Africa is a culturally rich continent rich in traditions and culture with many tribes. When it comes to weddings, there are many interesting African traditional wedding customs to know. Although some of these weddings are are no longer being practiced. And if there are still being practiced, they have, to a large extent, been modernized.
Marriage in African tradition is a sacred union not just for two individuals, but between two families. For this reason, an engagement ceremony known as dowry or bride price payment is very unique and important. These ceremonies bring together the two families, sometimes two communities or even two nations in the broader sense, and allow each side to get to know each other.
However, due to the diversity of culture and religion throughout the Africa continent, marriage ceremonies vary greatly between countries. The large size in population and the extreme diversity are also reasons for the varieties of traditional marriage ceremonies in Africa. Traditional African marriage is exceptionally respected within the continent due to their deeply rooted appreciation for the notion of family. Many communities in Africa strongly believe in marriage with the notion that it is the foundation of the society because it is primarily about procreation and providing for children.
Africans tend to go all out to ensure traditional wedding ceremony is memorable. The wedding traditions in Africa come in various shapes and forms.
For instance, in Tanzania and Kenya, henna ceremonies is common during traditional wedding, dancing camels in Niger to dance-offs in South Africa are other examples that reflect the rich diversity of the continent.
This article tends to do a round up on some of the most interesting African wedding traditions practiced in various parts of the continent.
The Knocking on the door ceremony
The Knocking on the door ceremony is a common practice in Africa to which is considered sacrosanct. A large emphasis is placed on this because it is the process of getting the permission and blessing of the family before the wedding. Some ethnic groups in Ghana fully illustrates this belief and ritual known as “knocking on the door” or ‘kokoo ko’. On a special prearranged night, the groom, accompanied by his own family bearing gifts, requests permission to marry the bride from the bride’s family by ‘knocking on the door’. If everything goes well and the knock of the groom is accepted, the bride comes in to give her final consent as to whether or not she wants to marry the man. The families celebrate as soon as she gives her approval and marriage preparation begins.
Various communities in Africa have different ways of performing the knocking ceremony. The Yoruba tribe in Nigeria and Benin Republic calls it “Mo mi i mo e” (know me and let me know you). In Kenya, the Agikuyu community in Kenya calls it “Kumenya Mucii”(getting to know the home).
The Engagement Ceremony
In African wedding traditions, bride price remains a crucial aspect. This is the major reason an engagement ceremony, also known as dowry (bride price) payment ceremony is considered very important. The engagement ceremony will bring together the whole family, and allow each side to get to know each other. Bride price remains a crucial part of many African traditions and is still widely practiced in the continent. However, each community in has its own way of celebrating the engagement ceremony.
Jumping The Broom
Jumping the broom is one of the most widespread African wedding traditions that symbolizes the rapid transition of the bride and groom into a new life. As the name suggests, the bride and groom literally jump over a broom together. This act signifies the couple’s entrance into a new life and their creation of a new family, thus symbolically “sweeping away” their former single lives and concerns. In other words, the use of the broom demonstrate that all the pairs past problems have been swept away. The broom is often handmade and decorated beautifully decorated. It is sometimes being displayed in the couple’s home after the marriage ceremony.
However the origin of this tradition is not clear as some trace it back to the Welsh-Romani gypsy communities in the 18th century. Some traced it to slave trade days when Africans were forbidden to marry and live together while others believing that it might have originated from Ghana.
This traditional wedding practice was used as a formal and public declaration of the couple’s commitment.
Kola nut offerings
In African wedding traditions, kola nut plays a very significant role as being practiced widely in Nigeria, primarily among the Igbo tribe. Apart being often used for medicinal purposes, kola nuts play an important part in many West African wedding traditions.
During the traditional wedding, kola nut is shared between the bride and groom to serve as a symbol of their willingness to care for each other throughout the marriage. Also, the couple can choose to keep the remainder and display in their home after the wedding ceremony to as a symbol of their promise to work out any problems that may occur in the marriage.
Also, in the Gambia, if a man sees a woman he is interested to marry, the first thing he does is to send a kola nut as greetings and declaration of his proposal. If his proposal is accepted, representatives of the man’s family meet with the girl’s family. The dowry arrangements are decided which is then followed by a date for the “breaking of the kola nut” (marriage). The traditional wedding ceremony ends with the breaking of the kola nut and it is then shared among elders and relatives.
Apart from Nigeria, other African communities that include kola nuts in their wedding traditions are Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The caffeine-packed nut is also a symbol of healing, respect, hospitality, and unity.
Tasting the Elements
This is a traditional wedding ceremony from the Yoruba ethnic group (present in countries like Nigeria, Niger and Benin) where a bride and groom are asked to taste flavors that represent the distinct stages in a marriage. The tasted elements includes pepper, honey and dried fish. These elements symbolize the happiness, bitterness and fertility of family life. By tasting each of these flavors, the couple symbolically demonstrates that they will be able to get through, overcome the hard times of marriage and, eventually, enjoy the sweetness of marriage.
Cooking for the in-laws
This is a wedding ceremony tradition from Bukina Faso where on the 7th day after the wedding, the Mossi (or Moagha) bride is obligated to cook the country’s traditional dish for her in-laws. In the meantime, a sheep is slaughtered at the bride’s father’s house and meat is used to make soup. The family of the bride then sends some emissaries over to the in-laws’. The delegation brings over the last of the new bride’s home items and wares, along with the soup, which is shared with the in-laws. The bride’s family heads home after the meal packing up all the bones from the meat they just ate. As required by tradition, they bury those bones along the way and none of the bones must make it back to the bride’s dad’s house, to avoid bad luck for the new couple.
This is an interesting traditional aspect among the Tuaregs in the West African country of Niger that if a young man is interested in a girl, he sneaks up to her house that she shares with her parents to tickle her ear. If the girl doesn’t want him, she will cover her head and he must leave immediately. But if she wants him, she will talk to him and hand him a pendant as a token of her acceptance. The families will then meet to discuss bride price and the marriage ceremony which is to take place on a full moon. And after the wedding ceremony, as tradition demands, a trained camel will show off its dancing moves to the guests along to a drum beat. The traditional drum used for the occasion is a traditional Touareg instrument, called the Tendé (in the Tamasheq language).
There are lots of other interesting African marriage traditions practiced in the various parts of the continent such as libation; where an elder pour holy water or alcohol on the ground in each of the four cardinal directions and then recite prayers to the ancestral spirits, and calls out the names of those that have recently passed away. This tradition is aimed to appease the ancestors and bless the newly wed.