Orisa initiation is NOT a rite of passage. Among the Yoruba, one is born into orisa devotion by way of his or her lineage, which is why we say, isese l'agba. It means that orisa tradition is senior; that is, it predates the Abrahamic religions. The problem we face in diaspora is a lack of exposure to Yoruba culture. Within the culture, there are three primary rites of passage: They are the naming, marriage and burial. Today, I want to share a bit about marriage, which is of particular interest to Yoruba men. This is why they say, “Àíníyàwó kò sé dáké, bí a bá dáké lásán ẹnu níí yọni − A man cannot just keep quiet without a wife, keeping quiet about it only results in a problem.”
Marriage is arguably the MOST important initiation you will ever undergo. It is NOT an individual endeavor. Marriage is, in fact, a ritual that equally involves two entire families. Traditionally, a man will only seek marriage after he has mastered his craft, established a solid stream of income and built a house. This means men usually do not consider marriage until about age 30. At that point, he seeks a young lady he wishes to marry. In the traditional society, there are about five stages involved in the marriage:
1. Ifa consultation
2. Releasing the voice (isihun)
5. Wedding proper
In the most traditional settings, he does not approach the lady at first. The young man informs his father, who will then inform the Bale (head of the family). When they are sure that there is no blood relationship between the two, they then meet with the family of the bride-to-be. The two families then select a go-between (Alarena).
It is the duty of the Alarena to perform a background check on the family of the bride-to-be. This is to avoid marrying someone with some serious physical or mental disorder such as lunacy, epilepsy, leprosy, or extreme albinism. The Alarena will also watch the conduct of the girl over time. When she is satisfied with the conduct of the girl, the family of the young now consults the Ifa oracle .The aim is to know what the future portends for the two people involved. If the consultation yields a positive result, then they move to the next stage, if not then they discontinue with the proposal. This background check includes knowing the health conditions of the family, if there is the potential mother-in-law is respectful to her husband and vice versa; also to find out if they are destined to be together (i.e., Ifa will be consulted and sacrifices performed).
Once all the background checks are done and both families are cleared, the parents of the groom-to-be send “emissaries” to the bride’s parents. This process is called Idana. This step simply means that they are interested in marrying the young lady and would like to become in-laws.
The releasing of the voice (Isihun) is when the girl gives her consent to marriage. The date is now set for the Itoro (engagement). On the appointed day, a few elders from the young man's family gets to the lady's house as early as five am in the morning unannounced. This is to formally solicit for the parent of the girl’s consent in marriage. The girl’s parents will then tell the delegates that they are not the only one's involved in giving out the girl. This is because marriage involves every member of the extended family and no one must be left uninformed. Before the delegation leaves, a date is set for Idana.
On the appointed day, the two families meet in bride-to-be’s residence. This is when the dowry (owo ori), and other items that have significance in the life of the family to be are presented to the girl’s family. Some of the items include choice kola-nuts, some alligator pepper, bitter-kola certain number of yam tubers, palm oil, salt, fine wrapper of good quality, and other things. In most cases, the dowry is returned to the parents of the young man with the assertion that they do not sell their daughter. After much eating and drinking, the two families set a date for the actual wedding.
On the wedding day, there are so many festivities in both the parents’ houses. The two families separately bring together and friends and well-wishers. There is so much to eat and drink on this day. The two families display the various outfits (aso-ebi) which they have sown. Both the bride and the groom’s families flaunt their affluence with the type of people in attendance, the type of musician(s) invited, and duration of the parties. In the night, the bride goes before the male elders of the family to obtain blessing. The eldest of them starts the prayer asking the ancestors to protect her. He also admonishes her to be of good conduct in her new abode. All other male and later female members take their turn to pray for her and advise her. After these prayers, she then turns to her mother for prayer and blessing in form of bride’s song of departure (ekun iyawo).The bride is then taken to the groom’s house by some men, accompany by some of the wife’s friends and a younger cousin, niece or nephew who is known as omo iyawo.
After all formalities, at the entrance of the house, the bride is admitted into the groom's household and finally handed over to the eldest wife in the family for mentoring. This underscores the importance of marriage as a rite of passage.