These days, technology and social media networks have made the task of wooing a woman much easier. What means did I employ to secure the attention and love of my future wife? We pick up the story from where we left off in Part 1. Enjoy it!

She had actually come to the school where I was teaching at the time to write her Senior Secondary School Certificate examination. The moment I saw her, I knew (or maybe I wished) that one day we would be more to each other than teacher and student. She was beautiful and neat, and turned out to be humble and diligent as well. She was always studying. I noticed that she would rather go to the uncompleted school block to read at break time than go about chattering like most of her school mates.  I took advantage of every opportunity to help her with her school work, especially English Language, which I was teaching at the time. Maybe I deliberately created a few of those opportunities, but I always knew where to draw the line.

She was beautiful, neat, humble and diligent

The big opportunity came when she completed her examination at the school. I was in charge of writing testimonials for the school leavers. The principal gave me that responsibility partly because of what he saw as my ‘beautiful handwriting’. I promptly wrote her testimonial and made it my duty to personally deliver it to her father. I didn’t need Sherlock Holmes to help me figure out where she lived. (Perhaps I should have started a courier service or a detective agency long ago!)

Her father was quite receptive and appreciative. I praised his daughter even beyond the epithets already embedded in the testimonial. Her father asked me a few personal questions such as, “Where are you from; how is your family; are you married?” Etc, etc.

I doubt whether I heard all his questions that day because I was peeping from the corners of my eyes at his daughter, who looked even more beautiful in the simple flowered dress she was wearing. To cut a long story short, her father thanked me again and told me to feel free to come to the house anytime to say hello. (“You can say that again man, you can say that again,” was all that I was thinking).

That was the beginning of a friendship with her father, which I cherished, but which was cut short because he died rather early. For some reason, he appeared to have so much confidence in me that he did not mind his daughter visiting me. Thank God I did not disappoint him. He later told me one day how he hated men trying to sneak behind parents’ backs to lure their daughters into unholy affairs. He made it clear to me, without actually saying so, that he knew the motive behind my bringing her daughter’s testimonial to him was not purely that of a Good Samaritan. But he appreciated the fact that I penetrated his stronghold through the front door.

Our relationship, even after I married his daughter, grew beyond that of in-laws. There was no time I came to the house that he would not look for something to give to me from his garden; be it a stunted tuber of yam, a ripe or even unripe fruit; anything, just so that he gave me something. Sometimes, when I offered him money, especially in those days when I was still a teacher, he would turn it down, saying that I earned too little to have enough to give away.

The same thing happened during the bride price negotiations, which I’m sure Papa has not forgotten. The negotiation team on our side returned with a report that after the elders on the other side had agreed on the bride price, they went to consult him for his approval. He told them that he was not selling his daughter and insisted on only twenty naira as bride price.

Her uncles put their heads together to decide what the bride price should be

But that was as far as his authority could go in matters related to traditional marriage procedures and conventions, most of which are backed up by financial expenses. For instance, the list of items to be provided for the clansmen and women is non-negotiable. The list includes but is not limited to tubers of yam, cartons of beer, crates of soft drink, wrapper(s) for the bride’s mother, kolanuts, palm wine, bottles of hot drink, and money to be shared among the kinsmen.

I recall that on the day of the marriage ceremony, she was brought into her father’s sitting room, where I was waiting with my people. She came with some other girls, all dressed up with their faces covered, and I was required to identify her among the group. Before then, she had earlier been summoned to confirm whether the family should accept the introduction items that my family brought. That is the traditional way of establishing that a husband is a woman’s personal choice.

Despite the disguise, I could have identified her with my eyes closed. But in line with tradition, I pretended to be trying very hard to decide which of them my bride was. If nothing else, what she was wearing, which we had both decided on previously, was enough to give her identity away. But after my rigmarole I finally grabbed her, to the applause of the men and ululation by the women in the room.

However, that aspect of the ceremony was not going to end just like that. I was made to drop some money to be shared by the other ‘maidens’ and aunties that escorted her to the room. After that, it was her turn to identify her groom. This part was more for fun, as it is not necessarily part of Esan culture. She was given a glass filled with palm wine to hand to any of the men in the room that was her groom. This time, there was no disguise but different men, old and young, were calling on her to bring the drink to them. Come to think of it, what would have happened if she had taken the drink to another man? I’ve heard of brides running away from the altar before saying “I do”, but I’ve never heard of a bride handing the glass of palm wine to another man at a traditional marriage ceremony – and it wasn’t going to start with me. It didn’t, for she brought it straight to me. But there was a price to pay for that. I was to put some money into the glass after I had emptied it. One of the elders, who was urging her earlier to bring the wine to him, pointed out that I should have left some in the glass for my bride. He levied a fine for that breach and insisted that the process should be repeated. I didn’t mind that because the palm wine was very sweet. But the bitter part of it was that I now had to put money in the empty glass twice for the elders in the room!

Then it was time to issue the ‘certificate of ownership’. To do this, an uncle of hers was mandated to ‘count’ her on my body. This involved the man holding her by the shoulders while facing him, with her back turned to my seat, then guiding her to sit on my laps and raising her, with the appreciative and expectant audience in the room counting from one to seven. At the count of seven, the man pronounced some blessings on us to the effect that I would be the one to father all the children in her womb, whether up to seven or more. But that was not all. As the custom is, after the seventh count, the man said he had run out of strength. I was then required to put some money on the ground to give him the energy to carry her up from my laps.

Out to meet the larger audience for the first time

At last it was time to meet the larger audience outside that had been anxiously waiting to see the newest couple in town. All the while, the live band on standby had been playing to entertain the guests. We marched out to meet them on their feet, as the MC, my friend and colleague, Tony Idoni, had requested them to stand in our honour. We did a lap round the venue, acknowledging cheers and then returned inside to change into another costume for the Merry! Merry! & Dance! Dance!! Dance!!!

Marching in for the full celebration

What followed was entertainment, refreshments, spraying of the couple with money by friends and well-wishers as we danced, and general merriment. Papa, I will always remember how you sprayed us money that day. I didn’t know you had so much money that period.

Left: Dad, Mum (centre) & Step Mum at the event. Right: Dad spraying us naira notes

We returned to Uromi without my wife. You explained that at that point, she was still a bride until officially handed over at our family home. That duty had to be performed by a delegation from her family consisting of men and women. Before leaving the venue, I was told that I had to provide transport money for the delegation. I responded that my friends were available with cars to bring them and take them back home. The emissary of the yet-to-be-constituted delegation told me that was a bonus; that I still had to provide the requisite transport money. To be fair, these were not large sums they were asking for. It was more to “fulfill all righteousness” than to extort.

It turned out that that was not the last condition to be fulfilled. When they were a short distance from our home, a member of the delegation came to announce that they had run out of fuel and I needed to provide money for fuel if I did not want my wife to sleep on the road. A small sum settled that. Less than ten minutes later, the same man came to say that just as they were leaving Convent Road to enter Ekata Lane, a big tree fell across the road and they needed money to hire a bulldozer that night to remove the obstacle. We all knew that there was no tree on the lane that remotely resembled a big tree. That was a trap. Telling him so would have meant that we were calling him a liar and that, definitely, would have attracted a hefty fine. So I tendered another small sum to hire a bulldozer to remove the mysterious tree.

Finally, they arrived in our compound, off-loaded my bride with all the gifts of household items her family had bought for her as dowry. Another round of merriment followed that, as far as I was concerned, was lasting too long. Sorry, Papa, if that sounds offensive because I recall you had reserved food and drinks to lavishly entertain your friends who had accompanied us to Ubiaja, and the neighbours that were keeping vigil at our home, but there was a very important condition I needed to fulfill in private that night, which was directly related to the blessings my wife’s uncle had pronounced on us earlier in the day, when he was counting her on me.

In line with tradition, my parents-in-law were not part of that last part of the ceremony. I learnt from my wife later that her mum shed buckets of tears as she was being cleared from her home to be forwarded to mine. My fondest memory of my father-in-law is the day he personally roasted some dry corn for me. To be frank, the corn was a little too dry but I relished it. Oh papa, do you know that he came with his friends and members of his family to attend your final burial ceremony? He came with presents of tubers of yam and bottles of hot drink. Unfortunately, he fell sick and died a few months later.

Talking about your burial ceremony, you should have seen what we went through to give you a befitting one. Not that I’m complaining or regretting – far from it! In fact, I wish I could have done more. But the demands from the village elders, the rituals, the pressure from various angles, eish! It was as if planning a burial ceremony had become a parliamentary process that required some debate, some lobbying, adjournments, alignments and realignments……

To be continued.

What are the special skills needed to negotiate with elders on traditional matters?

Find out in Part 3……coming soon!

You may follow the link below to see other aspects of my sojourn, captured in the published book OLD SCHOOL.

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