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Marriage in Yoruba Culture

Marriage is one of the oldest institutions among Yoruba, it marks the end and the beginning of a new era between two different individuals, who agreed to live together, and through their union creates everlasting friendship between homes of their birth.

In times past, marriage matters were never left in the hands of prospective couples, rather, families’ affairs. Several steps were required before marriage could be consummated, although, things have really changed; yet, some of these steps are still valid and observed in a marriage journey by couples, because of their cultural relevance.

Steps In Marriage:

Search for spouse initiated by males (Ifojusode), Wall-scratching time (Idẹgiri), Acceptance /Voice-opening (Iṣiun), Family soliciting (Itọrọ), Betrothal (Idana), Marriage proper and bride hand-over (Igbeyawo) Search for spouse begins with a man, when he is of age. The potential groom begins visiting night market, local streams (where laundry is done, mostly by maidens), Public Square, female centers.

Another search method is through friends, who have female siblings. Also, through potential groom sisters, these individuals serve as-go-between-brother-and-female friend.

At times, parents do the search, by looking out for a well-behaved child from a reputable home; and sometimes, in order to create lasting friendship, parents arrange for a union between their wards.

Regardless of the search method, should a suitable spouse be found, the male child will tell his father.

The male spouse continues his visits to the lady (to seek consent); the lady as it were without a word may have agreed, but still playing hide game (Idẹgiri). At this time, the lady never look at her would-be-spouse face, rather, she keeps looking on the floor or wall-scratching; probably in the presence of a chaperone.

The next marriage step is, “Iṣiun” meaning “I have accepted your proposal” after many visits to the prospective bride home, exchange personal of gifts. At this time, all family members of the lady have known their future son-in-law, background search on character, family reputation is already done and known. The lady feels it is time to consent, and move the relationship further after seeking parental advice and blessing on the matter.

When the lady agrees, marriage journey moves to the fourth and most important level “Itọrọ” that is soliciting for the prospective wife from father’s house. This stage in marriage steps is undertaken by the most senior males in the two houses, if the requests are granted, then the groom’s family moves to the next crucial stage of marriage called Betrothals (Idana), the second to the last leg in a Yoruba marriage.

Idana is the first public request of a female child, for hands in marriage from her father’s house. At this occasion, items of both spiritual and social values are presented to the bride’s family. These items are:

Honey (Oyin) – a bottle of wild honey, the symbolic value of this item is that, couple’s life will be sweet like honey; and be blessed with promising children.

Alligator Pepper (Atare) it comes in a pod with multiple seed, it symbolizes blessing, healthy and prosperous children for the couple.

Ground-nut Cake (Adun) – it is a local cake made from ground nut; it signifies sweetness, blessing and prosperous future for the couple and their children.

Local wine (Ọti-Ṣẹkẹtẹ) – this represents water, which is life, treasured for its multiple use. Since no one ever dislikes and speaks evil of water, so the couple will live a peaceful life, free from hate and dislike.

Kola-nut (Obi-Abata with four halves, 42 or 100 pieces; in some cases it can more) – Kola-nut has several social and spiritual values in Yoruba land, when it comes to marriage, it symbolizes fertility. The kola-nut brought on this day will be used to pray for the fruit of belly.


Bitter-nut (Orogbo, 42 pieces; in some cases it can be more) represents old age, prosperity and trouble-free world; this means, the couple will live a long life in good health, and see generations of their children.

Palm oil (Epo-pupa) it has several uses, one of which is the antidotal value. The palm oil suggests that, no evil will befall, or over-reach the couple.

Salt (Iyọ) is used as a preservative and as a sweetner; symbolically, salt in the life of the couple will represent joy and trouble-free life.

Yam (between 30 and 100 tubers) this will depend on the status, wealth of the groom’s family.

Prayers are said by families and other well-wishers. The ceremony legitimizes the couple’s relationship, and at this point, none of the party without a well-founded reason can back out of the relationship.

The final step in marriage is the solemnization of the couple in the presence of all families and well wishers (Igbeyawo). On this day, the bride is told the simple truth about her new, and permanent home. As a home-school where she will never graduate (ile-eko); she will be advised and counseled on how to live, and to care for her husband, and her relationship with other family members. The husband is advised on how to be a good provider, a kind, loving and caring husband. The ceremony is concluded with prayers, bride is handed over to the most senior male in groom’s family.

Source & Written By: Raymond Agbaje

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