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Glamourous Marriage Traditions Of The Borno People



Marriage traditions in Nigeria cuts across the various states qnd differs. In Borno, GABRIEL ATUMEYI examines the culture of marriages as it relates to the Babur’s, Shuwa’s among others.

Borno state is home to a rich variety of culture and wedding traditions that span hundreds of years. Inspite of modernisation, these people have clung to their cultural traditions, notable amongst them are the Babur’s, the Shuwa Arabs and the Kanuri’s.

Investigations carried out by LEADERSHIP Sunday reveals that although these three tribes have shown similar characteristics in terms of the process and ways by which they conduct marriages, the Babur’s showed a marked difference while both the Shuwa Arabs and the Kanuri’s display a certain similarity. While the Barbur are a mixture of Christians and Muslims, the Shuwa’s and the Kanuri’s are exclusively Muslims.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday about the Babur’s  marriage process, one Yusuf Sunday, a civil servant who works with the National Population Commission and hails from Biu, explains that in Babur’s traditional wedding culture, when you see a girl you are interested in, you begin a friendship with the said girl and in the process begin to inquire about her, without letting her know. You inquire about her from her friends and neighbours. Again, the eligible young man could send an elderly man from among his kinsmen to inquire about the girl’s background. Whether they are bedevilled by any curse or whether they are notoriously troublesome in their family.

If the inquiry proves to be satisfactory, the prospective young man will then select a group of about three men and two women to pay a courtesy visit to the damsel’s parents. Then they will intimate her parents or relatives of their son’s intention. The man is then asked if he has been having an affair or friendship with their daughter. If the reply is in the affirmative. They will then send for the girl to see whether she will corroborate the man’s statement.

Usually the girl will reply that ‘he told me he wanted to meet my parents.’ They will ask her if she loves him and if the answer is in the affirmative, then comes the exchange of pleasantries. Subsequently, the man will select three or four of his friends including himself, a date is fixed for the visit of the prospective groom with these selected friends, it is called “Yuyma”. On the date of the visit, the girl’s parents and family will prepare to meet the august visitors. And subsequently the prospective groom with his friends will engage in a series of pleasant conversations with the household.

Before leaving they are expected to propose to the girl’s family, a date for their people, (relatives) to visit and acquaint themselves with the girl’s relatives, this is usually called “Dlu Kusar”. This follow up activity of the boy’s relatives, will be composed of elderly people, male and female. At this gathering the visitors will be warmly entertained with soft drinks, biscuits and kolanuts. Then the engagement is announced if the meeting of both families is satisfactory. This is called “Mbwa Nyika”.

In terms of wedding gifts, there is usually no specific dowry to be paid. One can pay anything depending on his means and the offer of the girl’s parents. Out of the dowry he is expected to pay, the girl’s parents would remove a fraction and return the rest to the groom. If for example he pays the sum of ten thousand naira, the parent may remove one thousand and return the rest to the intending groom. Sometimes the bride’s parents may choose not to collect anything at all as dowry.

Afterwards, a list is given to the groom but it is not compulsory that he must buy every item on the list. He is given the option of buying only what is within his means in the proposed list. It is said that if the bride to be, if the girl is truly in love with the person, she will beat down the price that is expected to be disbursed. The husband to be will then proceed to buy the items in the wish list, which includes wrappers, jewelleries, and several pairs of shoes.

After buying the  aforementioned luggage, it is transported to the bride’s family compound by the groom’s cousins and female relatives usually in several boxes filled with possession and paraphernalia. Depending on the list, then a date for the wedding will be fixed, both parties will then hold a send forth for their own usually in their family compound. Before the date of the wedding, both couples will have to go for HIV/AIDS Test as well as pregnancy test. However these are considered as modern practices. Since the Babur people are both Christians and Muslims, the final wedding rites will take place according to the dictates of their  respective religion. In the Muslim case it involves events like Walima and Fatiha while for Christians, it involves a church wedding and a reception aftermath.

On the other hand, the Shuwa Arabs of the same State have a much more different wedding culture from the Babur’s but akin to that of the Kanuri people.

Marriages among the Shuwa Arab nomads could be very interesting because the parents usually choose spouses for their children. Parents start searching for a companion to their sons before they attain the age of maturity. The same applies to the females. Matches are made between relatives, particularly between cousins and social equals.  Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday, Mahmud Jiddah a Shuwa Arab, who resides in Mabuchi area of Abuja and works at one of the LEA schools gave an inside account into the Shuwa Arab marriage process, saying, the path to marriage hood usually starts with the groom identifying the girl he wants to marry.

He will then send representatives to come and talk with the father of the girl. If the father agrees, he will then confront her and if she consents to the idea, a dowry is set between the representatives of both parties. If the girl is pretty, the dowry is usually twelve pieces of gold coins and if she is average, just four pieces of gold coin.

And because gold has a universal value and its exchange rate is stable and harmonised throughout the world and for most times, the bride price dowry of a Shuwa woman is therefore tied to gold and thus she is always justly valued.

However the prospective groom may choose to meet up if he is financially capable or decide to renegotiate until an agreement is reached. If an agreement is reached a date for the wedding is fixed and usually takes a period of about six months, more or less. In the interim, the parent of the prospective bride will keep reiterating on the fulfillment of the pledge. Then preparation is put in full gear, money is usually demanded from the husband to be, to get the bride ready and for the occasion.

Before the wedding there is what is called “Wushewushe” which is usually a visit by the groom and his friends to the bride’s family. There they are hosted with drinks, food and other forms of entertainment including dancing. On the wedding morning a time is fixed for prayers, to solemnised the wedding, which is called “Fatiha”,  which is an Islamic wedding rite. After the “Fatiha” the groom with his family members and well wishers will go to the bride’s family house to appreciate and celebrate with them. Then a time is fixed for the groom to come and take his bride. When he goes to collect his bride at the appointed time he is usually prevented from doing so by the bride’s relatives.

So the groom will have to induce them financially in order to be able to leave with his wife, this payment is called “Sadaki”.  The bride’s relatives will then follow the new couples to their home and stay with them for a period of seven days before departing.

Also speaking to LEADERSHIP newspaper, one Yusuf Adamu an Engineer with a construction firm in Maiduguri, said, when you see a girl you like,  you go over to her and make a formal introduction, then you go over to her father and tell him you are interested in his daughter. It’s easy if he knows your family and likes them and if he doesn’t know them, he does a background check about you, nobody wants to give his daughter to someone without a background. He should at least have a job and a house, if he can maintain her. If everything is well he tells you to go and call your people so that we can discuss on issues.

So you inform your people and fix a date for both families to meet and deliberate on the bride prize or dowry payment and payment of “Kayan toshi”. The normal price for any Shuwa girl is twelve golden coins, but if you are not buoyant enough you negotiate, and ask  to  pay a lesser amount of gold coins  and once it is agreed, the man will have to provide it. Each gold coin is about 35,000 naira or more depending on the international market price.  Then you discuss the “Kayan toshi”. The “Kayan toshi” is like a box or bag of clothes, wears and cosmetics that an intending groom gives the damsel he intends to marry after a declaration of interest. It is somewhat similar to the “Kayan lefe” but is a smaller version. Usually just to show commitment. When you bring the gold coins and the “Kayan toshe”. Then you fix a date for the wedding. Which is usually after some weeks or months, whatever the two families are comfortable with.

Then the man embarks on getting all the necessary things for the bride to be, which includes what is known as ‘Kayan mama,’  that is things for the bride’s mum. Then there is ‘Kayan huwa,’ which is for the brides step-mom, then there is ‘Kayan takwara’, , then there is ‘Kayan mutanen baya’, which in English means things for back people, which is usually for the bride’s aunties and grandmother.

In most cases they demand twenty wrappers for the Kayan mutanen baya. Each of this kaya’s “things” have a bag or is delivered in a bag.

Also, the groom will have to provide what is called ‘Kayan lele de chinchin’. This is another amount to be paid, it is usually fixed by the bridal party. The groom to be, will also have to provide ‘Kayan kenshi’ which is known as ‘Tularen wuta’, which is a kind of stick burning perfume,  used in smoking up bride’s to be family house to provide a pleasant scent.  Usually the price is about fourthy or fifthy thousand naira or what the groom can negotiate to afford.

Subsequently, on the day of the wedding after the wedding “Fatiha” has been concluded, after about six  or seven hours the groom will go to collect his wife at her family house, but he will not be allowed to carry her until he pays a certain sum of money to the women who will escort the newly wedded bride home. This is called “Sadaki”, this party of escort is usually composed of the bride’s friends and relatives.

The Kanuri in the marriage culture bears the closest resemblance with the  Shuwa Arabs particularly giving their historical entanglement  in the karnen borno empire

According to one Alhaji modu sule, a clothe dealer in Maiduguri, Marriage in the kanuri culture is considered a sacred union between a man and a woman, so for the Kanuri’s it is done at an early age. The men marry in their twenties and the girls in their teens. As For men, their first contact with marriage usually takes place at age of about 20, when according to tradition his parents would marry a young maiden to him; the bride is often between the age of 10 to 14 years. Among the Kanuris, it is preferred for a young man marrying for the very first time to marry a young virgin. So that they can grow old gracefully together, but it is a very expensive form of marriage. The girls of this age have very little, if any, to say in their choice of marital partners, for the suitor to be acceptable to her parents, he must either be a relative, or have been known by her family, or has established some kind of relationship with one member of her extended family or has taken the trouble to create one between his own family and hers, especially her “Luwali”  i.e. guardian, the man who dispenses her marriage rights.

After the groom-to-be has established trust and acceptance between him and her family, the next step would be for him to intimate his parents so that arrangements would be made by them to formalize his interest in the bride, thus officially declaring his intention. Here, an elderly man or men from the groom’s side would go and seek for an appointment for a meeting between the two families. Subsequent to which the wedding procedures are planned.

This again involves presenting another set of candy, chewing gum and kola-nuts to break the engagement news. And it is worthy to note that at most times the Ra’aki is a half of the Kususuram which is the main gifts presented to the bride by the groom after the marriage. Thus if the Ra’aki is two boxes then the Kususuram will be four or more boxes. Ra’aki meaning “Declaration of Interest” is a phase where luggage full of clothes, shoes, bags and cosmetics are presented on behalf of the groom to the bride. This task is usually executed by the groom’s sisters, female cousins and other relatives.The third coming by the groom’s relatives is to discuss and agree on the dowry which in Kanuri society is also paid in gold coins.  The fourth coming is to fix the date for the wedding, even though in recent times the dowry and the date fixing are merged as one event.

In Kanuri marriages dowry is mandatory, which is given by the groom with the help of his paternal relatives to the girl through her Luwali or guardian, usually a senior male paternal relative of the bride. If the union is between a non-cousin and a maiden bride, a preliminary payment the Kwororam (literally meaning payment for asking the bride’s hand in marriage), is given to the luwali by an intermediary from the groom. This payment is passed on to the bride’s mother or her mother’s senior female relatives living close by. The bride might also get a gift for herself. In the case of a marriage between cousins, this payment is not applicable.

The reason being that for such a marriage to be conducted within a family, it has since been established and is only waiting for the time of its execution. During courtship, money and gifts could be given to the proposed bride, if marriage takes place such presents are considered as part of good will from the groom to his bride. Such presents are not returned whether the marriage takes or not, most especially in a marriage to a virgin.

If all goes well with the above mentioned steps, the dowry can either be paid immediately during the third coming or it could be paid one to three months later to the bride’s Luwali. Due to the fact that son-in-law has a shame-avoidance relationship with his bride’ luwali, intermediaries are used and haggling is permitted in the situation. It is not always easy to assess the exact point at which either party to an engagement has legal claims upon the marriage intentions of the other. Most times it is agreed that any initiatory payments given prior to the big payment to the girl’s parents or guardian are not returnable if arrangements break down at this stage. The luwaliram is returnable if the girl or her family back out of the agreement.

As regards the wedding, the main activities start on Thursday with Lalle. Lalle is used by the bride and other females in attendance to decorate their hands and legs. This signifies the opening of the wedding events. Here, sack or sacks of henna leaves, boxes full of cloth, money, kolanut, candy, chewing gum and a large basin full of items which include soaps, slippers, perfumes, and incense popularly known asTuraren wuta and Humra will be given to the brides aunties from her father’s side [bawaa] where they will sort it out and exchange it with the grooms family, thereafter they will share the remaining items among themselves.

Friday evening (at 7pm prompt) is the Wushe-wushe night, which means welcome to everyone. This is a very colorful and exciting event that takes place on the eve of the wedding day at the bride’s family compound and has in attendance the fathers, mothers, aunties, uncles, friends and well wishers.  Here the groom will be accompanied in by his friends and relatives where he sits on a make shift throne along side with his bride after she is also accompanied in with her friends and relatives.

There is a lot of traditional music and dance especially the gangakuraa which is performed by everybody, including the aged. The groom to be is accompanied by his friends and relatives. Wushe-wushe is the second most entertaining event after the entire wedding. It is the gala night of the celebrations and last through night till dawn.

Saturday is the D-Day. Usually in the morning between 7-11am the groom with his friends, relatives and well-wishers converge at a meeting point, from where they go to the bride’s residence for the Wedding Fatiha. Here an Imam (Islamic scholar) will preside and conduct the rites of marriage involving offer and acceptance of the bride’s hand in marriage by her Luwalis, which means groom to be, followed by the announcement of the dowry paid, witnesses to the nuptial union, offers prayers/supplications and finally declaring them as husband and wife in front of all as witnesses. Immediately after the Wedding Fatiha, the bride’s family tends to reciprocate the grooms effort by also presenting him with gift of cloth, shoes, perfumes, wrist watches, the holy book, kettle and lots more. It is this gift the groom shares among his friends, sort of a thank you for being there for me.

Also, from there the groom and his people return to a reception that follows immediately. The whole day is usually filled with joy, feasting and merry-making; until 2:00pm when preparations are made by the groom’s family to take the “Kususuram” to the bride’s residence. The Kususuram is the main gift the groom presents to the bride from the grooms family, just like the Ra’aki it also comes in luggages, but more than the ra’aki, usually from three (3) upwards depending on the financial status of the groom.

Later in the evening the grooms relative and friends will come over to pick up the bride where she will be accompanied by her family members to her husband’s house because in Kanuri culture the bride is not suppose to sleep in her father’s house after the wedding fatiha or on the day of the Wedding Fatiha. Sunday morning which is the penultimate event is Kisailewa meaning “Greeting of in-laws”. Here, the groom and selected friends of his go to greet his in-laws, which gives the bride’s parents an opportunity to advice the groom about being patient and tolerant with his new bride and so on.



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