A very African solution to a cultural problem

Christians usually get married twice in Nigeria. First, there is the cultural wedding ceremony and then, a day or two later, the ‘Christian’ wedding in church. We recently attended the cultural wedding of a friend of ours. He is Berom by tribe and his bride is Idoma. Much of the time was taken up with determining the monetary part of the bride price, with male representatives from both families doing most of the negotiating. Neither bride nor groom played any part in the discussion and we were told they can even be fined if they try to interrupt, as after all, this is not primarily a union between two individuals but between two families. (In fact, in some tribes, the bride and groom would be shocked even at the prospect of attending their own wedding). Anyway, finally a sum was agreed and the bride’s father gave one final condition: according to Idoma tradition, when the wife dies, the body has to be sent back to be buried with her family. Was that okay? Unfortunately not. According to Berom custom, the wife is buried at the husband’s family compound. A rather awkward stalemate ensued which seriously threatened to jeopardise the whole wedding. After a lengthy phone call to a chief in Idoma land to ask his advice, the bride’s father asked, “Would you cancel the wedding if we insist on our custom?” “Ah, that question is too strong!”, they replied. “This is a problem of culture”. However, after a few moments of thoughtful discussion, the groom’s father replied, “No, we would not cancel the wedding”. The bride’s father beamed with delight, “I can see that you are committed to this wedding 100%. You have passed the test. You are free to bury her at your own place.” The bride’s father then proceeded to give back over a third of the bride price, which they had just spent about two hours carefully negotiating, counting out and handing over. To a Western mindset this might have seemed like a rather circuitous and frustrating way to reach an agreement but the end result was that each party felt they had received a better outcome than they might have initially hoped for. The bride’s father received his due respect and reciprocated by showing the groom’s family great generosity, which would have earned him even more respect. I doubt that a better solution could have been reached any other way!

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