THE KANURI WEDDING
The Kanuri wedding is one event that is colorful and exciting. It is an occasion that brings the people’s culture to life through music, dance and other colorful cultural activities. Living mainly in the large city of Maiduguri, which is the capital of Borno State, North-East Nigeria, the Kanuris are the dominant ethnic group in the state as well as the neighbouring Yobe State.
In Kanuri culture just as in other ethnic groups throughout the world there are norms and values. Even though most of their culture find its origin from the Islamic religion, yet they have a couple of traditions that are peculiar to the tribe. One of such traditions is how they conduct their marriage ceremony.
Marriage being the sacred union between a man and a woman, this for the Kanuris is done at an early age. The men marry in their twenties and the girls in their teens. As Muslims they are permitted to marry up to four (4) wives and the marriage is effected through a ceremonial event.
For men, their first contact with marriage usually takes place at age of about 20, when according to tradition, the groom's parent would marry a young maiden for 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. That way with women gaining weight quicker and thus ageing faster than the men, that they can easily catch upon the age difference and so both would grow old gracefully together. But marrying a young virgin is a very expensive form of marriage. The North-Eastern people place a high value upon young girls who have never been married before. Since 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, have been known to her family, 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 her’s, most especially her “Luwali” i.e. guardian, the man is usually responsible for dispensing her marriage rights.
After the groom-to-be has established such a trust and therefore enjoys some level of acceptance from 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 seeking the bride's hand in marriage, thus officially declaring his intention. Here, an elderly man or men from the groom’s side would go and seek for an appointment, thereby fixing a meeting between the two families. Subsequent to which the wedding procedures would then be planned.
The major activities that would lead to the marriage union include the following:
1- Confirming the bride’s consent to the groom (i.e. to send his party to her family)
2- Fixing a meeting appointment by parents or guardians
3- Seeking for bride’s hand in marriage by elders. This usually involves presenting a carton of candy, chewing gum and a bag of cola-nuts. After receiving this, the bride's family will then distribute the mixture to relatives and well-wishers.
4- “Ra'aki” meaning “Declaration of Interest” is a phase where luggages 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. This, again involves presenting another set of candy, chewing gum and cola-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 wedding gifts that are 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.
5- The third coming by the groom's relatives would be to discuss and agree on the dowry, which in Kanuri culture is paid in gold coins.
6- 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.
Among the Kanuris, the marriage dowry is mandatory. This 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 for such a waiver is that, for a marriage like that to be conducted within a family, it has since been established and acknowledged, only waiting for the time of its execution. During courtship, money and gifts are often given to the proposed bride by the groom todemonstrate his love and the ability to cater forher financial needs. Now, if the marriage should take place, such presents or gifts are considered as part of goodwill from the groom to his bride. It is however important to note that such graciousnesss are never returned whether the marriage takes or not, most especiallly in a marriage proposal involving 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 to the bride's Luwali between one to three months later. Due to the fact that son-in-laws have a shy relationship with his bride’ luwali, intermediaries are used and haggling is often 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 informants agreed that any initiatory payments given prior to the big payment to the girl's luwali (the luwaliram) 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 “Nalle or Lalle”. Lalle literally means “Henna”, which is used by the bride and other females in attendance to decorate their hands and legs. This signifies the opening for the wedding events. Here, a sack or two of 50kg of Henna leaves are taken to the bride's residence on a Thursday (usually around 2pm,) a task usually performed by the groom's sisters, cousins and Aunts.
Friday evening (7pm prompt) is the “Wushe-wushe” night. This is a very colorful and exciting event that takes place on the eve of the wedding day usually at the bride's residence. There is a lot of music and dance performed by everybody, including the aged. The groom is invited to the bride's residence, where he sits on a makeshift throne, alone with his bride before the whole invitees. Usually the male “Lorusa” is accompanied by his friends and relatives. Wushe-wushe is the second most entertaining event of the entire wedding. It is the gala night of the celebrations and lasts all 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 over the occassion and assisted by other fellow scholars and well wisher would conduct the rites of marriage involving offer and acceptance of the bride’s hand in marriage by their Luwalis, announcement of the dowry paid, witnessing the nuptial union, offering of prayers/supplications and finally declaring them as husband and wife in front of all as witnesses.
From there the groom and his entourage would go to a scheduled venue, where a special reception follows immediately. The whole day is usually filled with joy, feasting and merry-making until about 2:00pm when preparations are made by the groom's aunt to take the “Kususuram” to the bride's residence. The Kususuram as stated earlier is the main gift the groom presents to the bride. And like the ra'aki, it also comes in luggages but is usually twice more than the ra’aki, usually from three (3) upwards depending on the financial status of the groom. In Kanuri culture, the bride's side tends to reciprocate the groom's efforts by also presenting him with gifts of clothes, shoes, perfumes and a lot more. It is this gift the groom shares among his friends, a sort of a "Thank you for being there for me." thing.
Sunday morning, which is the penultimate event witnesses the “Kisai lewa” 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 aboutbeing patient and tolerant with his new bride and so on.
Many people outside the Kanuris are very curious to know; why are gold coins demanded as dowry for a Kanuri bride instead of its cash equivalent? What could be sospecial about Kanuri women to make them so regarded, dignified, so cherished and appreciated?
To answer this all important question, one must first understand how the Kanuri people regard their women. To the Kanuris, their women are nugget pearls. They are well brought up religiously, to respect, obey and please their husbands. They are taught the art of creating a conducive home. Kanuri women are so good at being wives, that other women fromother cultures dread ever having to be married to thesamehusband in a polygamous setting. Most often she tend tobecome the favourite wife of the husband. The Kanuri wife is mostly gorgeous, elegant, beautiful and highly refined with culture.
Now, the Kanuri culture is mostly influenced by Islamic traditions and the wedding dowry is not an exception. Islamically, it is ordained that the bride price must be weighed to meet a minimum of ¼ of the gold coin and above. Some give the bride 12 coin of pure gold, others present 18, 24 pieces or even more. And because gold has a universal value and its exchange rate is stable and harmonized throughout the world, the bride price (dowry) of a Kanuri woman is therefore tied to the precious gold and thus she is always justly valued.