|THE TRADITIONAL DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE - According To Igbo Customs by Starboy(m): Sun 17, October, 2021|
Today, I witnessed the final traditional dissolution of a marriage according to Igbo customs.
After separation, a message is sent to the family of the bride to tell them that what they saw before, they did not see again.
Of course both families are aware the marriage has ended but protocol must be observed.
That first message however is considered an informal message. The bride’s family feigns ignorance and asks to be enlightened, just the same way they feigned ignorance when the man came to “pluck a flower” from their family.
At this point, reconciliation is still possible seeing as the announcement is regarded as informal.
Both families try to talk the bride and groom out of it. Several meetings are held by both families to discuss the dissolution/try to reconcile the couple.
If they succeed in reconciliation, both families pretend like it never happened. If they don’t, they proceed to stage 2.
This is the formal announcement and outright dissolution of the marriage.
The families fix a date and the groom goes with few elders, half a keg of palm wine and few kolanuts to the bride’s family.
I saw the half gallon of palm wine and asked why it wasn’t full. Well, it is a cultural statement. The visit is not a happy one or a cordial visit hence the half keg. A full keg is for a marriage visit. A half keg is for a divorce/returning the wife.
Now one would think the dissolution would be quick and easy. Au contraire, it is actually long. Almost as long as the back and forth haggling process during the wedding. This particular one took 5 hours. Voices are raised, blames are cast, sometimes it even involves fisticuffs. The families try to see to the amicable separation of their wards. They mostly fail. The bride is seldom involved in the proceedings just like it is done during marriage.
The whole process is akin to where a customer is returning a bad good. Like where you are returning a bad crate of eggs and asking for a refund and the seller saying it wasn’t bad when you bought it. The egg of course, can’t speak.
At the end of it all, the bride price is returned. The list and other extraneous gbogbotigbo are not asked for or returned. Only the bride price.
So if the family of the bride charged the groom 100 thousand or 100 naira, they would have to repay it for the dissolution to be complete. This is why some communities reduced their bride price and increased their list because they know, list is never returned but money is. So the bride price can be 95 naira but the list would be worth 750 thousand because they know if shit hits the fan, all they have to pay back is the 95 naira.
Some in-laws however know this and during marriage dissolution, fight for at least 2 or 3 major things in the list which is why the back and forth goes on and on and on.
If the bride’s family does not pay back the bride price, their daughter is still considered married to the ex husband and as such cannot remarry.
This particular law is a double-edged sword used against wives by some abusive husbands. If an abused wife tries to traditionally divorce an abusive husband who feels slighted, he would just refuse to meet with the family of the bride to collect his bride price. All meetings set up by the family of the bride would be ignored by him and since they cannot/did not successfully return the bride price, the woman is still technically married to the abusive man and cannot remarry no matter what.
Of recent, the family of the bride can pay the bride price to Welfare Offices or magistrate courts who in turn inform the groom to come take the bride price and the bride is free to move on. But not many people know about this so they sit and wait for the man to change his mind.
See why court marriage is the best?
After the dissolution of the marriage and the collection of the bride price, the marriage is successfully dissolved traditionally.
If the couple reconcile after this, the man would have to carry out full traditional rites and bride price again like he would a new wife. The fact that he was previously married to the woman does not count.
Normally, estranged couples do not bother with the traditional dissolution of marriage except if one of them is about getting married to another partner and the woman’s fiance doesn’t want to marry another man’s wife just like the man’s fiancee doesn’t want to be a second wife.
This is the third traditional dissolution of marriage that I’ve witnessed. Like the others, it was a sombre affair.
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