Irigwe Women
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Irigwe: Where Women Marry Many Husbands In Nigeria

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The Irigwe People of Nigeria is an ethnic group where women marry more than one husband. The Irigwe tribe is located in the Bassa, Jos North, and Jos South local government areas of Plateau state. They speak the Irigwe language.

Traditionally, they are predominantly farmers, blacksmiths, hunters, and wood carvers.

The marriage system of the Irigwe people unlike other parts of Nigeria is a combination of both polyandry and polygyny. This means that men and women can marry as many spouses as possible.

Polyandry and polygyny are forms of polygamy. In polyandry, a woman can marry more than one spouse. Whereas in polygyny, a man can marry more than one spouse.

Traditionally in Nigeria and most cultures of the world, polygyny is a common practice. Polyandry, on the other hand, is rare, only a few cultures in the world practice it. These include India, Kenya, China, and South America.

 

Marriage System In Irigwe

The Irigwe traditional marriage system permits both men and women to marry several spouses during their lives. They must not be related in a certain way. The more spouses they have, the more they are respected.

Consequently, women are free to move from one husband to another several times during their lives except when pregnant. She does not move with the children. The children are left with the husband with whom she resided at the time of conception.

Divorce is never an option.

Walter H. Sangree, an anthropologist conducted a 20-month intensive fieldwork on the Irigwe people. He observed, “There are two basic types of traditional Irigwe marriage. One type, arranged by the couple’s parents before their adolescence, involves bride service by the boy’s family,” which  he called ‘primary marriage.’ Ideally, “it starts a boy’s and girl’s conjugal career.”

“The other type is arranged by the couple. This involves a marriage payment to rather than a bride service”. He called this type ”secondary marriage”.

 

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Primary Marriage in Irigwe

This is an individual’s first marriage. The parents of the couple initiate and arrange the marriage.

After the engagement, the ‘bride service’ follows. The ‘bride service’ involves that at a certain farming age, the boy cultivates his father-in-law’s farmland.  This he does for several successive planting seasons together with his age mates of the same lineage.

Then, shortly after the girl reaches puberty, the marriage is consummated. She takes up residence with her spouse in his father’s compound.

 

Secondary marriage

In secondary marriage, the suitor himself takes up the initiative and arrangement of the marriage. He uses a mediator to communicate his intentions to the woman in mind. And if she encourages him, he meets her father or her ‘marriage guardian.

In most cases, her father or ‘marriage guardian’ usually agrees to the union. They refuse to give their consent if the union violates an Irigwe rule of incest or exogamy.

Secondary marriage arrangements are formally concluded when the suitor makes a marriage payment to the woman’s father or ‘marriage guardian’.

Traditionally, there is no divorce in Irigwe. Consummating a secondary marriage does not invalidate previous marriages of either marriage partner.

Furthermore, a father or marriage guardian feels responsible for having his daughter or ward consummate at least three marriages.

 

Prohibition in Secondary Marriage.

  • A secondary marriage can not hold If the marriage violets rule on incest.
  • A woman cannot have more than one husband from the same kindred.
  • A man cannot take a wife from his mother’s relatives or his grandmother’s birth compound.

In 1968, the Irigwe Tribal Council officially abolished the secondary marriage system. They voted to outlaw all future secondary marriages.


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