n the early nineties I met an Igbo man that lived and worked in the city of Jos. He had married less than a year before and recently lost his new bride after a brief illness. The man cried uncontrollably and I felt pity for him, but when I asked why he had been so inconsolable, the man carefully dried his tears and quietly narrated his problem to those of us around him. "It has taken me nearly twenty years of working at P & T to save enough money to go home and pay the dowry and the cost of wine-carrying for this girl...I'm now over forty years old and don't know how I can begin all over again...I just don't have the luxury of time to start saving all over again..." With those few words from the new widower I got the message. Apparently the man was not crying because of his wife's death though I presume he must have loved her, his pain was far deeper than that loss. He had invested heavily on this young girl after many years of savings, and had not been given the opportunity to enjoy his investment, and now could not think of how to raise that kind of funds for another investment. The poor man as I recalled was from Imo state and back then, the high cost of dowry and wine-carrying was limited to Imo State and a handful of other enclaves. Not anymore, ask any young Igbo man wishing to marry today and they will tell you how terrified they are just from thinking about these prohibitive costs in any part of Igboland.
It seems to me that different parts of Igboland are now competing to outdo each other in the unimaginable LIST of things that must be bought and paid for by the hapless male prospect. And these LISTS are growing by the day. In every village now, or more precisely in every umunna, there are men who specialize in refining these LISTS to make them longer and more expensive, often indoctrinating things they suddenly discovered are being done in Arondiziogu, or Umunede. And I wonder, what does the marriage tradition of Mbaitolu has to do with that of Obeleagu Umana. Our old men at home have become so greedy and their actions are making life miserable for our young men. I have no qualms for a young man that has it and wishes to splash the money for the sake of the love of his life, but it is quite a different ball game for countless Igbo young men who have now been priced out of the marriage market in Igboland. A lawyer friend of mine recently married from Edo State after he had introduced a young Igbo girl to me as his fiancée a few months before. I was surprised and later asked him if things did not work out with the other girl. He looked me in the eye and told me that the girl's family must have been insane considering the long LIST they gave to him. "I decided to go to Edo because things are much cheaper there," he added. For the record, I do not have any problem whatsoever with inter-tribal or even inter-racial marriages, but it is alarming to know that several Igbo men are now fleeing their own kind just because they are no longer affordable. How awful, I thought, if this can happen to a lawyer (A serious, practising attorney and not just any charge and bail lawyer) I hate to think of what will be the fate of any low-level civil servant or petty trader wishing to marry in Igboland today. The average Igbo man is now marrying later and later in life because of the time it takes them to save all the money required to pay for these things. And the sad part of all this nonsense is that often, after the wine-carrying is done, the male victim is left in debt, huge debts before even the white wedding is contemplated. No wonder many smart ones are now combining the wine-carrying with the church wedding the same day just to save money.
In a few months it will be 25 years since I got married. All I did was send five thousand Naira to my dad, and that was more than sufficient for the dowry, wine-carrying, and all the other traditional rites they performed lavishly on our behalf with some money left. That was 1988 and I was still living in London at the time. Last month I was hanging out at a club in Lagos with my son who was visiting from the US. Imagine if my dream of early-marriage was significantly delayed because of lack of money, I might still be changing diapers today. Things have now changed completely even when adjusted for inflation. The average cost of dowry and wine-carrying in Igbo land today runs well over a million Naira on the cheap. If you are a big boy and trying to represent, then you may be talking upwards of five million Naira. One thing is clear to me; these long LISTS and high costs of wine-carrying is not sustainable and can only damage the psychic of our young men wishing to do what is natural for all men of age anywhere in the world. The worst thing you can do to any young man is to make him feel financially inadequate. I'm not talking about not being able to afford luxuries and fantasies, but something as basic and naturally expected as marriage when he is of age. Our wine-carrying in Igboland has indeed become big business...to the detriment of our young men, and the young women too, who are often left unmarried because of those exorbitant cost on their head.
In most towns and villages in Igboland today, people's lives are mostly occupied by events such as wine-carrying and funerals. But it appears to me that for every wine-carrying ceremony, there are probably a dozen or more funerals. No wonder those who profit in the big business of funerals are now driving the flashiest of cars. One of my tenants at Awka has all the templates ready to go. "It is easy to make a poster," he tells me, "All you need to do is upload the photo and fill in the rest of the information." His poster comes with two headings, GLORIOUS EXIT, which is reserved for those few who are lucky to die old, and PAINFUL DEPARTURE, for just about everyone else. I lost my dad in 1999, he was a couple of months shy of 80 when he died. Given his advanced age, and the fact that God has blessed me, I decided to throw a big party to celebrate his good life. All the big name musicians, all the cows, all the food, all the Champaign, all the cognac, all the dignitaries, hotel rooms, etc, etc, cost me less than 3 million Naira. Unfortunately, I lost my senior brother just over two years ago at the young age of 57. Given that he died prematurely and left behind a widow and five young children, I thought wisely that this does not call for a celebration. But it's easier said than done. I bought 100 ashoby for my dad's burial, but now everybody told me that 100 ashoby cannot even make a dent among the cousins and nephews and nieces and every extended family members from Opi Nsuka to Amaigbo. I protested, but of course, I didn't want my sister-in-law to think that I don't care for her husband, or for my mother to think that I'm burying her first son so cheaply. Bottom line, I wanted to do this on the cheap, but by the time it was over I had exceeded my limit of 3 million Naira. Thank God I did not have to borrow money but I drank garri for several months afterwards.
My first encounter was the church. After I had paid the 34,000 naira back dues for my late brother and his family, I asked the church for a date, and that was when my problem started. The cannon, now finding out that I had just recently returned from the US, decided to go for the kill. He came up with all sorts of stories and excuses imaginable, all designed to extort more money from me. I'm talking hundreds of thousands of Naira. Well, like the Americans, I called his bluff, went and rented a pastor from a small church down the road and he brought his entire congregation, along with the band to bury my brother. At the funeral the young man of God preached until everybody was under the anointing. Akuko! He unashamedly advertised his church and all the miracles possible there and when finished, buried my brother. The village requirements apart, (which is out of this world) what worries me most is what the Anglican and the Catholic Churches in Igboland are requesting before they bury one of their own flocks. It is sad to think of this. The church is supposed to be your place to seek comfort when bereaved, but deer not come for comfort or expediency if you don't have a bucket full of cash. And God forbid if the church knows or think that there is someone in that compound with a little bit of money, then only God can save you from their stranglehold. I suppose that if many people should call their bluff as I did they won't have the audacity to keep milking the bereaved family unnecessarily.
And here is the one that made me cry just three days ago and ultimately made this article necessary. I attended a funeral of a relative, a woman that died at the age of 72. We took her body from the mortuary and stopped briefly at her father's compound for a final rite by her family before onward procession to her husband's house at a nearby town where she was scheduled to be buried. But upon arrival at her father's house, her kinsmen seized the coffin. They had apparently demanded all sorts of fees and levies and whatnots from the deceased woman's children, all in excess of 125,000 naira. The children had brought some of the money in advance, about 25,000 and agreed to pay the rest whenever they can afford it. If someone else had told me this story I would not have believed it, but I was there, and it all happened before my very own eyes. The kinsmen or umunna refused to release the corpse for the onward final journey to her husband's home. They will not relent on their demand without full payment. After more than an hour of haggling between the deceased children and the umunna, an argument ensued and the umunna brought out their shovels and threatened to bury the woman there. This was unimaginable to me, and I felt I had seen enough, so I entered my car and drove back to Enugu. I've always been critical about those who leave their loved ones in the mortuary for six months or even a year or two before they can do the burial. Now I can understand fully. Burial is not a small thing in Igboland. Most have to sell landed properties or get into serious debts, just to give their loved ones a befitting burial. I'm not talking about a lavish burial, just a simple befitting burial. That, I believe, is sad indeed.