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Ekun Iyawo: The Bridal Chant in Yoruba Weddings

Ekun Iyawo: The Bridal Chant in Yoruba Weddings

Ekun Iyawo: The Bridal Chant in Yoruba Weddings
A Bride at a Yoruba Wedding. Image Credit: Wani Olatunde Photography.

In Yorubaland, a woman’s wedding day is one of joy, laughter and hope for a wonderful marital life ahead of her. But it also one of deep sadness which she must be prepared to acknowledge and express in front of the whole world. Beyond the colorful attires, festive songs, jolly-making and ceremonial rites that have come to be synonymous with typical Yoruba weddings, an age-long highlight is the Ekun Iyawo (literally translated to “tears of a bride”).

It is a form of poetry recited by the bride in front of her family, whom she is about to leave in order to start a home with her new husband. It captures the bitter-sweet significance of closing one chapter of her life (spinsterhood) and beginning a new one as a married woman.

Though it is mostly associated with the Oyo people, it has over time spread to other parts of Yorubaland to become one of the most enduring oral traditions that date back centuries. It was introduced to modern and global audiences when Akeem Lasisi, a celebrated orator known for his captivating performance poetry, made it into a short film.

Typically, the bride kneels before her parents or whomever is standing in for her parents. She reflects on the safety, care and love she enjoyed in the sheltered life provided for her at home, all of which she is to lose. To enhance the melodramatic performance value, the bride is expected to shed tears even if they do not come naturally. Onlookers are also expected to dab their eyes as though moved by the beautiful but sad delivery. The lyrics of the poem reflect a settling nostalgia for the home she is about leaving.

In this video by Folashade Abebi, one gets a more practical idea of what the songs signify.

She sings the following words:

Ire lo ni

Ori mi afire

Ile oko ya

Ile oko ya

Keleda iya mi sin mi o

Ile oko ya

Those words loosely translate to:

Goodness today

May goodness be my lot

It is time to go to my matrimonial home

It is time to go to my matrimonial home

May my mother’s spirit guide me

It is time to go to my matrimonial home

 

Later in the video, she expresses a brief sadness about her family giving her hand in marriage:

N’o mo oun ti mo se fun baba o

Baba ti mo ni, Ajao

To ni ki n mo rele oko

Ile oko, ile eko

Ajo o jole

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, Ekun Iyawo: The Bridal Chant in Yoruba Weddings
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Ile iya o jole oko

 

Those words translate to:

I do not know what I did to my father

My own father, Ajao,

That made him tell me to go get married

The journey does not look like home

A matrimonial home is nothing like a mother’s home

 

This is supposed to underscore her reluctance to leave her family behind even though it does not actually signify any genuine reluctance to get married.

An importance of this tradition is the specific value the Oyo people ascribe to individual artistic excellence in recitation, singing, lyrical composition, oral delivery and expression of intellect through panegyric. It marks her as an all-round, well-trained woman who is finally ready to leave the tutelage of her parents.

 

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