clem traveled Thursday to make sure he wouldn’t miss the September 9 event in Hemet, California on Friday afternoon.

The bride’s father and uncle had given the groom Chidi a list of requirements. It’s called “Inu-mmanya by Onitsha Non-Indegene, Requirements in accordance with marriages and other customary matters in Onitsha.”

This modern manifestation of the traditional bride price filled one and a half pages, with nineteen different recipients, each with specified gifts. Clem says some of the items, and the title, are in “Onitsha Igbo.” It is a different dialect from his own town’s Igbo. We say nkwu for palm wine, though we also use their word mmanya.

Coming into reception as part of Igbo marriage

Coming into reception as part of Igbo marriage

Most of the gifts are bottles of gin or Schnapps, pots of palm wine, kola nuts, Star beer, and cash.

Number 12, “Ekene Idu Nata Uno,” specifies “Four heads of tobacco” along with four pots of palm wine, 120 kola nuts, and 200 Naira. I’m guessing these are gifts to be taken to those who stayed at home. If I’m wrong, maybe one of you can correct me!

The Umunna – the primary unit of an Igbo man’s identity on his father’s side – get specific gifts, as do the Umunne, the mother’s lineage group.

For each gift the Naira cash value is given. Particularly when the Igbo marriage is taking place in the U.S., cash is perfectly acceptable. It would after all be difficult if not impossible to secure palm wine, kola nuts, and Star beer in the vicinity of Hemet, California.

At the event, Clem tells me, the hosts, that is, the bride’s family, served kola and drinks, and then a meal. After that, Chidi presented his gifts, all in cash. It must have been close to 100,000 Naira, or around $400.

Celebrating Igbo marriage at the reception

Daughter Beth on left, with cousin Nonso on right, and Nonso’s daughter

I recall a list nearly as extensive from our son Sam’s in-laws when we held his traditional wedding to Onome.

Our daughter Beth flew from Philadelphia for the ‘white’ wedding on Saturday and the reception that followed. She said, “Daddy and I got there just before 2 pm, the time on the invitation. But no one was around!” Sounds like an Igbo marriage!

The wedding began closer to 3, and the reception followed. Beth said there was lots of dancing but no speeches. Clem didn’t even get a chance to deliver the words of wisdom he’d prepared!

President Buhari at UN

The UN General Assembly opened today September 19 with a focus on refugees and migrants. President Buhari took his place with other heads of state for today’s session.

As planned, the General Assembly approved the declaration which had been prepared over the last many months. It’s called the New York Declaration.

According to Nigeria’s Channels TV, “Highlights of the New York Declaration are commitments to protect the human rights of all refugees and migrants, regardless of status. This includes the rights of women and girls and promoting their full, equal and meaningful participation in finding solutions.”

Ensuring access to education for refugee children and ending xenophobia are major parts of the declaration.

Meanwhile, it seems that President Buhari’s speech writer recently fell into a similar trap as Trump’s!

President Buhari at end of his first year

President Buhari at end of his first year

The occasion was a speech on September 8 when Buhari began a campaign, “Change Begins With Me.”

“The campaign promotes a new way of thinking to rid Nigeria of widespread corruption,” the Associated Press said in a report from NBC News.

“Buhari said, ‘We must resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship, pettiness and immaturity that have poisoned our country for so long. Let us summon a new spirit of responsibility, spirit of service, of patriotism and sacrifice. Let us all resolve to pitch in and work hard and look after, not only ourselves, but one another.'”

And what had Obama said in his victory speech in 2008? “So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other. … Let us resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.”

Buhari and Obama will meet in New York on Tuesday for conversation about Boko Haram and the Nigerian economy. On Wednesday Buhari will participate in U.S.-Nigeria trade talks. Let’s hope for success in all his meetings. More trade would be good, as would more assistance with defeating Boko Haram.

Peace Corps Beyond

I think I told you Clem and I are going to Washington DC for Peace Corps Beyond, the gathering of former Peace Corps volunteers. I’m mentioning it again to say it’s quite possible there will be no post, or a very brief one, on Sept. 23, the next Afo.

Meanwhile enjoy the first week of autumn in our northern hemisphere.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Loved the wedding report (and dancing). As you may remember, our son, Jeremy was married 11 years ago in Hemet at an old stagecoach stop which was converted to a wedding venue. Much fun. The pictures, garb, and gifts reminded me a little of our experiences when our son, Ben married Pooja, of Indian background. Lots of dancing, but speeches, as well!!

    I look forward to your blog!

    • Thanks, Nancy! I appreciate being reminded of your connection to Hemet and to non-American wedding rites. Now we’re in DC for a few days of Peace Corps connections. Going to speak at a panel on memoir writing in an hour!