African wedding cultural traditions by country

 

All across Africa, traditional cultural weddings are dying out with the influx and normalization of the so-called White Western wedding. The sample below is to show the richness and importance of continuing African weddings and halting the culturally destructive practice of aping the traditions of the West.

The union of man and woman is a celebration of the natural continuity of life. Marriage is the only known incubator for the raising of balanced socially functional children. However, in all the communities the bride plays a very special role and is treated with respect because she is a link between the unborn and the ancestors. A bride might eventually bear a very powerful child. In some areas of East Africa the grooms family would even move to the brides village and set up a whole new house there.

Ethiopia

In Ethiopia the Karo people enhance a young brides beauty by tattooing her abdomen with different symbols. Amhara people: most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil ceremony sealing the contract. A priest may be present. Divorce is allowed and must also be negotiated. There is also a "temporary marriage," by oral contract before witnesses.

The woman is paid housekeeper's wages, and is not eligible for inheritance, but children of the marriage are legally recognized and qualify for inheritance. Priests may marry but not eligible for divorce or remarriage. The Wedding procedure starts with the grooms side sending a representative who request the marriage between the parties. Then an appointment is given and a verdict on the marriage is given. Before the wedding the Dowry  is given as agreed. On the wedding day the groom and three or four "bestmen"  go to the wifes house. At the house the ladies family and friends cermonially block the entrance to the house. The associates must sing strongly and force their way into the house. The first bestman holds perfume and sprays everywhere inside the house. The brides family sing songs . Christian marriages, mainly in Tigray and Amhara regions, are often arranged by the parents of the bride and groom with a great deal of negotiation. According to tradition and culture the bride must be virgin when the marriage takes place. Because the bride virginity is highly valued and pride in Christian marriage, with the whole family being shamed if the bride is not virgin at marriage.

Ghana

The Ghanaian marriage ceremony is a traditional ceremony where the groom accompanied by his family formally asks for the bride's hand in marriage in the presence of family, friends and well wishers. The traditional ceremony is a necessary common rite of marriage for all Ghanaian couples. In Ghana today, some couples perform this alone as a marriage ceremony, however, most couples also go on to perform the western wedding in a church in addition to the traditional marriage ceremony.

The marriage ceremony starts with the "knocking" (kokooko) on the door ceremony. In the knocking ceremony the groom, along with his father and some elder members of the family visits the brides house to announce their marriage intentions. Often times this ceremony is performed a week or two before the actual marriage ceremony. The knocking ("kookoo ko") is derived from the Ghanaian tradition of knocking on at the entrance of a house before entering as a visitor. For the knocking ceremony the groom's family brings along two bottles on alcoholic drinks, some money and cola to the house to present to the brides family. In the past, and to date, the drinks are used to pour libation. (Libation is a traditional form of prayer to the ancestral spirits and God).  When the drinks are presented, a designated spokesman from the grooms delegation formally asks the brides family for permission to enter the house and announce their intentions. If the drinks are accepted then it means permission has been granted to the visitors to state their intentions. The spokes person will then explain in the most lyrical language, that the groom, has seen a "beautiful flower" in the house of the brides family that he desires and would like to "uproot" that flower, not steal, from its keeper, hence they are here to ask for the brides hand in marriage and inquire about what is required in order to make that flower his own.


Once the intentions are announced, the brides family may ask the groom and his family to come back at a set later date during which the brides family will investigate the grooms family background further to see :


a) if the family has no chronic illness or genetic disabilities in the family
b) if family has a good reputation, that is no immediate family member such as a sibling, an aunt or uncle is known to be a thief, prostitute or murderer
c) if the groom has no illegitimate children or has another marriage elsewhere etc.
d) if the groom is of good character and well matched to the bride

Often times the background inquiry is made when the brides family knows nothing or knows little of the groom's family. If they are satisfied and pleased with what they find out, they will send a list of things to the groom and his family to provide before they can marry the bride.

On the set date the groom and his family, along with invited guests show up early at the brides house. The grooms family sits on one side, while the other brides family sits on the other side facing each other. Elders from both family begin the marriage ceremony with a prayer and introductions. The grooms family begins by presenting the dowry and all the other items on the list one, by one. At each stage, the items are checked to make sure everything asked on the list is being presented. Negotiation is possible if the grooms family feels too much is being asked of them. The bride is not present in all of these proceedings. The groom, although present, does speak in all of these proceedings as all the speaking and negotiation is done on his behalf by the designated spokes person from his family.


Once everything has presented to the brides family, the bride would then be brought into the gathering. Because a decoy can be used to "tease" the groom, the groom is asked to verify if this is indeed his bride. Once he confirms, she is asked three times by her father if she agrees to marrying the groom. She is asked if they should accept the dowry and accompanying gifts from the grooms family. When she agrees, then the groom will slide the ring onto her fingers and kiss and hug her. An elder presents a bible to both the groom and bride as a symbol of how important religion should be in their married life. Prayers are said and blessings are given. The married couple is now congratulated and each elder in the room offers marriage advice to the new couple. Once all of this is done there is a huge celebration reception where food & drinks are served. There is lots of music and dancing till nightfall.

Kenya

The Massai people of Kenya grow up with children of their own age and normally form relationships with these people. However, in marriage women are given to a man they do not know who is much older then themselves. The bride packs all her belongings and is dressed in her finest jewelry. At the marriage ceremony the father of the bride spits on the brides head and breasts as a blessing and then she leaves with her husband walking to her new home she never looks back fearing that she will turn to stone. This can be a very sad experience for the bride, who is 13-16 years old and may walk a long way to get to her new house. In order to ward off bad luck sometimes the women of the grooms family will even insult the bride. 

The Swahili of Kenya bathe brides in sandalwood oils and tatoo henna designs on her limbs. A women elder, or somo, gives instructions to the bride on how to please her husband. Sometimes the somo will even hide under the bed in case there are any problems! In a small city called Lamu, situated outside the coast of Kenya, lives a group of Swahili Muslims. In this community the weddings can be going on for a whole week with a lot of festivities consisted of singing, dancing and food. But these festivities are celebrated separate for men and women. After the "real" wedding the bride is shown in public, with a so-called, kupamba. This ceremony is always taking place the evening after the wedding and it is the grand finale of the passage rite, in which the young bride enters the married women’s world. Today this particularly ceremony has become more in focus than some years ago when the kuinngia ndani (the entry) was the main attraction. It is a ceremony when the groom is walking down the streets to meet his bride and then complete first phase of the wedding. The kupamba has become more popular of various reasons, but the main reason is the fact that it is an opportunity for women to meet and have a good time without their husbands. When the enter this party they all take off their black veils and underneath they have beautiful dresses and wonderful haircuts etc. Another problem with this kupamba is that many families almost ruin themselves just to be able to have this party for their daughters. The musicians and food cost plenty of money. Sometimes the mother of the bride, female relatives and neighbours have to help out with the food and devote themselves to make the food some days before the ceremony. 

In another area of Kenya the main feature of the wedding is the kupamba, which happens the night after the wedding, it is basically a display of the bride. It is very popular because it is a party just for the women, and when they enter the party they are able to take off their large veils and show off elaborate hairstyles and dresses. The party can almost become a competition because it is believed that if a women has a good husband he will get her beautiful jewelry and clothes. 

For the Samburu people marriage is a unique series of elaborate ritual. Great importance is given to the preparation of gifts by the bridegroom (two goatskins, two copper earrings, a container for milk, a sheep) and of gifts for the ceremony. The marriage is concluded when a bull enters a hut guarded by the bride's mother, and is killed.

Namibia

The Himba people of Namibia kidnap a bride before the ceremony and dress her in a leather marriage headdress. After the ceremony she is brought into the house where the family tells her what her responsibilities will be as the wife and then anoint her with butterfat from cows. This shows that she has been accepted into the family.

Niger

The Wodabee of Niger court their cousins for marriage. The male cousins wear powerful amulets which are supposed to heighten their attractiveness to the girl. Wodaabe are often polygamous Marriages are either arranged by parents when the couple are infants (called “koogal”), or they can be because of love and attraction (called “teegal”). The family of the groom gives a bride price to the bride's family and then they are married. A bride stays with her husband until she becomes pregnant after which she returns to her mother's home, where she will remain for the next three to four years. She will deliver the baby at her mother's home and then she becomes a boofeydo which literally means, "someone who has committed an error." During the time of being a boofeydo, she is not permitted to see or speak with her husband. It is a cultural sin for him to express any interest in her or the newborn child. After two to three years, her mother will release her to visit her husband, but she still will not be permitted to live with him or bring the child with her until the woman's mother can purchase everything that is needed for her home. Once these items are purchased, she is allowed to go and live with her husband, taking her child with her.

Nigeria

In Nigeria, in west Africa, a husband never uses his wife’s name. Only relatives and the women's own children are allowed to use the name her father gave her and it is only unmarried girls who may be called by name. So to learn a married woman’s name, one have to ask her husband the name of her father, and use that. When a couple are about to get married in this community people sing to inform that the bride is bound and is brought to the young man. Singing and dancing are two very important fragments in the Nigerian weddings and they are always combined with a big feast. The bride is keept in a special hut where she stays till he is let inside. But first he has to give chicken and tobacco to the guest and when all have got this the bride groom is let inside the brides’s hut and the marrige is announced. Next day a goat is killed for the bride and the blood is poured over the threshold of the hut. and the bride’s mother asks her daughter if she is pleased with the groom. After this the dancing starts again and the drums call make visitors come and they give the bride a penny to see her face and another penny for camwood to rub her body. In Nigeria marriage is seen as a bound between blood relations and are considered as very important.

"Today the traditional African weddings are dying and are becoming more like the Western-style church weddings. This has more or less become norm in Nigeria today. Eventhough people are born and raised in Nigeria they are still likely to have a Western-style white wedding at the expense of a proper African wedding"

The reason behind this can be the Nigerian Church and the Eurocentric missionaries who influenced the Church and the African groups. But there are some in Nigeria who still live after the old traditions and are preforming the tradtioally wedding ceremonies.

The first step in the wedding process is the first meeting with the both involving families where they investigate each other. At this occation they groom's family donate some gifts to the bride's family, consisting mostly of cattles, yams or money. After this the ceremony the bride comes to live with the groom and his family, and if that turns out to work out a weddingfeast is held. After thet ceremonial feast he bride is concidered married to the groom and his family.

The bride should be a virgin before the actual wedding, but today there are exceptions. Pregancy outside of marriage is considered shameful. Polygamy marriages exist and are legal in Nigeria, but again the Christian religion forbids it. Pologamy marriages have though become less common in today's Nigeria. This is due to the fact that a man in such a marriage is responsible to provide for his family and to provide for a family is expensive. Because of the economical situation in Nigeria it has become less common with polygamy marriages.

South Africa

Thousands of Zulu virgins converge at the Enyokeni Zulu Royal Palace in September every year to celebrate the Umkhosi woMhlanga (Reed Dance Festival). The Reed dance is an activity that promotes purity among virgin girls and respect for young women. The festival is part of the annual festivities on the calendar of the Zulu nation. During the Reed dance the virgins fetch the reeds from the river and bring them to the palace for the royal king, King Goodwill Zwelithini to inspect.

During the Reed dance the virgins fetch the reeds from the river and bring them to the palace for the royal king, King Goodwill Zwelithini to inspect.It was during this festival that the Zulu King chose his youngest wife. To many, this ceremony helps to preserve the custom of keeping girls as virgins until they get married. An in a nation ravaged by loose morals and HIV/AIDS it is a cultural buffer which holds back loose morality and promiscuity, thus giving women power over their bodies and thus self-respect and dignity.

Tswana Marriage Customs The Tswana (Setswana) speaking people of Botswana and South Africa have a marriage ceremony which begins with a delegation from the groom’s side approaching the bride’s side in an elaborate ceremony which takes place early in the morning. The delegation which comprise of an even number of men and women enter the compound of the bride’s family. The women carry part of the dowry or lobolla on their heads and proceed into the compound crawling on their knees. The male delegation approaches one of the several gathers of men which are representing the bride. These men are in one or more groups at the fire. There is a ceremonial air of tension. When the party at the fire greet the groom’s delegation they only reply with a rubble acknowledgment. They deliver gifts such as whisky and also a sheep which is to be slaughtered for the celebration to follow. The women wait on their knees and the bride’s party calls them “enemies” and ceremonially treat them with a slight contempt because they are there to take a member of their family away.

Lobolla:

The lobolla consist of blankets (always), undergarments, and other useful things which is delivered and inspected by the bride’s representatives. By the fire the men discuss at length the lobolla and negotiate and sing praises of the husband to be. In modern times money replaces cows and R6000 (South African Rand) may represent one cow. Thus a typical dowry could be 10 cows, i.e. R60,000 After the negotiations are completed the entire delegation enters the house and is accommodated with refreshments. All parties return to their home and return later in the day for a lavish celebration and a meal. The bride’s parties are expected to give a sheep as a return offering, but in modern times for practicality sometimes money is used to represent this gift. In some Tswana culture the man purchases a bed which is pre-delivered to the bride’s family house. He must remain there until he can provide a house for his new wife. He is expected everyday to vacate the property at 03:00 in the morning and avoid being seen by any of his in-laws. This is said to encourage him to provide a new home for his new family.

ZULU WEDDING |

The Zulu wedding takes many shapes and forms. Usually the bride changes more than three times on her wedding day, showing off to her in-laws how beautiful she is in different colors. Although it is not a Zulu custom for the bride to wear the white wedding gown, nowadays brides prefer to do so. The wedding takes place at the church, and during this time the bride is dressed in white. After church the wedding occurs at the bridegroom's home. The bride changes into traditional outfit. During the traditional wedding the parties from the bride and the groom's side compete through Zulu dance and songs. During this ceremony the family of the groom slaughters a cow to show that they accept the bride in their home. The bride puts money inside the stomach of the cow while the crowd looks on. This is a sign that she is now part of the family. The wedding ceremony ends with the bride giving gifts in the form of blankets to her new family, including the extended family. This tradition is called ukwaba. Even the long-deceased family members receive gifts and are represented by the living ones. The family cover themselves with the blankets in an open area where everybody will see. The spectators ululate, sing, and dance for the family.

Somalia

Somali marriage laws are practically Muslim marriage laws, with a difference; it is this difference that makes them so interesting to study. A man may have four wives, with all the trouble he deserves in consequence thrown in. He may become engaged to a girl before she is born by making an arrangement with her " prospective "-for want of a better word-parents. The engagement in any case is always arranged between the girl's parents or guardians, and is clinched by a small present from the man to them as a token of finality. This token, which may consist of a horse or even any small personal possession of the man's, once accepted makes the engagement binding for all time. If broken by either party something like a breach of promise case is the result. Any time before the marriage, property (generally in the shape of stock) is paid by the suitor to the parents as the purchase price of his bride. The value of this property varies among different tribes and for different women. If before marriage a girl dies, her relations must return the purchase price paid, which is called yarad. Should the man die his next of kin may marry the girl on making a small further payment. Should she refuse this alliance another must be found to take her place, or the yarad be returned to the deceased's estate. If everything is arranged satisfactorily and the marriage be consummated, a substantial proportion (known as dibad) of the yarad is returned to the man by his wife's people. The marriage is generally celebrated by a Kathi or Sheikh, and at the ceremony the amount of dowry-or mehr, as it is called here-to be settled on the wife by her husband is recorded. The mehr may consist of anything-generally stock-and need not be paid at the time, but it is a very important matter for the woman that it be clearly defined. Should she be divorced her husband must hand to her the mehr agreed on at the marriage ceremony. Should he die she has first claim on his estate for her settlement, which is quite apart from any subsequent share of the estate she is entitled to as deceased's wife. However, should she refuse to marry her deceased husband's next of kin or a man of his tribe chosen by his people, she forfeits all rights to both her mehr and share of the estate. This is roughly the basis of Somali marriage laws. .

Sudan

The Neur people of southern Sudan the groom must pay 20-40 cattle, the marriage is completed only after the wife has born 2 children. If the wife only bears one child and the husband asks for a divorce he can also ask for either the return of the cattle or the first child. Divorce therefore is very difficult. Another interesting fact is that if a husband dies then the husbands family must provide a brother to the widow and any children born to the brother are considered the deceased's children.

Senegal

Traditional Wolof wedding ceremonies, the parents of the groom-to-be sends elders to the girl’s parents with kola nuts and money to ask for her hand in marriage. The girl’s parents consult their daughter and either consent to or reject the proposal. If accepted, the parents of the bride to be distribute the kola nuts among the family and neighbours. This distribution is an informal way of announcing the impending wedding. In more traditional practices, the groom to be’s family paid the girl’s bride price in the form of money. This tradition, has been modernized and dowry is paid in money, cars or even houses. After the completion of the groom’s obligations, the two families set a wedding day. Before the wedding day, the groom’s family gives a party to welcome their daughter-in-law and to prepare her to live with her new family. The imam and elders advise the groom with the presence of the some representatives of the bride’s parents. Weddings traditionally take place at the groom's home. Parents receive guests with food and drink (but not alcohol), while guests bring gifts of money, rice, drinks, ships, sugar, or spices. After the ceremony people feast and dance with guests hiring a griot (praise-singer) and giving further gifts to the groom’s parents. The girl moves to the husband's (or his parent's) home or compound, bringing utensils for cooking which she buys with the money from the bride price.

Shona

The marriage customs of the Shona people of Zimbabwe is a process of several months. Roora, the same as South Africa's lobola is paid in a similar fashion to South Africa and Botswana. The bride however, decides when to go to her husband. She goes at night, with her female relatives escorting her. The day she chooses is a surprise to the groom. She is covered in white from head to toe so that no one can see her. As she walks into the village, his family starts dancing and ululating. They also begin to prepare an impromptu party. The groom is found and told that his bride has arrived. The surprise is to see how the groom's family reacts to an emergency. The bride, covered, walks through the whole village, taking her time. The villagers, all related to the groom, encourage her to keep on walking. They flatter her. They throw money at her feet and they sing songs about how happy they are that their people will live on because the bride has agreed to have babies for their son. She is eventually escorted into her mother in law's home where she is encouraged to take off her veil with gifts and pleadings. That is when the family gets to see their daughter in law for the first time. A big party of dancing, and drinking begins all night long into the morning.

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