Weddings Across the Board: African Wedding Traditions

African Weddings are deeply rooted in symbolism– of strength,
commitment, love, new beginnings, an unbreakable bond, honor, blood shed in
captivity, a celebration of freedom, prosperity, land, family permissions and
growth, royalty, beauty, power and justice. Many of these rituals and
traditions have trickled down from Africa to America and throughout the world.
Consider the saying, “tying the knot”, for example. Did you know that
literally tying the knot is actually an important part of some African
weddings? Jumping the Broom, the Money Dance, a Gele’ headpiece, kente cloth,
and the use of bright, bold colors (such as purple and gold) are popular ways
to incorporate the bride and/or groom’s African roots. Read on for more
information if you’re going to an African wedding, or are just curious like me
🙂 Note: I do not (as far as I know) have an African background, and I’m sure
that I still have a lot to learn. Feel free to leave comments with any
additional information and inspiration you’d like to share. Thanks!  
Tying
the Knot-
 
Tying
the knot symbolizes the unbreakable bond between husband and wife. Before the
vows, the officiant loosely ties the bride and groom’s wrists together with a
strip of kente cloth, braided grass or a string of cowrie shells (which
symbolize fertility and prosperity). Once tied together, the couple says their
vows to confirm their commitment to one another.

The Tasting of the Four Elements-
“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in
sickness and in health, until death do us part.” These vows originate with the
Catholic church, but the Yoruba tradition has a more literal interpretation.
The tasting of the four elements incorporates four flavors to represent
the flavors of married life: lemon for the sour, vinegar for the bitter,
cayenne for the hot and honey for the sweet. Many couples have the flavors
baked in cupcakes (fun, right?). Then the groom and bride take a bite of each
to remind them of their commitment.
Feeding the Family- 
Marriage is about joining two families as much as it is about joining two people. This tradition honors that union. After the couple tastes the four elements, they feed each other’s family members from baskets of unleavened bread.

The
Kola Nut
Before the vows, the
bride and groom and both pairs of in-laws eat a kola nut. In Africa, the kola
nut is used for medicinal purposes. When families share it in the wedding
tradition, it symbolizes their commitment to heal each other physically and
spiritually in their new connected lives.

Jumping
the Broom- 
Jumping
the broom has become one of the most popular African traditions at many
African-American weddings. The broom ceremony represents the joining of two
families, and shows respect and pays homage to those who came before and paved
the way.  Years ago, slaves weren’t allowed to marry. So
instead of having a ceremony, the couple jumped a broom. For them, it
was a small ritual that was a legal and bonding act connecting them with the
heritage of Africa and giving legitimacy, dignity and strength to their unions.
 
   The tradition has deep roots and the broom is a
symbol to show that all of the old problems have been swept away. It is also
said that the spray of the broom represents all of Africans who have been
scattered through slavery and the handle represents the almighty who still
holds them together. Today many couples jump the broom at
the end of their ceremony before they walk back up the aisle. But they don’t
jump any old broom. These ceremonial brooms are hand made and beautifully
decorated. The broom, often handmade and beautifully
decorated, can be displayed in the couple’s home after the wedding as a symbol
of love.

The Libation Ceremony- 
Pouring out a little liquor has roots in African tradition. Pouring libations is all about honoring your family members — those who have
passed and those who are still here. During the wedding ceremony, an elder
member of the family pours alcohol in four spots: to the north, east, south and
west. As the alcohol is poured, the names of family members who have recently
passed are recited. Some people also take the time to acknowledge the elders in
the family and ask them to pass on their wisdom and advice.

Kente
Cloth-
 
Many brides use Kente
cloth in their wedding. The good stuff is hand made in Ghana and contains red
(for the blood shed in captivity), gold (for prosperity) and green (for the
land). Many brides incorporate the fabric into their bridesmaids’ dresses,
invitations, decorations and even the groomsmen’s attire. The key to
incorporating the colors is minimalism. An accent or two can make a big
statement without looking overwhelming. 

Knocking
on the Door- 
This wedding tradition
has its roots in Ghana and it’s a lot of fun!   Since marriage in African culture is considered the official joining of two families, a large emphasis is placed on getting family permissions and blessings before the wedding. Soon after the engagement, the
future groom and his family buy a few gifts and knock on the door of his
fiancee’s family’s house. If “the knock” is accepted, the bride’s family opens
the door and welcomes their future in-laws in. Then both families celebrate by
going out to brunch or having a small get together at the house and wedding planning can begin.
  Last Summer, I had the opportunity to work at a wedding that had many traditional African elements. Since the bride and groom both lived in the U.S. but had many guests coming in from out of the country, the groom’s family took the wedding itself as an opportunity to deliver gifts to each wedding guest on the bride’s side of the room. It was really neat and so different from anything I’ve seen at any other wedding. 

Purple
and Gold- 
Purple and gold symbolize
royalty in many African cultures, and they’re great wedding colors! 

The
Gele’-
 
The gele is a traditional head piece
from the Yoruba tradition — where many African-American wedding traditions
originate. And when done right, these head pieces are beautiful. They have more
flair than a traditional veil and make the bride look positively regal when she
walks down the aisle. This Nigerian head piece may also be worn by other female guests, and are often large, elaborate and colorful. 

Ditching
the Diamond- 
This is a new tradition
that’s gaining popularity because diamonds aren’t always a girl’s best friend.
Many of them are mined in Africa today by people living in poor conditions and a scaled-back form of slavery, but slavery nonetheless. Not every bride wants to think about her participation in
that cycle when she looks down at her finger, so some choose other
precious stones, manufactured diamonds or conflict-free diamonds.
Cowrie
shells-
 
These shells are beautiful, and once
upon a time in Africa, they were used as money. Today brides use them in their
weddings to symbolize beauty and power. They make gorgeous headpieces or table
centerpieces. Some brides even accent their dresses with the white shells.

The Money Dance- 
In Nigeria, during the first dance and the general opening
of the dance floor, relatives and well-wishers will take turns approaching the
bride and groom, (and sometimes their mothers) and showering them with small
denominations of bills and notes as they dance. The practice has become
widespread across the country, but is most common among the Yoruba and Igbo, both in Nigeria and
within their immigrant communities around the world. In addition to money being thrown their way, a
newly married couple may also be covered in leis and other
decorations made of money.

Traditional Native Dress-
Traditional
native dress for the women would be a headpiece (a gele’), a loose fitting
or grand bou-bou or the wrap skirt (iro), shawl (iborum), and a short
loose blouse (buba) made out of the same fabric. The groom wears a
pair of slacks (sokoto), shirt (bubba), a long flowing jacket
(agbada) and a rounded box-like hat (fila).
African
American couples who want a more American flare may choose the traditional
white bridal gown for the bride and the groom a tuxedo. Both may be trimmed in
Kente cloth and the traditional color of African royalty (purple), accented
with gold, may be used for the bridal party and décor.
Note:
When a bride in the United States desires an “African-style wedding,” she is usually referring to Yoruba traditions. The Yoruba style wedding is a very spiritual service which reflects the depth of the African family by the sharing of gifts and love.
The ceremony process may begin about a month before the wedding with spiritual readings. Elements of the actual ceremony may include a Libation (a prayer with an offering, usually water or liquor offered by an elder). This ritual calls upon and asks God’s blessing and the blessings of ancestral spirits. The groom verbally seeks permission from the bride’s mother to marry her daughter.
Gifts are presented to the bride’s family symbolizing the ability of the groom to take care of this woman. They are accepted by the bride’s father. Other elements of the ceremony may include a tasting and explanation of spices, prayers, exchange of rings. A great celebration follows.
Find more Pinspiration for African-based weddings at the Wediquette Pinterest Page by clicking here!

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One comment on “Weddings Across the Board: African Wedding Traditions
  1. Its really interesting tradition, i love african fabrics, cloth, and also weeding dress.
    African Wax Print Fabric

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