By Samuel O. Onungwe
Ojaonu has been described as a minor yet significant ceremony which permits the would-be son in-law to eat at his betrothed maiden’s place whenever he visits her at her parents’ house. Ngofa (2006) says it used to be a private affair between ‘son and mother’ and only one or two persons may accompany the man. Ɛmԑrԑ Amenya C. Osaro depicts Ojaonu as a reception and a mini ceremony performed by the mother of would-be bride to the bridegroom. This ceremony is performed when the betrothal procedures had been perfected. The mother of the betrothed maiden would invite her proposed son in-law who would be accompanied by his intimate friend for a dinner and by this, he traditionally permitted to eat at his fiancée’s house. The date for this mini or indoor ceremony must be mutually agreed upon by the would-be bridegroom and mother in-law, preferably Obon which is Eleme day of rest. At the arrival of the son in-law and his intimate friend or best friend, a meal would be offered to them. The meal is mainly pounded yam, oiled to yellow in the form of Eyaraeyara nja-esa with elolo balo or native soup prepared with dry fish. The mother of the would-be bride makes this statement before the meal is served.
Young man, I the mother of your would-be wife formally receive you into our household and as from this day henceforth, whatever you meet us eating in this house, be it kernel or tapioca, join us and eat. This is now your home.
A token sum perhaps two hundred naira (
N200.00) is then presented to the bridegroom while one hundred naira ( N100.00) is given to his intimate friend. This is referred to as Ojaonu proper. The token fee indicates that whatever is eaten in the house would do them no harm. A small fraction of the fish would be cut by would be son in-law and his friend in disguise that they were neither hungry nor glutton and therefore would leave behind a large chunk of the meal. The essence of this ceremony is that, it is expected that the would-be son in-law would be assigned some tasks which may be mainly manually inclined before the marriage is perfected. These include house repairs, bush clearing for farm work and fence construction among others. This helps the parents of the betrothed bride to appraise the maturity in terms of strength and weakness in character and physical ability of the young man. However there is need to serve a worker food to enhance his performance and maintain healthy manners. Customarily, if the reception – Ojaonu is denied the son in-law, he cannot taste a meal in that house even when assigned a task be it manual labour or otherwise. Therefore, the way Ojaonu is currently being practiced as at today in which several persons are invited and in some cases tagged as Eleme traditional marriage is erroneous and alien and the argument that culture is dynamic as to warrant extravagance as seen today in an open air feast does not excuse such an aberration.