Iku Aka Na Uzo, or Knock on the Door
After the funeral of our beloved nephew Emeka last Saturday in Los Angeles, we stayed in California for another happier engagement.
On Sunday we went to Hemet in a pleasant contrast to the heaviness of the day before. Our daughter Beth came with Clem and me to the “Iku aka na uzo,” or “Knock on the door” ceremony for another nephew.
This traditional ritual is a formal step on the way to marriage. It indicates an agreement between the bride and groom and also between their families.
Clem’s nephew Chidi had arranged for us to come to the home of the parents of his intended bride Nkoli.
Chidi’s father died several years ago, so Clem is the stand-in.
We drove between mountain ranges. Over half the trip was through dry brown scrub-land. We saw a couple of farm stands with strawberries and watermelon. Until then, I couldn’t imagine that anything edible grew in the area.
We were covered by clouds almost all the way there, but the sun came out at the last minute.
The town of Hemet looked like others we’d passed on the way. All of a sudden after miles of nothing but rocks, brown soil, and very few plants, there was a group of modern houses. Several of the towns had a 55+ living community near the center.
When we finally parked in front of the house in Hemet, Chidi and Nkoli came out to greet us and took us in to meet her family.
After exchanging pleasantries, her father provided some history of their family in Onitsha, the largest city in Igbo land. Two sons and his daughter are in the U.S., he said, but one son lives in Onitsha and is in line for a chieftancy.
Traditionally each family would have already learned about the other, and would come to this event with many relatives. But we were in California with few relatives around.
Then it was Clem’s turn. He grew up speaking Igbo, but in public settings he often searches for the right Igbo word and ends up with English. I offered prompts, including the critical reason for our coming – “Anyi na ku aka na uzo, we are here to knock on the door.”
The meaning? “We have come to ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage to our son.”
Nkoli’s Role in “Knock on the Door”
The father then he called his daughter who had stayed out of the room. He told her about the request, which of course was not news to her!
But she had to say whether she agreed.
How? He instructed her to kneel beside his chair. Beth made a video.
You can see Nkoli on her knees. This ceremony, to knock on the door, would traditionally be done with palm wine, and in the long ago days, the container for the drink would be a cow’s horn.
Nkoli doesn’t drink alcohol, so her father poured a cup of cider. Watch closely and you’ll see him drizzle a few drops on the floor, or at least pretend to.
Igbo custom demands that a ceremonial drink be offered to the ancestors first. It should be poured on the ground where the ancestors are.
Then he handed her the cup and said in Igbo, “Take this cup of cider. Go see if there is man here you like, kneel before him, take a sip of the drink, and give him the rest to finish.”
We had told him to duck behind the couch so she had to look a little!
Amidst a lot of laughter, she found him, knelt in front of him, and performed her part of the ceremony.
The couple, Chidi and Nkoli, stood in front of us together while we applauded.
I was surprised that her father repeated the ceremony with Chidi given the glass. This was new to me; I’d never seen the man asked to seek out his bride and kneel before her. Perhaps it’s an Onitsha custom. I like it!
We were given a delicious lunch of pounded yam and egusi soup – the best I’ve had in ages!
And then Clem and I had to drive right back to Los Angeles airport to head home. Beth went with Patience, a cousin who had come for the ceremony, back to see the bereaved mother and sister again before flying home that night.
NAIRA to Float
Clem and I were barely listening to NPR playing in the background when I heard, “And now for some important economic news from Africa.” I guessed it would be Nigeria. I was right!
So we listened.
We learned that Buhari has at last agreed to unpeg the Naira from its unrealistic 199 to the dollar. He wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal to explain his decision, the reporter told us. I’d missed this news!
I’m glad – it’s long overdue. The change takes place on Monday, June 20.
My sister had sent me an article over a week ago from her Cincinnati Enquirer. I learned from that what I heard again on NPR today: United Airlines was ending its nonstop flights to Lagos from Houston at the end of June. Part of their reason has been the inability to transfer foreign currency. This meant that the revenue from ticket sales in Nigeria was stuck in the country.
I wonder if they’ll change their decision now. It wasn’t clear from the NPR broadcast whether it will be easier to remit foreign exchange, but with the Naira floating, it should be.