• Mon. May 20th, 2024


Sep 26, 2023


Apart from gradually wearing off the practice of betrothal, education also brought about a significant change in the Ika marriage system. There were two factors at work here. In the first place, an increasing number of young girls who went to school found them with far more extended horizons on completion of their courses, than those in the villages. They became dissatisfied with being already tied to some men in the villages, some of who were illiterates under a system of betrothal. Such girls began to reject matrimonial arrangement entered into by their parents when they were infants. The second factor was the gradual emancipation of women, which was a bye-product of education and advance civilization. Girls grew to detest the absence of choice in the marriages, and many began to insist on selecting husbands them.

One respondent put the case succinctly with the proverb, “you can chew for a child but cannot swallow for child”, watanenwato, uwelung, was very applicable in respect pre-colonial ka marriages. This was because fathers arranged marriages between their sons and daughters without any reference to the parties concerned. An old man who likes the behaviour or character of a young man could give him one of his daughters in marriage without previously consulting the g Girls who resisted their fathers’ decisions were compelled to abide. Many parents thus gave away their daughters without asking for any bride price, as was stated earlier on.

With the emancipation of women in the colonial period girls began to insist on the personal choice of their husbands. It became generally known that the District Officers frowned at the practice, which gave girls away in marriage without their consent. Parents were fined in Native Courts if their daughters were courageous enough to throw themselves at the feet of the District Officers as helpless victims of their parents’ decision to force them into unions against their will.


A significant development under Colonial Ika, which proved to be a vital factor for social change, was the establishment of the Missions. Christianity, which followed the flag, brought in its wake the same familiar, social and political changes as associated with other parts of Nigeria. The first of these Missions was Roman Catholic Mission in 1898 and the second was Church Missionary Society in 1901 and the Baptist Mission in 1930. Most of the Christian converts began to repudiate their obligations to the authority of the village Chiefs. Many of them refused to participate in traditional practices, which they regarded as fetishism and in some instances, violent clashes occurred between them and the non-Christians.

Another effect of Christianity on Ika society was its influence on the marriage system. As opposed to the essentially polygamous nature of the traditional marriage system, Christianity preached and encouraged monogamy. Marriage under Church ceremonies meant marriage under the Ordinance. Christian converts who were already polygamous were encouraged to marry one wife, or only one of their wives according to the rites of the Church, and to put away the others. This resulted in several Christian converts marrying one of their wives under Christian marriage law without making adequate provision for their other wives before turning them out. This, in some cases, broke up the normal home life, and bitterly antagonized their children. This also caused hardship to the women or to the families who had to support them.

Such cases revealed that most of the uneducated Christians did not fully realize the implications and responsibilities of their undertaking as well as change of life involved in marriage under the Marriage Proclamation of 1900, and later, the Marriage Ordinance. Some of the Christians denied that Missionaries celebrating their marriages fully explained to them the consequences of their marriage, while it was recognized too that catechists, who acted as interpreters, did not always prove very scrupulous in their methods for winning converts. The turning out of former wives by Christian converts had begun to raise complaints against the practice. All said and done, the polygamous concept of indigenous marriage was giving way to the idea and practice of monogamy under Christian or religious influence.


Nevertheless, the two forms have continued to exist in Ika community up till now repudiated their betrothal to pagan suitors and usually refunded bride price such suitors. In this way, the system of betrothal at which the growth of literacy among the men were already gnawing received an additional attack from the spread Christian under the Colonial period. This double assault on this aspect oika traditional marriage gradually wore it down and made the system a risky investment. In a circular instruction sent out December, 1920, the Acting Resident for Benin Province, PA Talbot, wrote inter alia: “It is not desirable without good reason to do away with an ancient custom; civilization, and Christianity are increasing day by day and unjust customs, however old, w gradually have to be reformed or abolished. Infant marriage is a relic of slavery.”

Colonial rule, the growth of Christianity, the spread of Western education and the resultant emancipation of women produced a sort of feminine revolt’, in which the Ika practice of betrothal called two or ibadonnwunyen, gradually died out especially when it was stipulated by the Native Courts that any girl involved in a case of betrothal could annul the marriage contract on coming up of age by the payment of £10 or the original bride-price to the fiancé.

In respect with guardianship inheritance or native customary rights with regard to widows and children, colonial rule introduced changes in the marriage system. Christianity introduced a conflict between Christian principles and native law and custom. Christian widows felt reluctant to marry the pagan relatives of their deceased husbands, while Christian converts who were already married under the Ordinance found them in no position to marry their brother’s wives. They were backed up by the missionaries who frowned at the rule, which made it possible for a woman and her children of a recognized Christian marriage to be handed over to the pagan relative of her deceased husband. In any case, the social obligation to such widows and children of deceased relatives were still regarded, as the next-of-kin’s responsibility in the society.

As a result of the knotty problems posed by this situation, a number of solutions emerged in the colonial period. Some Christian converts attempted to enjoy the best of both worlds by keeping large harems in an attempt to enjoy the best of traditional system of inheritance, which suited concubinage and still profess Christianity, which forbade it. Administrative directions led to the practice whereby a woman, who refused to marry her husband’s next-of-kin, was allowed to marry any other member of the family or pay a sum of £10, to 6 the family so that they waived all claims to fetter her actions in future. This practice was extended to where the deceased husband was a Christian.

The custody of the children was given to the deceased husband’s family but by paying some extra amount in addition to the amount paid. The new husband of such a woman could get the custody of the children who were under age from the late husband’s family. The best that could be done in the circumstance was to take shelter under the elasticity of Native Court rules on guardianship, which the Resident for Benin Province felt could meet the case.

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