In Africa, Marriage ceremonies differ from country to country due to disparities in culture and religion. The continent houses about 52 countries with a general population of over 1billion people. With such a high record of people coming from various cultures and ethnic backgrounds, it’s not very difficult to deduct that religious beliefs and traditions, including the way wedding engagements are conducted, are hardly ever the same.
It is expected that when youths come of age, they begin to make plans to settle down. In a typical African community, this translates to taking responsibility and getting married. Thereby, preserving as well as promoting the deeply respected culture of family. Schools teach that the fundamental unit of society is the family. Students get to learn that the nuclear family is limited to the children of the man and wife while the extended version includes other relations of the couple.
Spread across different parts of Africa, different families practice different religions. A lot of Africans are either Christians or Muslims while most natives prefer to live by the more traditional beliefs of their local communities. In Nigeria for instance, the Igbos pay tribute to their ‘Chi’, the Yoruba tribe worship the deity, ‘Oluwa’ and the Hausa refer to the supreme being as ‘Ubangiji’.
Of course, most of these names may translate to the ‘most High God’ or ‘Allah’ in the Islam religion. This, however, does not downplay the relevance of the more local beliefs as they form the very existence and culture of the African society at the grassroots level.
When a man and a woman get engaged, the wedding is a fairly sacred ceremony as it kick-starts the beginning of a marriage. The engaged couple obtains the blessings of the parents during the event usually in accordance with rituals common to that society. It is also common practice in Africa to combine practices of major religions with local religious traditions and customs.
The modern idea of marriage slightly differs from that of the local African community. These days, a lot of people get married because they ‘fall in Love’ or because they have serious feelings for each other. In urban communities even, couples get engaged to form a sort of business partnership or simply because they are sexually attracted to each other.
Africans tend to focus more on cultural preservation and family expansion. In many communities, parents give their daughters away to suitors who they deem responsible enough. Children are also taught from an early age to listen to their parents and are discouraged from marrying for the simple reason of love or physical attraction.
The first step to take for intending African couples is the initial introduction between the groom and the bride. The Yoruba tribe in Nigeria refers to this process as ‘Mo mi I mo e’ which literally means ‘know me and let me know you’ while natives from the Igbo ethnic group call it ‘ikutu aka n’ulo’ which translates to ‘knock on the door’.
Many African communities such as Nigerian ethnic groups, perform certain rites during the engagement ceremony. Traditional practices like serving and breaking kola-nut among elders, pouring libations in respect to the gods and ancestors of the land come to play in an event like this. In some cases, sacrifices are offered to the ruling deities along with other more spiritual practices that may vary from group to group.
The engagement ceremony is usually an elaborate one with heavy involvement from both families. Most of the time, the women on both sides of the family actively participate in the exercise by coming together to prepare huge pots of delicious African delicacies. The dishes served, comprise of various mouth-watering combinations like eba with egusi soup, amala with okro soup, and so on. Cooking is done this way so wedding guests have plenty to eat, as well as exciting options to select from.
Typically, the ceremony is held at the home of the bride. It is here that the groom makes payment and provides the items required by the bride’s family. Wedding rings are exchanged before or after the observance of certain rites prescribed by the tradition of the local community. Customs relevant to the particular community are performed during this ceremony while the more modern marital customs will be performed at the religious wedding ceremony.
The wedding ceremony usually plays out based on the religions of the participating families. A white wedding is presided over by a priest at the church or a Muslim who understands the Islamic tradition at the mosque. The groom and bride are adorned with more modern outfits such as a gown for the bride and her maids if any, and a suit for the groom. Marital vows and rings are also exchanged at the ceremony.
African weddings often consist of modern Islamic/Christian ceremonies whilst intertwining traditional African beliefs and practices. A major instance is the common practice of bride-wealth which is common among the Zulu people. In South Africa, the groom’s family is required to pay the bride’s in traditional forms which might include livestock, food, and clothing to obtain the hand of the bride to be. In modern practice, payment of this kind is usually in cash form.
Also known as the bride price in various localities, it is considered an important part of the marriage process in Africa as the groom has no right to claim the bride until he has made these payments. The bride-wealth is not actually rooted in any of the popular modern religions but is employed as a linking tool between the primary religion and the traditional beliefs of the natives.
With the substantial growth of the economy within the continent, we find that the bride price or dowry, as it is sometimes called, has become ridiculously high. The absurdity of the payments demanded has not helped the preservation of culture as youths abandon tradition to opt for more suitable forms of getting married. We find the situation to be like this because, in some local communities, the bride-wealth is perceived as some sort of insurance for the bride’s family. It speaks volumes about the family’s social status and indicates that the bride will be well taken care of.
What do you wear to an African wedding?
The guests to an occasion like this are not left out in any way. Radiance and color brighten up the day as the invitees and family relations grace the event in colorful attires and designs. The families dressed in traditional outfits that normally share a similar color or pattern. It is not uncommon for the families to choose a color or theme to abide by in their dress code.
Written by Ayo Christopher….