Africa, the world’s second-largest continent, is home to 54 countries and hence a multitude of different yet similar cultures and traditions. African weddings are grand and rich, a mere reflection of the cultural diversity present. An extravagant event where they go all out. Specific wedding customs vary across countries. However, the ceremony may also be dictated by the religion followed.
In African weddings, you may find the bride flaunting a typical white gown or a more traditional one. In West Africa, the Kente fabric is widely worn and bedazzled with red, gold or green streaks. A traditional African bridal dress, except for its colors, is one with a blouse, skirt and special headwear. While the groom is often found wearing long pants, a shirt and a special cap.
African weddings are laden with special rituals and ceremonies, depending on the different regions they participate in. They are not your basic weddings where the bride kisses the groom, and then they are announced to be married. No, you may find the couple jumping over brooms officiating their wedding vows or camels dancing around the guest.
North Africa consists of Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara. A Muslim majority area. Hence most weddings here are dictated by Islamic teachings.
The bride is prepped for her special day by first carrying out a ritual bath, Hamam, the aim of which is to purify the woman. Her friends and family then gather to apply henna on their hands and legs. During this ritual, some female guests will pinch the bride in hopes of getting some of the good luck she has.
Often weddings in this region take place in a mosque, where the bride and groom, along with guests, are to dress conservatively, and hence women cover their heads. To officiate the marriage, a religious act is carried out known as the nikkah, where a contract is signed in a gender-segregated setting by the couple. The groom is also required to give a significant amount of money, known as mahr, to his bride-to-be. As for food, kofta meatballs or a rose water-based drink, sharpat, is more than often served.
This region is home to seventeen countries, including Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Guinea. However, it is mostly populated by Nigerians, specifically Nigerian Americans. Who, depending on their tribes, have unique wedding traditions. Yoruba, a Nigerian tribe, practice ‘Tasting of the Elements’, a ritual where the couple taste together extremely sour or hot food and drinks. This act symbolizes that they are now ready to go through everything, good or bad, together.
Igbo, another Nigerian tribe, have to often fulfil a long list of items the bride demands, which, if not completed, will result in an unsuccessful wedding. Furthermore, the couple shares a small Kola nut, leaving some behind to take back home with them as a reminder of their commitment to each other.
Aso Ebi (Aso= cloth, Ebi= family) is another famously practiced tradition in Western Africa. The bride, her friends, cousins and sisters are assigned a uniform fabric for their clothes. The bride and groom’s mother can also choose a ceremonial cloth for their relatives and close friends to wear on the big day. A way of showing their closeness to the couple’s family.
As for Niger, a bizarre custom performed is the camel dance, where camels are found dancing to a music beat played.
In Burkina Faso, within a certain tribe, on the 7th day after the wedding, the bride cooks a traditional dish for her in-laws. A sheep is slaughtered at her father’s house, which is used to make soup and sent to her in-laws along with the rest of her housewares.
Another tradition specific to Western Africa is money spraying, where money is thrown at the bride as she dances on her wedding day. Often the older guests are those who participate in this act. However, anyone can do so. It is a symbol of the future prosperity of the bride.
Some East African countries are; Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. This is also another Muslim majority region of the continent. Hence, the wedding events are similar to those in North Africa.
The Swahili, natives of Kenya, also carry out a henna ceremony before the main wedding day. As for the groom and his friends, they gather the same night for a ritual of Kirumbizi or fight dancing.
Those of the Amhara tribe, natives of Ethiopia, incorporate a traditional fabric, Habesha, in their wedding costumes. The bride looks beautiful in a white gown made from the fabric with gold, red or green accents and trimmings. The groom wears a western suit or a long coat with pants made from the same cloth.
As for Orthodox Ethiopians, who are Catholics, their weddings take place in a church with Holy Trinity symbolism.
South and Central Africa
This continent includes Congo, Chad, Comoros, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
The Zulus are an important ethnic group here, present in a vast majority. Certain members of the tribe may have two wedding ceremonies, a traditional one and a Westernized version.
Umabo is a traditional Zulu wedding ritual where the bride adorns herself with a cow skin skirt and a headdress called Isicholo, which symbolizes that she has now transitioned into a married woman. Covered in a blanket, the bride leaves her home in the morning. Her father gives her off to her father-in-law, who welcomes her into the family. Guests experience the ceremony while seated on grass mats, and the bridesmaid distributes gifts given by the bride to the in-laws. This entire event most often takes place at the groom’s family house and involves many dance-offs.
To Sum it up
While similarities between the different regions of Africa are evident within their wedding traditions, each also has its own unique ceremonies. Being the second most populated continent, each country has a diverse set of tribes that practice different rituals, merely creating diversity. The wedding day in Africa is all about symbolism; each ritual is done for a certain reason, mostly to wish the couple a happy marriage.