The Nupe people live in the Middle Belt of Nigeria. They constitute the majority of Niger State, which is the largest state in the country in terms of landmass. They are also located in Kwara and Kogi States and in parts of the Federal Capital Territory. The Nupe are known for many things: their food, their traditional dance, their insistence on respect that borders on reverence for elders, and their hand-carved wooden stools with incised carvings.
This wooden stool, perhaps because it is used for several daily activities, is often not recognized for its role during traditional weddings. During the wedding rites, the woman sits on the stool; she sits on it as an unmarried person, but rises as a bride.
A traditional wedding is carried out in the early hours of morning, just when the darkness begins to lift. Often, an extra source of light, like a lantern or candle, is needed.
The bride is usually in hiding around this time, because she must not appear too eager to get married. Her friends, cousins, and sisters have to seek her out. Her aunties will then lead her out into the middle of the compound, where she sits on a wooden stool, and they will remove her head scarf.
A handful of people form a circle around her and the aunties who stand over her with a small bowl of water. They sing, pray, and chant. An aunt fetches water from the bowl with her cupped palm, pouring it unto the bride-to-be’s head, washing her into the state of marriage. When she emerges from this ritual, it will be as a married woman.
But before then, her best friend must do something crucial: step forward from the crowd and break a clay pot three times. The clay pot is usually one brought days before by the proposed husband’s aunties. Upon the breaking of the pot, the woman is deemed married. The ritual ends.
The new bride, typically weeping at this stage, is pulled up from the wooden stool and helped out of her drenched clothes. The crowd moves away and goes back inside the house to prepare for the marriage celebrations taking place later. They leave the stool behind, drenched.
For centuries, the wooden stool has been a cornerstone of Nupe wedding rites.