Marriage. Marriage is not a matter for the man and woman alone; it concerns the close kin of both. Marriage arrangements are negotiated between the families of the prospective bride and groom. With regard to the paternity of the wife's children, they belong to the lineage of the husband. When a woman has children out of wedlock, however, they belong to her natal lineage, and not to that of the children's father. Igbo have also institutionalized marriage options permitting "female husbands" in woman-to-woman marriages, in special circumstances. Some daughters with a male status (i.e., "male daughters") do not even have to marry to procreate.
Although females are brought up looking forward to this dual role, it would be misleading to think that the major roles of women in Igbo society are as wife and mother, since Igbo women are prominent in public life as an organized force in both economics and politics. A significant part of a young girl's or a young man's childhood training is geared toward their future roles in the family and as useful and responsible citizens. Women are fully involved in matchmaking and usually participate directly or indirectly in the actual negotiations of marital arrangements for their sons or their daughters, in cooperation with the male members of the families concerned. Women have powerful and active behind-the-scene roles in seeking out the girls they would like their sons to marry. The approval of the mother is vital because the young bride is generally expected to live with her mother-in-law and to serve her for the first few months of marriage, until the new couple can set up an independent household and farmland.
Domestic Unit. Most Igbo lived in villages made up of dispersed compounds. A compound was typically a cluster of huts belonging to individual household units. The typical Igbo village consisted of loose clusters of homesteads scattered along cleared paths that radiated from a central meeting place. The village meeting place usually contained the shrines or temples and groves of the local earth goddess and also served as the market. Large communities often had two such units. Most local communities contained anywhere between 40 and 8,000 residents. Homesteads were generally comprised of the houses of a man, his wives, his children, and sometimes his patrilineal cousins. They were often surrounded by mud walls and were nearly always separated from neighboring homesteads by undergrowth or women's gardens. Northern Igbo women normally decorated the mud walls of their houses with artwork. In the south, houses were made of mud on a stick framework; usually either circular or rectangular, the houses were thatched with either palm leaves or grass and were floored with beaten mud. Co-wives had their own rooms, kitchens, and storerooms. Young children and daughters usually stayed with their mothers, whereas the males lived in separate houses. Population pressure and European architecture has forced significant changes in these old settlement ideals, introducing (cement) brick houses lacking aesthetic appeal.
Inheritance. The bulk of inheritance allotments are granted to the eldest son, who, at the time of the inheritance, becomes responsible for the welfare of his younger siblings. If the eldest son is a minor at the time of his father's death, a paternal uncle will take charge of the property and provide for the deceased brother's family. There is also marriage by inheritance, or levirate—a widow may become the wife of her brother-in-law. In some localities, widows may become the wives of the deceased father's sons by another wife.