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The Igwa Marriage Contract of the Okrika People

I study history and humanities at the university. The history, culture, and tradition of a people anywhere interested me.

They Just Wedded the Modern African Way



Marriage is seen as a social and legally binding agreement between a man and a woman for coitus in other to produce offspring. But according to Benjamin Okaba, marriage ‘may be conjugal’ without the desire to produce issues even though the couples are fertile.
I’m here inclined to reason that each couple had already had children elsewhere.
Nevertheless, ‘universally approved social context’, continued Okaba, ‘granted rights to social consumption and reproduction'. This meaning gives public recognition to the union.
However, the possibility of producing children without marriage seems to be a universally accepted norm under the concubinage system.
1. The Okrika Peoples.
2. System of marriage among the Okrika peoples.
3. The Igwa Marriage.
4. The Igwa marriage system.
5. The imports of the Igwa marriage.
6. The Igwa marriage before the advent of the British Missionaries, explorers, and traders.
7. Absentee.
8. Disadvantage of Igwa marriage.
6. Why the Okrika men choice Igwa.
7. Combating Igwa marriage in the old days.
8. Igwa more marriage problems.
9. Conclusions.
10. References.

The Okrika People

Traditionally, they are fishers, traders, and salt makers. They live on an island on the Eastern Niger Delta fringes. Having welcomed western education, some opt for government work as civil servants, public officers, professionals in companies, and self-employed.
You find them as university dons, educators, and teachers. In fact, there’s no work in which the Okrika man is not engaged.
Some specifically the semi-illiterate in Western education still retained the traditional occupation of fishing, trading, and salt making.

And a well-educated person like me still carried on the cultural aspects of fishing in the creeks and rivers. I specialized in catching Tilapia, mullets, and sardines.

System of Marriage Among the Okrika People

The Okrika people, originally called the Wakirike or Wakirikenes, have two major marriage systems. These are the Igwa and the Iya (Ya).
Okirika, later corrupted to Okrika because the British missionaries and traders couldn’t correctly pronounce the word Wakirike, vitiated to Okirika, and the Okrika.

The Igwa Marriage

The Wakirikenes or Wakirike, that’s the Okrika-speaking people have two major marriage systems. These are the Igwa and the Ya (Iya) systems respectively. This results from the history of the settlement and isolation of the people from the Mainland and Island.

The concubinage system seems to be foreign to the Okrika culture. And, any other type of contact between a man and a woman, apart from Igwa and Ya, whereby offspring results in a back door affair is termed Lekiria. This later is most frowned at but in the permissive environment of the 21st century, it can be converted to either Igwa or Ya with payments according to custom and traditions.

The Igwa Marriage System

This is the most contracted, the most prevailing, and the most dominant marriage custom. Among the Wakirikenes, the Igwa marriage is the foremost. Traditionally, no sensible Okrika man in his right attitude will allow you to deviate from Igwa.
Igwa here means ‘mixed’. Mixed in the sense that it’s mother-based or matrilineal. Mixed also in that the two parties-husband and wife, nuclear and extended families, friends and well-wishers are from different families.
That tells you that sands and iron fillings are different mixed as in our chemistry class lesson.

A Wedding Maiden Beautifully Decorated



The question of offspring production is the most consideration of Igwa marriage in Okrika. Igwa let both parties see if issues are forthcoming. If none results, the marriage is easily terminated by either the man or woman, with accusations and counter-accusations. Hence, the man can marry another woman, and the lady another man for the sake of producing children.

Second, Igwa was given much consideration for a man without financial freedom. It’s the right type of marriage for a poor man and a man of moderate means of income.
However, the rich no matter how wealthy he is; is advised to contact the Igwa in the first instance. This contract is testing if the maiden was fertile or not.

The third factor is that the suitors if they’re always wealthy will always marry off all the females in a particular family or lineage group.

For example, the first settler at the Okrika Island was a man called Opuagulaya, his wives, and 15 of his children, plus other few relatives and followers. This includes domestic servants. But on the Mainland called Oko Chiri, a Feni be So and his group were less than 10 people in all. How many girls Oputibeya had, history did not tell us.

The fourth reason is significantly important. The suitor is expected at the demise of his father-in-law to bear a certain cost of the burial dues. To prevent the children from Igwa from passing to his wife's mother, he had recourse to the more expensive Ya or Iya wedding. He thus retains the possession of the children to his mother's family.

Seriously, this is why when a foreigner or an indigenous person wants to marry an Okrika woman, the lady's people deliberately enforced the Igwa status quo on the cupid.

Just Wedded Again

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Igwa Marriage Before the Advent of the British

It's strongly noted that a man bargaining for the Igwa traditional wedding has no authority over his wife and children. Under the system, the children begotten belong to the wife's mother people. It's temporary wedlock due to its looseness.

Critically, that was in the remote past. But these days, it's still contracting. The husbandman had the overlord in the house he rented or built. In the distant past, it’s the wife and her people.

Seriously, the practical aspect of the system reveals the non-authority basis. The suitor is always on the move like the nomadic Fulani cattle herder. Nearly all these types of marriages in precolonial times permit the wife to live with her parents, instead of the poor breadwinner.

The Eros occasionally visits his lovebird on his return trips from 'Bori' or fishing village or 'oru-fe' that’s trading markets. He may spend a night or two with her, and almost immediately, he’s on the go again to either a fishing port or trading post.

It’s interesting to note that some of those Igwa lords do not have a house to call home. Some may stay at their parent's home and the maiden would not like it.

Interestingly again, should he like to stay with his maidenhead at her parents’ house, he’s most welcome. In this case, he should not dictate to her under her guidance home. The bride may even ask him to do certain menial household chaos in order to debase his manliness. He may resent this and sullenly walk away. This is a ploy on the part of his espousal to get him on the move again. More interestingly enough, the spouse is expecting her heartthrob on a ‘date’. Therefore, being uneasy with the plowing of his wedded bride, he bolts off as said either to Oru fe or Bori.


Incidentally, should he not be seen or heard for about 3 to 6 months, the question is: who’s responsible for feeding her and the children she bore him?

The bride may consider marrying another man or her expecting lover. Had this be the case as it’s likely, and having married a second man, the first husband is likely to appear on. He’ll be rejected. That’s the end of the Igwa he agreed. Though he’s the biological father of the children she bears. According to custom and tradition, the kids now reverted to the mother’s mother and her people.

That said, some ladies are known to have two or more men as husbands. It's part of the traditional culture.

Disadvantage of Igwa Marriages

One major disadvantage of the Igwa marriage is that a woman can be bent on marrying as many men as she can, and cutting them off one after the other, in other to increase the number of persons within the immediate family for economic reasons. This is significant in the remote past due to Okrika's history of virgin settlement.

Marriage Dua in Church


Why Men Choose Igwa Marriage

  • It’s an idea for low-income earners.
  • Igwa is based on friendship status with social backing, instead of being a promiscuous or back-door affair.
  • It’s flexible enough.
  • No bride price is required at Igwa marriage.
  • The expense to be disposed of for entertainment is low compared to Iya or Ya.
  • Freedom of the mind. Some men and women don’t border to be tied down by the demands and rigidness of marital life but seek freedom to explore sex.

Combating Igwa Marriage in the Olden Days

As noted, the main two types of marriage Okrika conformed to are the Iya (Ya) or the big dowry and the Igwa, small dowry systems.

And, because it’s expensive to marry under the Ya system, plus the difficulties in providing a sister as an addition for exchange, Okrika men saved some money to marry wives in the neighboring countries of Igboland and Calabar.

Professor Nsugbe has recorded that the bride price in the Igbo country range from a minimum of one and a half British pound to a maximum of six hundred pounds.

He narrated how the Ohaffian men in other to encouraged a patrilineal or father-based system of marriage in the Ohaffia community, primarily matrilineal Igbo people purchase slave girls at Nike or Aro country as wives. These wives were most prized as ‘valuable’ and ‘expensive’, compared to the free country woman who can be troublesome. It’s these valuable and expensive women from Nike, Abam, Aro, and Ohaffia country that the Okrika men procure as wives in preference Igwa or Ya.

The very rich men in modern times can go as far as Lagos, Kano, and other towns to perform the Ya wedding. Some locals, in keeping with the custom and tradition complete the rite according to the Okrika custom

Igwa More Marriage Problems

  • Any man and woman can marry under the Igwa system because they’re from different families (nuclear, immediate, or extended).
  • ‘Divorce in Igwa marriage is easier, and hence more frequent'. -Chief E. D. W. Opuogulaya.
  • Hence, I’m inclined to think that Igwa is a loose type of marriage.
  • It’s comparable to the boy-girl friendship status.
  • Igwa children when they have had the financial means can complete the Ya aspect of the marriage on behave of, the living or dead parents.


The Igwa marriage system still predominates among many Okrika peoples. It’s unique to them. One can find Igwa being a marriage principle in other Ijaw lands of the Eastern Niger Delta. But how the Okrika people practice it is uniquely different.


The Cultural Heritage of the Wakirike(The Okrika People), by Chief E. D. W. Opuagulaya, CSS Press, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
2. Contemporary General Studies, by Dr. Josiah D. Atemie, and Dr. Nelson Onubia,(eds) subject: Principle of Kinship, Decent, and Marriage in Traditional Nigeria, Hercon-Universities Series, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
3. Introduction to Nigeria Socio-Cultural Heritage, By Professor Mark O. C. Anikpo and Dr. Josiah D. Atemie(eds), subject: Kinship and Social Organization Traditional Nigeria, Osia International Publishing Co. Ltd., Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
4. The Ohaffia: A Matrilineal Ibo People, by Philip O. Nsugbe, subject: Monetary Economy Exchange Rate, Social and Cultural Institution. Oxford University Press.
5. A History of the Niger Delta, by E. Joe Alagoa, Oyoma Research Publications, Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
6. The Significant of the War Canoe Houses in the Wakirike(Okrika) Society 1700-1900 A.D, by Miebaka G. H. Fiberesima, a project work, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.

7. Cross cultural marriage studies.

8. Okrika Traditional Ya and Igwa marriages.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Miebakagh Fiberesima

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