Either by nature or the influence of time and other cultures, it’s fair to say that Nigeria is a marriage-crazed society. Here, everything that is related to the union of man and woman is more significant than you’d expect.
Without a doubt, the most accentuated of all these is the wedding, the act of tying two together as one.
In recent years, a typical Nigerian wedding has gone from a relatively intimate experience to something between a carnival and a church revival.
In all fairness, most single persons defiantly insist that they will have small weddings, nothing of the sort that we are becoming used to.
“People have different opinions about weddings”, says Adebusoye Kunle, CEO of KLALA Photography, a Lagos firm that documents weddings, “In a typical couple, the bride may want it large. Sometimes, the groom wants it small and it becomes an argument”.
But as Banky W and his new bride, Adesua, found out, whatever you think you want is usually a story for the gods.
Over a year before announcing his engagement, Banky W shared an interesting post on Snapchat. In it, he said that small weddings are the best and he would not be doing “that huge Lagos wedding move”.
Footage has also surfaced of a single Adesua Etomi sharing her preference for a small wedding with a reporter. “It definitely won’t be a big wedding”, she said, “You guys won’t even see pictures”.
Well, the actor and singer got married one weekend in November; and not only did we see pictures and videos, their union was the biggest story that didn’t have Robert Mugabe or 4 Premier League goals in it.
In a world where it doesn’t happen if it’s not on social media, their wedding even had its own hashtag: #BAAB17.
So what happened to change the couple’s minds? Why did they, like the rest of us mortal beings, give in? What is that Nigerian spirit inside of us that loves to get united in marriage to the sound of live bands in front of as many people as the hall can contain?
Our parents have to take some of the credit for this. Remember that time you mentioned small weddings to your parents and they said God forbid.
You thought it would end there but they launched a manifesto stating what stadium they would rent and how many family members would fly in from Europe.
For some reason, the older generation sees a wedding ceremony as more than just a solemnization or uniting of two persons.
For them, it is a symbol of success, proof that their children have reached an important milestone and become adults.
It is not something to hide away in a secret location with 20 odd people, it is something to be proud of.
There’s also the “family and friends” factor. Weddings nowadays also serve a double function as social gatherings where old connections are re-established and relatives catch up with each other.
The bigger the wedding is, the better chance there is for family, friends and acquaintances to connect, catch up and re-build relationships.
God forbid there isn’t enough space because you saw a photo of Jay-Z and Beyonce and decided on a small, intimate wedding”.
“The wedding is not only for the bride and groom”, Adebusoye says, “… it is also an avenue for both families around the world to reunite so most times, the couple can’t decide, especially when the parents are the ones financing the wedding”.
Whatever sentiments drive the influence of parents in a wedding, it is usually stronger for the bride’s parents.
Marriage is one of the world’s oldest and strongest institutions.
From a young age, women are raised to be good wives and mothers (often at the expense of what is actually important).
It only makes sense that when it is time for them to become wives, much importance is attached to the act and the ceremony.
To be honest, this culture has also affected the way many women see marriage themselves.
Those sentiments were echoed in “We should all be feminists”, an essay from Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDx talk of the same name. In it, she wrote “ …Because I’m female, I’m expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important…”
When a woman who has been made to believe this reaches what she has been aspiring to, it’s obvious that she wants it to be as big a celebration as possible.
In a way that’s what it is all about, aspiration. Ours is a very aspirational society; even when we do not have the means to pull off a massive spectacle, we are not reluctant to go beyond our means to ‘raise funds’ to make it happen.
A massive wedding, with media coverage, high-quality aso ebi, agbadas and dresses, delicious catering and possibly a hashtag is portrayed as an ideal; every girl’s dream.
When she achieves it, and posts the photos everywhere, it puts pressure on the next bride-to-be who feels as if her wedding must be on that level or close.
From there, it’s an endless cycle.
All that pressure is not going to waste, of course. Since social media increased the scale of the spectacle, entire industries have sprouted from Nigerian weddings.
There are make-up artistes, catering firms, interior decorators to beautify the hall, wedding photographers that capture the ceremony, designers that create dresses and agbadas. Need I continue?
Of course, it is impossible to ignore the role that these people play in selling the big wedding as the perfect wedding.
“Wedding planners show a preference because planning a big wedding is more profitable”, says Demilade, a Lagos-based wedding planner, “When you successfully pull off big weddings, you also get more connections. That’s what’s important; everyone prays for bigger and better jobs”
Ultimately, it’s all about the money.
When it’s all said and done, there is a possibility that when the wedding bells toll, the desire for a good celebration trumps our personal preferences.
Everyone loves a good party and they hardly come better than a wedding ceremony. The focus is on new beginnings, good food, lots of drinks and a good time. Few things trump that.
In all of this, it is important that the focus does not shift from the people who really matter; bride and groom. Unfortunately, this happens too often.
“We’ve seen instances where couples didn’t enjoy their big day”, Adebusoye adds, “The parents came to oppress each other and King Sunny Ade was only singing for the parents. The DJ didn’t even get to turn up”.
Big weddings are healthy but they must not come at the expense of the couple’s privacy, financial security or the foundation of their co-existence as a union.
To be fair, this culture of big weddings has become much bigger than a simple cultural phenomenon. Clips of Nigerian grooms and brides dancing have gone viral in recent months. The entire idea of a Lagos wedding was also the inspiration and reference for one of the biggest movies of 2016, “The Wedding Party”.
So, maybe our obsession with big weddings is a good thing. Nigerians have turned brides and grooms into content creators. We have birthed an indigenous ecosystem worth billions of naira a year, from what was simply a mundane four-hour long ceremony.
It may be difficult to pull one off, but considering what we have made of it, it’s easy to see why anyone would consider saving up to continue what is already a tradition of sorts.