African weddings are a family affair, and what makes them intriguing are the flashy color themes, danceable music, and an array of cultural dishes. Furthermore, African wedding traditions, rituals, and customs add to the unique experience.
If you are curious about African wedding traditions, read on to learn about some of the typical African wedding customs, what they entail, and their significance.
Common African Wedding Customs
African wedding ceremonies are special thanks to cultural rituals and traditions. Here are some popular African wedding customs you should know about.
The Engagement Ceremony
The engagement ceremony is also known as the dowry payment ceremony.
Paying the bride price in the past guaranteed premarital female virginity and sexual fidelity.
In modern Africa, the bride price is a way for the groom to prove that he can take good care of the bride by being a good provider.
Each community has its way of celebrating the engagement ceremony. For example, in Burkina Faso, the groom’s family visits the bride’s family to discuss the bride price. Dowry can be in the form of animals, money, kitchen utensils, cereals, or clothes.
Some communities in Kenya also conduct an engagement ceremony that involves the groom paying a dowry with traditional brews, cows, goats, honey, and green bananas. Modern-day grooms pay the bride price in cash.
Knocking on the Door
Knocking on the door tradition has its origin in Ghana. It involves the groom knocking on the door of the bride’s home and waiting to be allowed in.
Once the bride’s family accepts the groom’s knock, his family and friends present alcohol for libation, money, and other items.
After the groom announces his intentions, both families discuss how they become one before giving their blessing. Once finalized, the bride is called in. Her dad then asks her three times if she accepts the proposal.
Celebrations start once the bride accepts the proposal, thus officiating the engagement.
Honoring ancestors and respecting elders is a huge part of most African cultures.
In most African countries, a libation ceremony involves pouring alcohol or holy water on the ground in the four cardinal directions. Then, an elder recites prayers to the ancestral spirits, calling out the names of those who’ve recently passed away. That is meant to connect the living to their ancestral spirits.
In addition, the act invites divine guides and overseers to witness the marriage and offer gifts required for a happy marriage.
Some West African tribes conduct libation ceremonies to ensure couples gain wisdom from those who’ve lived before. In addition, both the bride and groom may respond to the invocation as a way of accepting the blessing.
Kola nuts are popular in the Western Africa tropical rain forests. These nuts were used for medicinal purposes in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Nigeria. Apart from healing, Kola nuts also symbolize unity, hospitality, and respect.
When a man finds a woman he wants to marry in countries like Gambia, he sends a Kola nut as greetings and proposal declaration. If the woman’s family accepts his proposal, the representatives of the man’s family meet with the girls’ family to decide on the dowry and set a date for breaking the kola nut.
In this case, the breaking of the kola nut signifies marriage. A kola nut is broken at a traditional wedding ceremony and shared among elders and relatives.
In other West African countries, the bride and groom exchange kola nuts after saying their vows as an act of healing. Exchanging kola nuts symbolizes the couple’s willingness to help heal each other. In addition, it’s believed that this ritual of exchange affirmed their commitment to support each other during challenging times.
They are also advised to work together to overcome any differences and disputes in their marriage.
Some African Muslims also share the Kola nuts during an engagement ceremony to ask for fertility.
The henna ceremony is another popular African wedding tradition practiced in most countries.
Egyptians refer to their henna ceremony as Laylat-al-henna, held on the night before the wedding. The bride, her sisters, cousins, and close friends are invited to participate in this ceremony.
Henna is mixed with water, and the artist draws complex patterns on the hands and feet of the bride. Ancient Egyptians believe that henna brings good luck to the couple. A henna ceremony also blessed the couple with health and fertility while protecting them against the evil eye.
In Nigeria, applying henna on the bride is an integral part of the wedding ceremony. The bride is not allowed to do any housework after henna is applied on her hands. She is pampered and regarded as the new bride in the family.
The henna ceremony is also common in Kenya. The bride has henna applied on her limbs in intricate designs. Among the Swahilis, the celebration may take two days to a week and involves other rituals like applying perfume on the bride and hairdressing.
Advice is given to the bride by the elderly family members. Prayers and songs are also part of this ceremony.
The Hausa and Tuaregs communities in Niger also apply henna to symbolize fertility and purity. Henna is also a common custom in Indian weddings.
Tasting the Four Elements
Tasting the four elements is another popular Yoruba ritual conducted in African wedding ceremonies. These four elements include sour, bitter, hot, and sweet-which represent all the emotions any marriage must withstand.
Couples are asked to sample some vinegar, lemon, cayenne, and honey.
The lemon represents the disappointments the couple will face. Vinegar symbolizes bitterness they need to overcome in trying times. Cayenne stands for hot or a way for the couple to spice up their relationship. Finally, a spoon of honey represents the sweet moments the couple will have in marriage.
With them tasting the four elements, the newlyweds demonstrate their willingness to remain united in every situation and a commitment to work through their emotions together in marriage.
Tying the Knot
When a couple gets married, the act is referred to as tying the knot.
However, in African wedding traditions, tying the knot has a more literal meaning.
Tying the knot involves a respected member of the family wrapping a piece of cord, vine, or leather around a couple before saying their vows. Wrapping their hands together is to bind them together in matrimony – in other cultures, this is called handfasting.
Another exciting aspect is that the material used for binding had its significance. For example, green represents renewal, purple represents healing, white represents purity, and red represents strength.
Cowrie shells and kente clothes were popular binding options as they represented fertility and prosperity.
The couple says their vows while being bound to affirm their commitment to each other.
Jumping the Broom
Jumping the broom is another popular wedding tradition that has its origin from slavery days. A broom was a common household item and was used to sweep the house and compound clean.
When African couples were slaves, they were denied any traditional rituals and ceremonies to mark life events.
For them to transition and become husband and wife, the couple would jump over a broomstick together. They believed that jumping the broom helped to sweep away past evil spirits and wrongs. The act also symbolized that the couple were entering into a domestic union.
It’s not unusual to see African couples incorporate handmade or customized brooms to jump over as a souvenir for prosperous marriage life.
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The crossing stick ceremony is another African that dates back to slavery-like jumping the broom.
Traditionally, the couple would pick the sticks from any tree that was on the family property.
Both the bride and groom would join the wooden sticks together to demonstrate their commitment. After crossing the sticks, the couple exchanged their vows to mark the beginning of their union. Crossing the sticks was also a symbol of power and unity.
Spraying money on the bride as she dances is another popular African wedding tradition practiced in West Africa. Igbo and Yoruba tribes are famous for this wedding tradition.
The money dance or money spray happens during the reception.
Although anyone can participate in this tradition, most cultures involve the older guests throwing the money as a sign of wishing the couple happiness in their matrimony. Additionally, this tradition also signifies a prosperous future for the couple and acts as a show of affluence and flamboyance.
There isn’t a set time for friends and family to spray money on the couple, but most people prefer to do it when the bride and groom hit the dance floor.
Bridesmaids or designated guests collect all the thrown money and hand it over to the newlyweds at the end of the night.
Traditional African weddings are immersed in a rich cultural history.
Sharing Kola nuts, participating in libation ceremonies, and having money sprayed on the couple as they dance are some of the African American wedding traditions you may come across.
Hopefully, you now have an idea of what these traditions entail and their significance.
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