In the last edition of Aro News, precisely, the Ikeji edition ; Mazi E.K .O Ivi, a man I call, the encyclopedia of Aro history, fed us with a sumptuous meal on Aro traditional marriage and its steps.
It was simply unputdownable, meaning- you cannot afford to read it half way. For those who hunger and thirst for the rich Aro cultural heritage, it was a well prepared and cooked meal. I really enjoyed it, believing you also did.
Taking a step from that while we are still savouring this fabulous meal, I thought it wise to add to your already wetted appetite, another brand of recipe of this our peculiar heritage. This is presenting Aro traditional marriage from a literary point of view.
First, judging from the three genres of literature, drama comes second. Like poetry, it also enjoys a degree of elevation the notion by the Western world that nothing good comes from Africa, because of our negative orientation and bad leadership; also took its toll on literature.
It was said that Africa has nothing that could be regarded as drama before the advent of the Western literacy. This notion moved some African scholars into in- depth research on the origin, development and aspects of African drama. Some of these scholars are: J.P. Clark, Michael Etherton, F. B. Akporobaro, Ruth Finnegan, Ossie Enekwe, and many others.
In Clark’s research, he strikes this balance, drawing from James Frazer’ s The Golden Bough:
… because we believe that as the roots of European drama goes back to the Egyptian Osiris and the Greek Dionysus, so are the origin of Nigerian drama likely to be found in the early religious and magical ceremonies and festivals of the Yoruba ” egungu”, and “Mmuo” masquerade of Ibo, “Owu” and “Oru” water masquerades of Ijaw.
From the above take by Clark, we can see that, the origin of African drama, or Nigerian drama as the case maybe, are pointing towards masquerades. He went further to say: “If drama means ” elegant imitation”, of some action significant to a people, if this means the physical representation or the evocation of one poetic image or a complex of such images, if the vital elements to such representation or evocation are speech, music, ritual, song as well as mime, and if the Japanese say of their Nor theatre, the aim is to ” open the ear” of the mind of a spectator in a corporate audience and ” open his eyes” to the beauty of form, then there is drama in plenty in Nigeria.”
From this point, am glad to announce to you, that Aro traditional marriage, emerged as one, if not the only traditional marriage in Nigeria that has elements that qualifies it as a drama.
The dramatic elements found in Arochukwu traditional marriage are: Imitation, enlightenment, plot, thought, song and dance.
To enable an easy flow, I shall define each element, and explain briefly how it applies to Aro traditional marriage because we cannot have it in full, in just an article.
First, the stages of Aro traditional marriage runs in 6 Acts, each act opens door to another. They all have their literary connotations, which some of them will be discussed as we go on.
This simply means to represent an action that has already taken place. The question now is, how does a traditional marriage rite become an object of imitation or representation?
The “Aju Mmai” ritual answers that. Aju mmai (Rings or pads of dried plantain leaves) remains an aspect of Aro traditional marriage that is unique and as very peculiar to Aro kingdom. The procession, which is led by six able bodied men carrying the Aju Mmai; which symbolizes the stand on which the pots of palm wine that is consumed at the ceremony rests upon; has other delegates on the file.
They are followed closely by , six women, each carrying a wooden trough or metal tray each containing a symbolic amount of the pride price, covered with a white serviette- like material known as atumakasa. Onwuchekwa George in his book- Arochukwu Marriage Custom described the next set of delegates thus:
The women are followed by the official delegation of men, each carrying a long walking stick of the height of about six feet, six inches, a way depicting the travelers of old who had come from a long and tedious journey in search of precious commodity, in this instance, the bride.
The rest of the delegates carry normal walking sticks (Mkpo). The groom takes the rear in the procession. The women in the procession intermittently, let out shouts of “Ayooo” (chorus). This mark of happiness is to announce their presence through the villages and compounds they pass.
The dropping of the padded plantain leaves goes with a dramatic style. It is meant to produce a heavy and imposing sound that will arouse another chorus- “Ayoooo”.
The dramatic element of “imitation” is drawn from the point of the procession. The six young men carrying heavy loads from a distant journey, the six elders with long traveling walking sticks, imitating men from distant journeys searching for precious item, they also demonstrate the import of this search by dramatically, looking sideways, while they take a slow walk.
The symbolic lightening of the “Ulo Nta” (Family Hall)” could also be an ” imitation ” of the lightening a lamp by the ancient Aro. The heavy sounds of the ” Aju Mmai” ( padded rings) , also imitate the sounds of drums of palm wine consumed during the marriage ceremony. To buttress this analysis, Rotimi says:
The standard acceptance of the term drama, within a cultural setting, at any rate, implies “an imitation of an action… or of a person or persons in actions “, the ultimate objects of which is to edify or to entertain, or both.
In line with this therefore, ” Aju Mmai” ritual can be adjudged to be edifying and as well entertaining.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary says,
Enlightenment has to do with greater knowledge of understanding “, while Abram’s explains it thus: “The common element was a trust in human reason as adequate to solve the crucial problems and to establish the essential norms in life, together with the belief that the application of reason was rapidly dissipating the darkness of superstition, prejudice, and barbarity, was freeing humanity from its earlier reliance on mere authority and unexamined tradition…
Drawing from the above definitions, we shall examine the role of enlightenment as an element of drama under the following sub- headings: Aju Mmai, Mgbede and bride price.
The process of this ritual, which could be said to be melodramatic has already been discussed. Here are the symbolic aspects: Starting from the procession, the young men carrying the heavy loads of padded dried plantain leaves, depicts youth and vigour. The old men symbolize experience and knowledge. This is because, it is only what one knows, or experienced that one rightly talk about. The groom taking the rear in the procession symbolizes lack of knowledge. He looks up to his elders for direction, as he watched from the rear. He symbolically imitates a person that is to be initiated into a circle.
The procession file symbolisizes orderliness and protocol in Aro traditional matters. The choice of plantain leaves, instead of any other leaf or even banana leaf, which is closely related, is highly symbolic.
The plantain leaves are longer and firmer. This symbolizes long life and good health. The plantain trunk produces multiple offshoots than the banana. This also symbolizes fertility, which is the bedrock of any traditional marriage.
ONU AKU- BRIDE PRICE
The presentation of “Okwa Isii Aro” is also highly symbolic, as it is a lesson of support to the cause of tradition. The symbolism is drawn upon the tradition that, four out of the six trays are imageries that represent the four traditional market days in Aro. This is referred to, as the right of men, while the remaining two are referred as the right of women.
The 40k fraction which is returned to the groom’s family represents, “an establishment of the essential norm in life”, in area of bond and continuity. It also” solves the crucial problems of prejudice and barbarity”, in the areas of selling out a daughter (high bride price), in the guise of marriage; and instilling love and value on the part of the husband, instead of “authority”. The sharing of the balance of the bride price with relations, is the power of “human reasoning” to discern the joy and benefit of sharing.
A bride observing “Mgbede” is kept off from domestic chores, she is well fed, and tutored on the precepts of marriage. The “greater knowledge of understanding”, that preparing a bride for marriage will “solve the crucial problems ” of ignorance, laxity, emotional weakness and psychological in balance, which may mar a marriage, propelled the “Mgbede” culture.
“Mgbede” essentially became a norm, through the power of human reasoning. This becomes imperative because, it promotes chastity among young girls and dissipates promiscuity. It has the norm of elegant costume, and also upholds the essentials of feminism, which has to do with empowerment. The young bride is empowered psychologically to face the challenges of marriage.
The presentation of “Mgbede ” is the height of the entertainment. This is because it is accompanied with songs and dance. The “Mmai Ajuju”- public consent- is exciting, the search for the groom, is a scene that creates excitement and suspense. The procession of “Aju Mmai” and the dropping of the “Aju” with its inherent sounds, are also very entertaining and melodramatic.
Aristotle, Horace and Longinus defined Thought as:
The ability to say what is possible and appropriate in any given circumstances. It is what in the speeches in the play is related to the arts of politics and rhetoric’s. The older dramatic poets made their characters talk like statesmen, whereas those of today make them talk like rhetoricians. It is present in speeches where something is being shown to be true or untrue, where some general opinions is being expressed.
From the definition above, the dramatic element of Thought, takes the center stage in Aro traditional marriage ceremonies. It is one element that do not dissipate from all the stages (Acts) of the marriage ceremony.
The reason is because, the ability to say what is possible and appropriate in any given circumstance in marriage is what makes or mars a marriage; whether in the process, or already concluded. Being an idea, or opinion produced by thinking, it therefore infers that, one has to be sure of one’s utterances especially, in marriage, where general opinions are expressed.
The spokesman contracted at this point applies what Aristotle refers to as, “the features of older dramatic poets”. That is the ability of the character to talk like statesman. This implies the use of proverbs, idioms, axioms, rhetoric’s and the use of figurative. One who is not vast in these features, may ruin the negotiation process.
It is not possible to discuss all the dramatic elements of Aro traditional marriage in just an article. This is just to let us acknowledge and appreciate what we have. As wise breed Aro people are, as we watch or participate in our traditional marriage ceremonies, let us begin to see every scene or stage beyond just an ordinary ceremony, but one that has greater impacts to our lives, and as well tradition.
LONG LIVE ARO OKIGBO.