Marriage And Divorce in Igboland

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The sanctity of marital union is on aspect of Igbo culture that has remained very strong in spite of the pressure from modern religion and western culture. This is probably because the church as well as Igbo society have realised the great values contained the the marital tradition of Igbo land. 
In the first place, unlike the western culture which regards marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Igbos regard marriage as a union between families, kindreds, societies and nations. When a man marries a woman, he instantly becomes an extended member of his wive’s family. This also applies to the woman. For this reason, a marriage contract is usually drawn between families (where the two parties are of same community) or between communities (where they are of different communities). It is contracted in the presence of kindred of both families. Depending on the Igbo community involved, the steps involved in a marital contract range between four and seven. During the process of taking the steps, all doubts about the character of the bride and groom are resolved. This includes the character of the families and lineage (agburu) from which they came. Unacceptable traits discovery means that the other party may decide to withdraw from the contract before the marriage is completed.
Most of the steps involve asking of questions (iju ajuju) concerning the character of the bride and the groom to avert any traits that could possibly lead to a quarrels or separation in the future. Another important step is the ineta uma (to know the character) or what may be called courtship. During this time, the girl involved goes to live with her suitor for a few weeks. She is able to know the personality and character of her future husband and to have hers known also. The marriage process is usually so complex and the tradition forbids anyone to rush into a marriage without going through the processes.
The culture recognises marriage as a life-time contract which must never be broken. It also recognises that marriages are not a bed of roses and advises their children in-line with this belief. It insists that a man or woman must maintain his marriage in all conditions and must always reconditions his/herself to ensure the survival of his/her marital life. There is a saying that “a wife/husband is like a parcel. No one can know the content very well. But when you get home, whatever you find in your own parcel, you take it as it is. If you are lucky, you could find a delicious soup and pounded yam to enjoy. But if you are unlucky, you might find a snake or a scorpion. Whichever you find, you have learn to live with it.”
Divorce does exists but is very rarely resorted to. The culture frowns seriously at divorce. People who are divorced are blamed no matter the excuses they give. It is assumed that they were just incapable of managing a family. Neither of the families will encourage the break-up of a marriage of their children. The process of divorce is equally so complex and difficult. This makes it that people who are divorced find it difficult to marry someone else as people avoid them in belief that they do not have acceptable and marriageable way of life. Most of them usually have to go to the cities where they could marry someone who was of a different town or tribe. Yet the ajuju (questions) step in the new marriage they plan to contract will usually stall their plans as their new suitor discovers that they are “martially in-acceptable”. Such people may end up either marrying non-Igbos or remain unmarried for the rest of their lives.
The process of divorce is also very complex and this discourages divorce itself. The families of both partners will have to gather many times in the way in which they had gathered to contract the marriage. They do not gather to dissolve the marriage but to resolve the problems involving their children’s family. The first to gather will usually be the kindred of the male who usually aims at discovering the reasons why their son’s marriage suffers. After critically looking into the issue, they will issues blames and advises to both man and wife and this will rekindle the peace and life in the family. If a fault is found in the lady, they might (in a difficult situation) refer her to her own father’s family to advice and counsel her. 
No one person or couple can by any means contract a marriage and no one can dissolve it. Most times, family member will refuse vehemently to get involve in dissolving a marriage since this is viewed as unacceptable to the ancestors. It is said that even the ancestors had problems in their marriages and since problems are inevitable, but if they resorted to divorce, would never have given birth to us. Why should we therefore resort to breaking our own marriage rather than given birth to another generation? Since the couple cannot dissolve the marriage without the kindred, they most time get tired by the complexity of the resolution process and end up going home to manage their family affairs. They also learn better family management from the more experienced elders in their kindred. Divorce is a last but very rare resort in Igboland.
A man who chooses to become polygamous does so to bring a helping hand to his older wife. He most time discusses with her and sometime involves her in making the choice of the bride. A man will not marry a new wife in order to slight an older one. In this way, a new wife respects and adores an older one knowing that her marriage was sanctioned by her. Love is usually shared equally among the wives. Any view that a man favours one wife above another is frown at by the culture. A man will therefore not divorce a wife because he had or prefers another. Polygamy in Igboland involves complementary and not supplementary wives. This is the reason why a man will rarely marry a new wife against the wish of his older wife. This is also why modernity has gradually moved Igbos toward monogamy since most women now prefer to live as lone wives rather than have nwunye di (co-wives). The new institution of monogamy, besides being regarded as economically wiser, shows the choice of Igbo women and exemplifies the respect which Igbo men have for their wives.

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