Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Mother of the Bride

Mother of the Bride

My friend and blog reader J. wrote with a question. Her daughter is getting married in Nigeria to a Nigerian man.

J. was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria and married a Nigerian. But instead of living in Nigeria as I did, she and her husband lived in the U.S. where their children grew up. We met them a few years ago at a Peace Corps reunion.

She said, “What do I need to know to be mother of the bride?”

My husband says, “Tell her to have fun! She should relax and enjoy herself.”

I agree. And I’m sure she will.

But I want to tell her about two customs she will probably encounter.

First is the sharing of palm wine. And I’ll explain it with my own story. Although Clem and I did this before our wedding, nowadays it is often done at the reception.

My husband's send-off party 1952

My husband’s send-off party 1952, long before we met. Clem near center, next to his father.

The Palm-Wine Ceremony

When Clement and I visited his parents a month before our wedding, his father insisted on my signifying my agreement to marry his son.

Papa, as I already called my future father-in-law, asked me to take a cup of palm wine. He said I should kneel in front of Clement, my husband-to-be, sip the palm wine, and pass the cup to him. I hesitated, not keen to kneel in front of any man!

But I did as asked. I took the cup, rose from my seat and knelt in front of Clem. I took my one sip, held the cup out to him, and observed him while he polished off the remainder of the drink.

He looked a little sheepish. Though he had grown up in Igbo villages and towns, he was not much more familiar with Igbo marriage customs than I was. When he had left for England at the age of 22, his friends had not yet started marrying. He’d returned just a year before I came to Nigeria, and hadn’t been asked to accompany friends to wine-carrying ceremonies or traditional weddings where palm wine is an integral part of sealing the pact between families. We were learning together.

Palm wine in the traditional bowl and a modern glass

Palm wine in the traditional bowl and a modern glass

Acceptance of My Husband

He returned the cup to me. I rose and gave it back to Papa who had the biggest smile on his face that I had ever seen. When I saw how much pleasure my simple act had given him, I was happy that I had obeyed without his noticing my brief reluctance.

It wasn’t difficult to see what it was it was supposed to mean – I was accepting Clem as my husband and master, and I would serve him.

Forget about the master part, I thought, but yes, I was certainly accepting him as my husband. I expected to be in charge of the kitchen and servants, planning meals and supervising their preparation, so I figured that could count as serving him.

I knew Papa was disappointed that he couldn’t meet my parents before the wedding which would take place in Lagos a month later.

An Igbo marriage is between two families, not just two people. Traditionally there is a series of meetings, not just a one day or one afternoon event. Yet Papa had only me and only this day before the formal wedding in Lagos.

He was making do with the palm wine ceremony, a symbol that the families are joined.

I have sees this ceremony twice recently at wedding receptions. I suspect that’s what my friend’s daughter and husband-to-be will choose to do too.

Usually there is an added twist. The bride has to search for her groom among the wedding guests who try to conceal him, leading to lots of shouting and laughter.

This as an Igbo custom, but I know it is practiced in nearby areas too. It was done when our son married an Urhobo woman.

Dancing and Spraying

My friend should also be prepared for dancing. This song was popular at weddings a few years ago. It has a great beat.

There will be the formal bride’s dance with her most senior male relative. But there may also be dancing by the women of the groom’s family.

She herself, the bride’s mother, will certainly be invited to dance with her daughter, with the groom, and with others.

The bride herself and her mother will be honored with gifts of money. The money comes in the form of “spraying.”

Guests and family members will throw money or stick money to their foreheads. Someone will follow them around to collect the money and give it to them when the dance is done!

Recent Wedding in the U.S. 

In the Sunday Style Section of The New York Times there is usually one wedding featured. Two weeks ago it was an American woman who married a Nigerian man.

The story was charming. The couple is working hard to “forge a modern relationship using their own rules,” the writer said.

Australian Woman Shot in Minneapolis

An Australian (white) woman was shot and killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

An article in VOX online put into words what I had thought. We respond differently when a white woman is killed by police than when a Black man is killed by police.

“The difference in reaction is alarming. But it’s not unexpected,” the article says. “The research suggests much of America really does react differently to tragedies involving white victims than black ones. We are seeing that play out in real time in the response to Damond’s death.”

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.

One Comment

  1. “Lets see if this makes it, that was a great writing, really enjoyed it, much more down to earth, different than other blogs that you say ‘I suspect the two Beths skim over the articles!!'” This came from my sister Beth who has tried many times to enter comments on the blog itself. They’ve never made it to me. So she sent this as a reply to my email instead.

    Thanks, Beth!