Updated: 5 days ago
Editor's Note: This blog is part of a larger blog series titled "From Nigeria," which was organized by Applied Worldwide contributor and correspondent Adamu Usman Garko.
The place of history in understanding the rites and traditions of the Idoma people cannot be overemphasized. The Idoma people inhabit the lower western areas of Benue State, Nigeria, and kindred groups can also be found in Cross Rivers State, Enugu State, Kogi State and Nasarawa State in Nigeria, with a few number of them in other parts of the country. They are known with Idoma language which is classified in the Akweya subgroup of the Idomoid languages of the Volta–Niger family, which include Alago, Agatu, Etulo, Ete and Yala languages of Benue, Nasarawa, Kogi and Northern Cross River states.
As it is generally known in most cultural groups in Nigeria, traditional marriage is believed to be an arrangement between two families rather than an arrangement between two individuals. The Idoma people isn't an exception, although they differ. Marriage in Idoma land is considered to be a lifelong state of union, although divorce is possible only on thee grounds of Infidelity.
Unlike other groups in Nigeria, the Idoma people have a well-planned structure of marriage. Once an Idoma man is about twenty-five years old and has the financial and physical capability to carry the burden of a wife and children, he is expected to look for a woman of his choice, who must be at least eighteen years old. Thereafter he informs his family of his desire, and then the parent embark on a go-between strategy.
Th go-between activity investigates the family of the prospective bride to understand that the family has no history of mental disease, epilepsy, stealing traits etc. If the result of this investigation is positive, the prospective groom's family visits the woman's family with gifts of kola nut and hot drinks. After the first visit, another visit is scheduled for the woman to meet her future husband, after which a final visit is scheduled for the future groom and his family to pay the bride-price and offer other gifts.
The bride-price comes in many folds, the groom must pay a dowry first to the bride’s mother and then another dowry to the father; this involves a significant amount of bargaining. Also every member of the bride’s mother’s family must be given money, with the groom’s family determining the amount. The bride’s age group and her more distant relatives also get some money; the amount paid varies according to bride’s level of education and productivity. Then the groom’s family gives the bride a rooster and some money.
If she accepts these gifts and gives them to her mother, she indicates her acceptance of the groom, but if she refuses, she signifies her refusal. If she accepts him, she is showered with gifts and money, and the two families eat and drink together. Before the bride is finally handed over to her husband, however, her age group will pose as a mock barrier to those who want to take her and extort money from the anxious groom’s family. The bride’s mother buys her cooking utensils and food because she is not expected to go to the market for the first five market days after her marriage. At the end of the eating and drinking, the wife is finally handed over to her husband’s family.
As part of the rites, the virginity of the girl is also considered as part of the processes. It is highly valued not only for the Idoma people, but for most cultures in Nigeria, it is a thing of pride and joy to a girl's family. For the Idoma people, if eventually a bride is found not to be a virgin, she is taken to the husband's family ancestral shrine for cleansing. After this the Ije is put on her to invoke fertility on her. This marks the beginning of married life among the Idoma tribe.
Beside the beautiful wedding rites of the Idoma people, they are also full of traditions. As it is obviously known, tradition is an identity and it distinguishes a group of people from others. Traditions distinguish human from animals. Without doubt, the traditions of Idoma people is one of the endowed pillars that both keeps Idoma alive and shows their unique identity.
Starting with the traditional colours and food of the Idoma people, the traditional colours of the people are red and black stripes. This has only been around since the 1980s to foster a distinct Idoma identity. And for the food, the Idoma people are known for their love of food, as there is an annual food festival in Benue State to celebrate women and the various traditional cuisines. Most popular among their delicacies is the Okoho soup which is made with the peculiar Okoho plant, bush meat and many other ingredients.
But that is not enough, the Idoma people also have their traditional dance. They are known for their proficiency in different scintillating and beautiful cultural dances. The most famous traditional dance of the Idoma people is known as Ogirinya dance. It is a highly energetic dance that requires jumping (at regular intervals) on the toes in short period of time. And talking about the tradition of religion of the Idoma people, they differ from many other groups in the country.
With the advent of Christianity, Islam, and other foreign religions, the traditional belief systems of most ethnic groups in the country has been influenced by western practices. However, a majority of the Idoma people still believe strongly in the Alekwu, which is seen as the ancestral spirits—a link between the living and the dead.
The Idoma people also, as part of their traditions, host an annual ‘Aje Alekwu’ festival where traditional religious practitioners commune and make sacrifices in worship of their ancestors across the land. The Idomas have strong attachment to the Alekwu—spirit of the ancestors which is believed to stand as an invisible watchdog of the family and communities while checkmating vices like adultery, theft and murder.
It is without doubt that the wedding rites and traditions of the Idoma people is one to enjoy and even emulate from, considering their fundamental relevance in Nigeria.
Aisha Khalid is an aspiring doctor and writer of cultures by hobby. She hopes to use her powerful pen to effect change in the world.