In this world, there are as many cultures as can be imagined—each with its distinct features and attributes. This distinctness comes to full glare in the way rituals are conducted.
Some cultures are characteristically elaborate and sophisticated in the way rituals such as marriage, circumcision, burial and what have you are conducted; while others are, rightly, simple.
A culture is normally, scientifically, as elaborate and sophisticated as its age. Cultures are organic; they continuously evolve and develop new features with new contacts, circumstances, knowledge, technologies and experiences. In this continuous evolutionary processes, where new features emerge, cultures, as they grow, equally ‘drop-off’ some of their (un)important elements—its ‘originality’, technically speaking. In this part of the world, one of the oldest culture—alongside Babur, Shuwa, Marghi—and thus correspondingly, with the richest content, is the *Kanuri. Kanuri has a record of over 1, 000 years of documented history.
It evolved as a result of series of historical factors and derives from a number of outside and external influences. Granted, it may have had a foreign origin, as argued by some anthropologists and historians over the years, but there is no doubt that it fully emerged or, first, came to historical limelight around the region that extends from Lake Chad in the south, to the Sahara desert and Maghreb-al-Aqsa in the north. It drew from a number of local and outside forces from within the West African region, North Africa and Arabia. There’s no doubt about the place of Islamic and Arabian elements in its content. As in almost all cases, one cultural activity that brings out the distinctiveness of a culture is its wedding—and this is not dissimilar in the case of Kanuri. The sophistication and elaborateness of the Kanuri wedding is hardly beatable even as, with time, a lot of its content has given way. Indeed, over time, many of its content have gone to oblivion such that even those who are grown-up Kanuri will be awed to be reminded of them—and majority will be hearing them for the first. So here is a reminder...
Pre-wedding rituals: the K3rawo Period
K3rawo (?), is the Kanuri term for love. In any marriage, it precedes every other activity. And before K3rawo stands, apart from their existence, the boy and the girl have to see somewhere, where, either on first sight or subsequently, one falls for the other. He or she who falls for the other, after so much strong emotional tickling, overbearing thoughts, growing imaginations, wishes and anticipations, initiates the ‘wooing adventure’—to give basis for it to stand. Once success is achieved in the adventure, and K3rawo is established, the next most important thing in the road to marriage is: Kela tulowo..
It simply means introducing yourself to the girl’s family. The boy and few of his close friends visit the girl’s family to greet her parents. Following the introduction, the girl’s family will immediately ‘launch’ an underground investigation into the boy’s character, occupation and background. It is normally after the completion of this that the fate of the relationship is decided by the family. If they are satisfied with the results, they will ask the boy to ‘validate’ his ‘application’ by sending his family for formalisation of the marriage processes: Ra’aki, Koro, Sadau and Sart3. But where they are not satisfied, it is a bad luck for the boy, try next house or request ‘not responding’!.
Ra’aki, Koro and Sart3
Ra’aki, Koro, Sart3 and Sadau are the major pre-wedding activities that in the overall, open and pave way for a wedding in Kanuri and almost all ‘decent’ cultures. Ra’aki is the first ritual with which the Kanuri wedding is opened. Unlike today, it used to be a big event where the groom’s family will send its contingent, involving a large number of people, to the bride’s family to ‘formalize’ their son’s intention to marry their daughter. In Maiduguri, the number and calibre of people, cars in your entourage, the number of boxes of your ‘Kare ra’akiye’ is a thing of competition and pride among guys, families to the extent that some brides and their families even boast about it.
After this, the next thing is Koro, also part of the same event. Here, the groom’s family, his la’ali, will proceed to seek the hands of the girl in marriage from her family officials on behalf of their son (who is not normally part of the delegation). It is the wish of the family to accept or decline the Koro (request); but under normal circumstances, it will not reach up to this point if the family is going to reject it. Most of the time, the case of declining arises when the family had gone into prior agreement with someone, or promised to marry off the girl to someone else or are not satisfied with the boy’s character, occupation and background.
Where the family is not willing to decline, they will open up negotiation on the dowry (Sadau) to be paid. Obviously, in the whole of West Africa, few cultures, if at all there are, pay such an outrageously huge amount of money for dowry as the Kanuri do. The price can go as high as N500, 000, and in the case of some families, run into millions. This is normally calculated base on the price of gold gram, shishi.
If the two families agree on this, the next phase is to negotiate the date of the wedding: Sart3. Because of the many activities and demands that will follow, the families will agree on the most convenient date in order to prepare ahead. It is almost always the decision of the bride’s family. Along with the delegation, which includes a large number of the groom’s family and friends, a lot of gifts, Kare Ra’akiye, are brought to the bride and her family.
Traditionally, this will include boxes of clothing, cosmetics, etc for the bride and packs of sweet, biscuits and kola nut for the family. The bride’s family will also give Kingiyaram —a gift given in return of a gesture. This typically includes fried chicken, meat, drinks and snacks. With these, the two families will begin planning for the main event: the wedding ceremony.
Main Event: Wedding Rituals
From this time up to the day slated for the wedding, the two families will be planning for the wedding—and I can authoritatively say that, this does not end until the wedding is over. The mothers will start buying clothes, cosmetics,jewelries, dishes, furniture, accessories and local scents among others. This is how the lifetime savings of all Kanuri mothers meet their grave. But this is not also without massive destruction to the bank account of the oga kwata kwata. My late boss believed that once you ask them for the list of items to be secured and give the room to do so without checking their excesses, there will be no end to the list. In fact, whenever there’s a wedding in the house, he would joke with me whenever he emerges from his room: ‘I hope they have not come again asking for something?’ One woman once proved that before me, she asked and asked, including kuguna Ala ngorobewa, and still didn’t seem tired. We had to ask her to stop! Gifts from all members of the family—siblings, cousins, nephews, aunties, uncles, etc—and friends, rich or poor, will start trickling in. Invitations, mintiya gorowa, will be sent out for bawaram, kususuram, and etc to all members of the family while the bride sends out anko to her friends in preparatory for the main event which has with it a beehive of activities.
As far as my inquiry can go, the first activity with which the main event is opened used to be Kalimbo. When I asked my sisters at home what it was, none of them ever heard of the word—and this is so true of many people. My mum could remember witnessing it during the wedding of her senior sister in the 1960s. Kalimbo used to be a week-long activity organised by the bride’s friends to raise funds. They would wear their best clothes, apply local scents (kaáji), wear beautiful henna (nnalle) and assemble on the street before the bride’s house with a mortar and pestle (kemowa kuri’iya). They would be chanting and singing different songs, while pounding henna in the mortar. Unfortunately I don’t know what it’s they sing or chant—but I believe it must have been a message to the guys. When zairowa (guys) are passing by, the girls (kla yask3) will barricade them with the pestle, insisting that they donate some money to them, while they continue chanting. The guys to avoid embarrassment, because most of the time their girlfriends are among, or likely to hear about it, would give their contribution and move on. This way, the girls raise the money to fund their activities in the wedding. When I heard this, I for the first time discovered that broad daylight armed robbery was started by women...