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Traditional Wedding in Africa

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Traditional Wedding in Nigeria

I will begin by giving a brief description on the country, Nigeria. Nigeria is a West African country made up of three major ethnic groups namely: Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa.

The Ibo people live in the southeastern states. The Yoruba people live mostly in the southwestern states and the Hausas live mostly in the northern states.

Nigeria like most African cultures has various kinds of traditions. Amongst all the traditions, the one I find to relate to the western culture is marriage.

Most current-day weddings in Nigeria follow more western processes, in terms of the weddings being held at church, the bride being in a white gown, the groom being in a suit, some entourage, and a reception following during which the couple usually are in traditional attire and eat traditional food, and play a combination of American music and traditional music.

Some wedding ceremonies are also held in a courtroom rather than a church. I will tell you what a traditional wedding process would involve in Nigeria. I will also go further to mention a few marriage and family trends involved in a Nigerian traditional wedding.
Traditionally, for a couple to be married there are three stages that they would go through:
Dowry Payment


This is the part of the ceremony where the groom's family introduces themselves to the bride's family, and asks for their daughter's hand in marriage to their son. It would take place before the engagement ceremony or wedding.
Even though they are not married yet, I will refer to the bride-to-be as the bride, and refer to the groom-to-be as the groom. The participants of this are:
The groom and his family
Olopa Iduro (this translates to 'standing policeman'): an appointed speaker by the groom's family; could be a family member, or hired for the occasion.
The bride and her family
Olopa Ijoko (this translates to 'sitting policeman'): an appointed speaker by the bride's family; could be a family member, or hired for the occasion.
Others if the families so choose.

The introduction takes place at the bride's house, and her family is responsible for the preparations and costs, but if the groom's family is able to, they can suggest helping out with some of the costs and/or the food. Both parties are in traditional attire, and I have not heard anywhere that these have to be matching.
Though "African time" (the concept where nobody is expected to actually arrive at an event at the posted time) is common in Nigeria as well, the groom's family is expected to be on time for this event. If they are late, the bride's family may ask them to leave, or to pay a price for being late. Upon entrance into the bride's home, the groom's family kneels (the women do that) or prostrate (the men do that) for the bride's parents. The groom's family and the bride's family sit on opposite sides of the room, with the bride and groom sitting closer to the center, and the standing and sitting policemen sitting in the very middle.
The ‘standing policeman’ introduces the groom and his family to the bride and her family. He then brings a proposal letter from the groom's family, usually tied with a pink ribbon, and gives it to the groom's family, through the ‘sitting policeman’. The letter is read out, and responded to verbally on the spot. Since this is mostly a formality, and it is already known that the couple will marry, there usually is not much rejection at this point. Usually, a prayer is said at this point, and some symbolic items of food are tasted by the ‘policemen’ and then passed around to the guests. These include:
obi (kola nut) is shared, during which the following words are repeated:
they will ripen
they will eat and not go hungry
they will grow old
ata ire: this consists of many seeds, and it is opened up, and the superstition is that the number of seeds that fall out is the number of children the couple will bear.
honey, sugar cane: these all symbolize that the union will be sweet

Some additional words may be exchanged, then gifts are exchanged, and then the families and guests eats and there may be singers and drummers for some celebration later.

Dowry Payment

The next ceremony is the taking of the dowry by members of the man's family. The bride price or dowry may be defined as money or goods given to the bride or her family by the groom or his family before or upon marriage.

In the past, it was customary for the groom's family to provide the bride's family with a dowry that would go to the bride's parents to compensate for some of the costs of raising her.

Nowadays, if a dowry is offered, it usually goes directly to the bride

As in many other African societies, it serves such functions as that of symbolizing the socio- economic statuses of the families to be united forever, that of establishing tie between the two families; and that of compensating the family of the bride for the loss of the services of their daughter. In most cases the amount to be paid depending upon on the quality of the bride: whether she came from an influential family or a poor one; whether she was a school, a high school, or a high university graduate or whether she was totally illiterate. As a result, women university graduates are finding it increasingly difficult to find men who are able to release such exorbitant prices.

The Engagement

Traditionally, a couple is married after the engagement ceremony. The engagement ceremony also takes place at the bride's house, and her family is once again responsible for that. Both parties are dressed in aso oke, (uniform) which is more fancy and more expensive Nigerian attire.
The symbolic food may be passed around again. The couple usually gives each other a Bible or Quran, give each other rings, and they may say some words to each other.
The bride usually has her face covered during the ceremony. When the ceremony is over, and everyone goes 'outside' to eat, she usually waits indoors until she is called out for. Then she comes out (usually with a friend, still with her face covered), and kneels before her parents so that they may pray for her. Then she kneels before the groom's parents so that they may pray for her. Then she sits by the groom, and this is when she is unveiled, as she sits to eat with everybody.
After the couple is married, they go to the groom's house (his house, not necessarily his family's house). The custom is that the bride should arrive at his home before he does, and that she must wash her legs before entering, and be there to meet him when he arrives. (Somewhere in here, the bride changes her surname to that of her husband's.)
If the couple can afford it, they do take a honeymoon, and hopefully they live happily ever after.
Customs that used to take place in some of the Nigerian cultures are:
The bride-to-be was kept in a 'fattening room' for a period of time, where she was well fed, and taught how to be a good wife. She would usually come out of the room fatter than before.
The bride-to-be was 'cleansed' by taking a special bath before going to her husband.
Right after the 'wedding ceremony', the bride has her feet washed so that she is going to her husband clean.
Rather than bringing out the real bride at the engagement party, another woman may come out disguised as the bride to see if the groom is able to tell the difference.


The following are facts/trends in the marriage structure. Just to answer some questions I've received.
Though traditionally, both parties were supposed to be virgins on the wedding night (unless it is not the groom's first marriage of course), it is common nowadays for the bride to be pregnant before the wedding, because the couple wants to ensure that they can have children (this is not allowed in Christian religion though, where abstinence before marriage is still preached).
Polygamy is legal for the male in Nigeria
...but not in the Christian religion.
In traditional beliefs, a man is allowed to have unlimited number of wives.
In the Muslim religion, it is legal for a man to have up to 4 wives at any one time.
The first wife is supposed to have the greatest status, but the most recent wife is usually considered the 'favorite'.
Though it is legal, polygamy is becoming less common because of the economics of the country.
In polygamous households, the man is supposed to be financially responsible for the family.
In most households, most religions, the man is the head of the household.
Arranged marriages used to be more common in terms of an arbitrator looking for a spouse for a young man or woman.
In some cultures, arranged marriages in terms of children being promised in marriage at young ages were also more common.


The following are just facts/trends in the family structure.
Family is extremely important to most Nigerians.
The nuclear family in a Nigerian home consists of the father, his wife (or wives in polygamous homes), and their children. The extended family consists of all the relatives.
Nigerians believe in having plenty of children, and usually really close together in age. This is decreasing though because of the economics.
Most extended Nigerian families are called "uncle, aunt, cousin, mother, father, grandmother" (depending on age, and gender of course). Some of these terms are very loosely used. Your mom's brother, her cousin, her second cousin, their cousin, would all be called your 'uncle'.
In most families, there is a strong family bond, and the phrase "blood is thicker than water" has a deep meaning.
Though this is also changing, most men are raised with the expectation that someday they will have a wife (or wives) to take care of them, and most women are raised with the expectation that someday they will have a husband and children to take care of. So, the standards for raising them can differ in some households.
In most neighborhoods, the neighbors take a part in taking care of a child. A lot of people feel like they were 'raised by the neighborhood'.

After the three stages of the traditional wedding are performed, and the elders of the community have lectured the newly wedded couples the marriage and family trends, the couples are accepted into the community and it is an option for the couples to have a Church wedding. As far as the community is concerned both couples have been declared to be ‘man and wife’.

With this brief explanation, I hope I have been able to give you a clear understanding of what a traditional wedding process entails in Nigeria.


In Nigeria you are either Muslim (40%-mostly in the North), Christian (50%-Southeast) or follow traditional African belief systems (about 10%,) although both Muslims and Christians incorporate African practices.

Old traditional Nigerian weddings are changing, and becoming more similar to Western-style church weddings than they used to be. This is the norm in Nigeria today: even if you are born and raised in Nigeria, it is still likely that you will have a Western-style wedding, when you do get married. Weddings usually consist of a church ceremony, followed by a reception. This is possibly due to the influence of missionaries on the Nigerian Church and on African tribes, but there are some tribes in Nigeria who live after the old traditions and are still performing traditional wedding ceremonies.


Traditionally, for a couple to be married, there are two stages to go through:

The Introduction
The Introduction is a ceremony performed to introduce the two families to one another. The Groom’s family would normally go to the Bride’s house with women already married to their family (i.e. the Groom’s brothers’ wives, his uncles’ wives, and other older women in the Groom’s family.) They visit the Bride’s family with a letter asking for their daughter’s hand in Marriage; this ceremony includes traditional dances. The Groom’s family offers money to the Bride’s family, for them to accept the letter. This is usually done a few days before the wedding, and at that time the guests are served home-cooked meals.

The participants in this are:
The Groom and his family
Olopa Iduro (this translates to 'standing policeman'): a speaker appointed by the Groom's family; this could be a family member, or a person hired for the occasion.
The Bride and her family
Olopa Ijoko (this translates to 'sitting policeman'): a speaker appointed by the Bride's family; this could be a family member, or a person hired for the occasion.
Others, if the families so choose.
The Introduction takes place at the Bride's house, and her family is responsible for the preparations and costs -- but if the Groom's family is able to, they can offer to help out with some of the costs and/or the food. Both parties are in traditional attire.

Though "African time" (the concept where nobody is expected to actually arrive at an event at the posted time) is common in Nigeria as well, the Groom's family is expected to be on time for this event. If they are late, the Bride's family may require them to leave, or to pay a ‘fine’ for being late.

Upon entrance into the Bride's home, the women of the Groom's family kneel while the men prostrate for the Bride's parents.

The Engagement
The next ceremony is the Engagement, where again the Groom’s family would go to the Bride’s family to find out their response to the initial letter sent during the Introduction ceremony. Both parties are dressed in aso oke, which is a fancier, expensive Nigerian attire.

Sometimes the Engagement ceremony takes place right after the Introduction. Traditionally, a couple is married after the Engagement ceremony. Nowadays, there has to be a legal registration of the couple.

During this ceremony the families are introduced to each other formally, so the invited guests are familiar with everybody in either family. Each family would normally have a speaker who relays messages across to the other. This is done during the ceremony: the Bride’s family would sit on one side and the Groom’s on the other. The Bride's sister, a younger relative or even the speaker from the Bride's side, reads a reply to the letter asking for the daughter’s hand in Marriage. Amongst other things, the Groom’s family will come to this ceremony with traditional foodstuff such as yam, palm oil, sugar, ram, drinks and many more. The Groom’s family will also provide a suitcase packed with traditional clothing including shoes, bags and jewelry, and in some cases they will have to provide a dowry. This is known as the Bride price. Symbolic food might be passed around again. The couple usually gives each other rings, a Bible or Quran, and they might exchange words. After this ceremony the Bride goes back to her father’s house to prepare for the wedding day.


If the wedding is performed traditionally, the couple is married after the Engagement ceremony. The Bride usually has her face covered during the ceremony; when the ceremony is over, and everyone goes 'outside' to eat, she usually waits indoors until she is called for. She then comes out (usually with a friend, her face still covered,) and kneels before her parents so that they may pray for her. She then kneels before the Groom's parents so that they too, may pray for her. Finally she joins the Groom and is unveiled, as she sits to eat with everyone.

Along with the food, there is usually a cake in the shape of a Bible or Quran

After the couple is married, they go to the Groom's house (his own house, not necessarily his family's house). The custom is that the Bride should arrive at his home before he does; she must wash her legs before entering, and be there to meet him when he arrives. The Bride and Groom then go back to the Groom’s family home where a night party is organized. Here they will dance until morning, occasionally accompanied by a live band.

Depending on where you come from, another tradition states that after the night party, the Bride is taken back to her father’s house and prayed for by her parents. She then changes to her ‘going away’ outfit and awaits her Husband, who will come with his family to claim his Bride. They will then leave together and start their new life.

The Bride will be changing her surname to that of her husband's.

Apart from the exchange of marital vows, one vital aspect of a Nigerian wedding is singing. People sing different songs to denote the mood of the day. Some wedding songs express the joy of married love, while others have religious undertones. Favourite Nigerian wedding songs are generally traditionally composed pieces that have evolved with time, and are now being played in 'modern' style according to various emerging genres of Nigerian music. Juju and Fuji, the two most popular music forms in Nigeria, have played a key role in sustaining these wedding song

Jumping the Broom
Jumping the Broom is a popular part of African American weddings. This custom evolves from when the rite of marriage was forbidden to slaves. For them, jumping the broom became the ritual by which they celebrated the passage of marriage. The broom is a household symbol in many parts of Africa. Some people use brooms to sweep away evil. Today, the broom stands as a symbol of the ingenuity and devotion by which African-American ancestors re-created a solemn rite under adverse conditions. Slaves, however, were not the only people to jump the broom. Historians record similar ceremonies among poor whites in the South, as well as itinerant laborers in New England and even among Gypsies. The custom of jumping the broom can take place at the wedding or the reception.


During the reception, couples usually wear traditional clothes and eat traditional food to a combination of western and traditional music. Here two different cultures meet, and this is has become common in Nigerian weddings today. The Western society is influencing African society with traditional Western wedding norms such as white dresses, receptions etc.


Yoruba Marriage

By Shanna Dean   

Contemporary marriages in our society are solely based on the ten-second frame we feel our heart thumping through our chest - we perceive this to be love. So we quickly plan a lifetime of commitment into an hour and a half ceremony and an evening soultrain celebration. There is nothing wrong with the ceremonial plans - it's just the motives behind them. We live in a pornographic age now, lust has learned to deceive and transform itself into love somehow. Most marriages in modern society have poor structures, and because of this the family suffers. Yet, somehow, we have the audacity to rub our index fingernail in a vertical motion on our heads and wonder why over fifty percent of this country's marriages end in divorce. Matrimony has so much more substance! Marriage, like life itself, can exceed the highest level of radiance and be equivalent to majestical if wise decisions are made by slowing down on the path for divine spiritual directions. The Yoruba culture uses these traditional procedures, and they still stand strong in their society until this very day.

Yoruba weddings have always been known to be very festive and colorful. This is the event where you really "flaunt your stuff". Families and friends are dressed in their best, and brightest attire, including green, purple, and gold. Nigerian dancers tell stories as the drums assist them. The audience is very loud when cheering the bride and her man on. The groom and his family are extremely happy to have the consent of the bride's family for marriage. Both families are overjoyed and they celebrate because of the uniting of the two families. Family is the root of marriage. In fact, family is so important the marriage revolves around it, rather than the bride and groom and their newfound love.

A young Yoruba man (ages 25-30) usually pursues his beautiful Yoruba woman (ages 17-25) by various means. This can be anything from playing pranks to approaching a member of the family, such as an uncle. Once they both express mutual love for each other, they inform their parents. The next step then is for the groom to be escorted by his family to the bride's home. Before they enter their home, they kneel to show the brides family respect. Promptness is stressed. If the groom is not punctual the family may ask him to leave, if not pay a fee. The two families sit on opposite sides of each other; the bride and groom are near the center. Sitting directly in the middle is the Olopa Iduor (appointed speaker for the groom's side) and Olopa Ijoko (appointed speaker for the bride's side). Once everyone is introduced and seated, the Olopa Iduro presents a letter to the bride's family. The Olopa Ijoko receives the proposal and reads it aloud. The bride's family responds. Some Yoruba cultures accept dowries at this time. Dowry payments may consist of goods, but the majority of the time it consists of money. Dowry payments are requested to test the endurance and patience of the groom, and to compensate the bride's family for raising her. The amount of the dowry payment depends on the dynamics of the woman. "Virgins, of course, cost more, the most I've even known for a payment was $5,000," says Mosi "Nefera" Ifatunji, a Yoruba priest. After the dowry payment, a prayer is given. In replacement of prayer, in some Yoruba cultures, a Yoruba priest performs an energy reading, which is a spiritual forecast done to predict the compatibility of the couple. Symbolic foods are passed around by the Olopas. Obi (Kola nut) and oyin (honey) are tasted by the family to symbolize long life and a sweet union. After the wedding and before the celebration, the women of the bride's side perform "Igbe Iyawo," which means to carry the bride. They then carry the bride to her husband. Now it's time to celebrate.

Polygamy is usually reserved for chiefs, kings, and those who can afford more than one wife. The husband has to provide a home for each of the wives and the children they bear. The first wife plays a part in the selection of the additional wives. In the Yoruba society polygamistic marriages are performed for the increasing of birth rates. The Yoruba culture places an extremely high value on children. They believe children are reincarnated ancestors of their lineage.

Family is the Yoruba culture's theme when it comes to matrimony. Values are passed on by example. Traditions are respected, and most importantly, family is the key. … oruba.html


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 (Bowen 1964:46,117,119,137).

Today  the old traditional weddings are changing and are becoming more like the Western-style church weddings. This has more or less become norm in Nigeria today. Eventhough you are born and raised in Nigeria it is still likely to have a Western-style wedding when you are getting married. And the wedding is usually with a church ceremony with a white bride and a reception after the ceremony. The reason behind this can be the Nigerian Church and the missionaries who influenced the Church and the African tribes. But there are some tribes 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.

Today's Nigerian weddings tend to follow the Western style traditions which means that the weddings are held in Churches with with dresses, suit, reception etc. But during the reception bride couples usually wear traditional clothes have traditional food and a combination of Aerican and traditional music. Here two diffrent cultures are meeting and this is something that has become more common in the Nigerian weddings today. The Western societies are influencing the African societies with the traditional Western wedding norms with white dresses, receptions etc.

The bride should be a virgin befor the actual wedding, but today there are exceptions. Nowadays the couples usually want to ensure themselves that they can have children, so the bride could be  pregnant at the wedding or all ready have children. But this is not allowed in the Nigerian areas with Christian religion. 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.


African Wedding Traditions

Africa is a large and varied continent containing some of the oldest civilizations on earth. It is home to a wide diversity of religions and cultures, and this colorful diversity is reflected in its diverse and colorful weddings traditions.

If any one wedding tradition might be said to be indicative of the African continent it would be the importance of family. An African wedding is, more than anything, the bringing together of two people as a single family, or the combining of two families or even the mixture of two tribes into one family unit. The concept of family is one of the unifying ideas of the African continent.

There are more than 1,000 cultural units in Africa and each culture, each tribe has its own wedding and marriage traditions, many of which can trace their origins back hundreds or even thousands of years.

There are also many different religions represented in Africa. Many northern Africans, especially, have been influenced by Muslim traditions, while further south there are more Christian, Hindu, and even Jewish traditions interspersed with more ancient traditions.

In many places in Africa young girls are trained to be good wives from an early age. They may even learn secret codes and secret languages that allow them to talk with other married women without their husbands understanding what is being said.

Depending on which part of Africa you are in, wedding ceremonies can be extremely elaborate, some lasting many days. Often huge ceremonies are held during which many couples are united at the same time.

In Sudan and in other areas along the Nile a man must pay his wife’s family in sheep or cattle for the loss of their daughter’s labor in support of the family. A wife may cost a man as many as 30 to 40 head of cattle. Often it is difficult to pay the family yet still have enough cattle left to support his new wife.

In Somalia a man is allowed to have as many as four wives if he can support them all, and it is not uncommon for a girl to be engaged before she is even born.

Bright festive colors, song, dance, and music are vital elements of many African wedding ceremonies. Common to all wedding ceremonies is the concept of transitioning between childhood and adulthood. In many African cultures children are encouraged to marry as young as 13 to 15 years of age, as soon as they have reached physical adulthood.

Divorce is rare in African marriages. Problems in a marriage are often discussed with both families and solutions found. Often entire villages join in to help a couple find solutions to their problems and keep a marriage from failing.

Marriage is sacred the world over, and that is definitely true in Africa, no matter which region or which culture you come from, and no matter what your religious beliefs. In fact, many cultures have a special totem that is designed to remind a couple that cultural and tribal differences must be allowed for in order to make a marriage succeed.

Wedding Traditions in Egypt

As in the past, many weddings in Egypt are still arranged, and the tradition of the groom's family proposing to the bride is often practiced.

Just before the marriage vows begin there is a musical wedding march called the Zaffa. There is traditional Egyptian music, belly dancers, drums horns and performers with flaming swords.

Traditionally, Egyptians believed that the ring finger has the "vein amoris", the vein of love, which runs straight to the heart.

Wedding Traditions in Morocco

As in other Muslim countries, a traditional Moroccan wedding ceremony lasts from four to seven days.

On her wedding day, it is a Moroccan wedding custom for the bride to have a ceremonial purification milk bath before a ritual henna painting (Beberiska) of her hands and feet. Originally, this purification and painting was the wedding ceremony in Arab lands some 200 years ago. Modern Morrocan brides continue this tradition by annointing the palm of guests with a unique smear, called the henna. Before she is dressed in her wedding dress, another woman arranges her hair, applies her make-up and puts on her jewelry. The bride also wears an elaborate headpiece with a veil.

Once the couples wedding vows have been exchanged, and before the newlywed Moroccan bride becomes the mistress of her new home, she walks around the outside of her house three times.

Wedding Traditions in South Africa

After the bridal procession into the church, a prayer of dedication will precede the wedding ceremony. After the exchange of vows, a unity candle will be lit. The couple will then be pronounced man and wife, and blessed by the priest.

The twelve symbols of life important in African culture may be administered as part of the wedding ceremony. These are wine, wheat, pepper, salt, bitter herbs, water, a pot and spoon, a broom, honey, a spear, a shield, and a copy of the Bible or the Koran. Each one represents a different aspect of the love and strength which unites two families.

The wedding feast which follows the ceremony is traditionally known as the Karamu.

In South Africa, to mark the start of the newlyweds life together, the bride's and groom's parents would traditionally carry a fire from their hearths in their homes to the home of the new couple, where a new fire would be lit.

Wedding Traditions in Sudan

A bridegroom ceremony is a common wedding practice in the Sudan. The bridegroom is welcomed to the wedding site with an auspicious decoration called the umbul-umbul, a type of 'wedding announcement'. The mother of the bride gives the bridegroom a garland of flowers, welcoming him into her family. She also gives him a 'keris', a hidden message encouraging him not to be disheartened while toiling for his family.

The bridegroom welcome is followed by a procession of ladies with candles, who pray for the ceremony. The bride and groom sit next to each other under an umbrella in front of the entrance to their future home with a veil covering both of their heads. The umbrella is held over the couple's head, serving not only a very practical purpose by also symbolizing esteem and respect.

The bride and groom bend forward and kiss the knees of their parents, a ceremony called sungkem, asking for forgiveness and blessing and promising to continue to serve their parents. This wedding ritual is held in front of a gargoyle fountain. Water flowing from the gargoyle suggests the continuous flow of priceless parental love for their children. A chosen man and woman, sing a special song called kidung on behalf of the parents, advising the couple to treat each other well and to live in harmony. Kidung also invokes blessing upon the couple.

An egg breaking ceremony, called nincak endog, requires the couple to stand facing each other in front of their house. The bridegroom stands outside the entrance and the bride stands inside. The ceremony is conducted by the Sudanese equivalent of an American 'maid of honor', who remains an advisor throughout the marriage. In this ceremony, seven broomsticks are burnt and thrown away, dramatizing the discarding of bad habits which endanger married life.

The groom is pronounced master of his house when the egg is broken. His bride cleans the his foot with water from a kendi, an earthen water jug which represents peace. Then she breaks the kendi and crosses over a log into the house, demonstrating willing obedience to her future husband. She is fed a dish of turmeric sticky rice with yellow spiced chicken to symbolize the last time the parents of the bride will feed their daughter.

The groom remains outside for another ceremony, which is enacted before him by a couple who sing. During this ceremony, the groom, via the vocalists, requests to enter his bride's house, and she consents when he agrees to confirm his Moslem faith. Having done so, the couple is given a barbecued spiced chicken to pull apart on a signal from the 'maid of honor'. According to tradition, the one who gets the larger piece will bring in the larger share of the family fortune. The ceremony also portrays the importance of working together to acquire fortune.

Following the wedding ceremony, dancers shower the bride and groom with wedding flowers to insure a fragrant future for the couple. A sawer, made of turmeric rice, coins, and candy, is thrown at the couple. Rice is a symbol of prosperity, and yellow is for everlasting love. The coins remind the couple to share their wealth with the less fortunate, and the candy bestows sweetness and fragrance upon their marriage. Seven candles are lit representing the direction the couple should follow to bring about a happy married life. A betel nut set near the couple is a reminder that different customs should not spoil a harmonious marriage.


Ankole Wedding Traditions

Ankole was a most important lake kingdom in prestige and population. The king owned all the cattle and theoretically owned all its women. Hima fathers were anxious to call attention to their daughters because the king gave generous wedding gifts. Should she marry her husband would be a future king and that meant her family would share the glory. Slim girls were unfit for royalty so those girls whom the king found to be of interest to marry one of his sons were force fed with milk until very heavy, barely able to walk.

Pygmie Wedding Traditions

Pygmie engagements were not long and usually formalized by an exchange of visits between the families concerned. The groom to be would bring a gift of game or maybe a few arrows to his new in-laws, take his bride home to live in his band and with his new parents. His only obligation is to find among his relatives a girl willing to marry a brother or male cousin of his wife. If he feels he can feed more than one wife, he may have additional wives.

Nile Wedding Traditions

Along the Nile, if a man wishes to see his sons well married, he must have numerous sheep, goats and donkeys. When marriage negotiations are underway, the father of the bride will insist that each of her close relatives be given livestock. The grooms problem is to meet the demands while holding enough cattle to support his bride.

Similar to our custom of sending wedding invitations and expecting gifts in return, he makes the rounds of relatives getting contributions for his bridal herd. Each day for a series of wedding days there is a special event. On the first day, or the wedding day, the groom arrives at the bride's homestead wearing a handsome leopard skin draped over his cowhide cape. Usually that will be all.

Nilotes are devoted nudists. Clay, ash, feathers, sandals and a necklace are considered ample dress for any occasion. The bride wears the beaded apron and half skirt of the unmarried girl.

After the private cattle negotiations are publicly and elaborately re-enacted, the bride is taken to the groom's homestead and installed in the compound of her eldest co-wife until a separate place can be prepared for her.

Congo(Zaire) Wedding Traditions of the Woyo People

Marriage is a key moment that follows immediately after initiation among many peoples because both events serve to break the bonds of the individual with childhood and the unmarried state, and to reintegrate the individual into the adult community.

Among the Woyo people,a young woman is given a set of carved pot lids by her mother when she marries and moves to her husband's home. Each of the lids is carved with images that illustrate proverbs about relations between husband and wife.

If a husband abuses his wife in some way or if the wife is unhappy, she serves the husband's supper in a bowl that is covered with a lid decorated with the appropriate proverb. She can make her complaints public by using such a lid when her husband brings his friends home for dinner.

University of Iowa Museum of Art, Art and Life in Africa Project

Zambian Wedding Traditions

To demonstrate the differences of African culture, here are some examples of several Zambian weddings. Although these weddings take place in the same country, difference provinces have different ways of approaching the marriage ceremony. The common thread is the closeness of the bridal family to achieve the goal of a wedding and lasting relationship. Marriage payments are to the family of the bride rather than to the brides parents.


In traditional Zambian society, a man marries a women, a woman never marries a man. It is taboo if a woman seeks out a man for marriage.

In Namwanga, a young man is allowed to find a girl. He proposes and gives her an engagement token called Insalamu. This is either beads or money to show his commitment. It also shows that the girl has agreed to be married. His parents then approve or disapprove his choice. Should they reject his choice, he starts to look again. If they agree, then the marriage procedure begins.

A man who has reached the age for marrying in the Ngoni society looks for a girl of marriageable age. Once he has selected someone, the two agree to marry and tell their respective relatives.

The Lamba or Lima mother started the process of finding a girl for her son to marry. She would search for an initiated girl known locally as ichisungu or moye. (An uninitiated girl was not for marriage until she reached puberty or initiation age.) The mother of the man visited neighboring villages looking for the right unmarried initiated girl. When she found one - one whom was from a good family according to her judgments, not the son's, she would go to the mother of the girl and tell her that she wanted her son to marry her daughter. The mother would then discuss this with her daughter, the man's mother would return home and come back a few days later for an answer.

Many Bemba men began their marriages by first engaging young girls below the age of puberty. The young girl is not consulted with at all. The girl would go to her future husband's house, sometimes alone, most often with friends after the marriage price was negotiated. On her first trip to his house she did not talk to him or enter his house without small presents being given to him. She would then speak to him and do a lot of housework for him. She would do what she thought was good for her future husband. This period of courtship was known as ukwisha. During this period, she was responsible for the man's daily food. The groom had to build his own house in the village where he was living, or in the village of his parents-in-law.

Marriage Arrangements

The go-between to initiate the marriage negotiations is the commonalty of all marriage arrangements in Zambia.

In Namwanga, the man's parents arrange for a Katawa Mpango. This is a highly respected person representing the groom's interests. The groom's family gets ready and decides on a day to visit the girl's family. The girl, after receiving the Insalamu, takes it to her grandmother. This is the official way her family is informed.

Her grandmother informs her parents and the family. They either accept or reject the proposal. Whatever the decision, they then wait for the man's family to approach them by way of the Katawa Mpango. When he visits, he traditionally will take a manufactured hoe, wrapped in cloth with a handle. The hoe is a symbol for the earth, for cultivation, for fertilization. He carries white beads and small amount of money. The beads and money are put in a small plate covered with another small plate of equal size.

The go-between must know the house of the girl's mother. Traditionally, he knocks on the door and is invited in. Dramatically he falls on his back and claps his hands. This is to indicate to the girls marriage panel that he is on a marriage mission. Then he places the hoe and plates on the floor halfway between the marriage panel and himself. He then explains his mission and is asked many questions by the girl's family. If no decision is made by the girl's family, the hoe is taken back, beads and money are taken by the girl's family. If a decision of rejection is reached that day, the hoe is taken back. If they accept, the plates are opened and the hoe is accepted once the girl acknowledges she knows the source.

The go-between reports to the man's family. If the answer is positive, the family starts to prepare marriage payments and a marriage council is instituted to look into affairs. The go-between returns on a specified day for details on the marriage payments. When he returns, exotic foods are prepared for his second journey by the man's family.

In pre-colonial period, the marriage payment included cattle (four or more), chickens and a cow (if the girl was a virgin). This payment went to the mother in appreciation for giving birth to the girl. Other payments are demanded nowadays -- a chitenge cloth, canvas shoes and a dress -- 2 blankets, a pair of shoes and a suit for the father.

Moroccan Wedding Traditions

A traditional wedding of a bride from Morocco is expensive and impressive. The dowry is paid before a notary and is spent on the bride's trousseau and new furniture. The jewelry she receives must be made of gold (rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings). During the engagement period, (which usually lasts six months to two years) the prospective groom sends his bride-to-be gifts of cloth, gowns and perfume on feast days.

Five days before the wedding, a mattress, blankets, and other necessities are carried into the bridal chamber. The bride is given a bath in the hammam. Her female wedding attendants, called negassa, closely supervise. She is applied make up (including henna-stained designs) to her hands and feet. She is then dressed in her embroidered wedding finery of white robes. She is then placed behind a curtain, symbolizing her transition to a new life.

The next evening the bride, while sitting on a round table, is carried on the shoulders of her wedding attendants as they are singing and shouting walking to the bridal chamber. This ritual of carrying her to the bridal chamber while festivities go on happens for the next seven days. The wedding attendants stand behind a screen to verify the bride's virginity and witness her defloration. After a second ritual bath, the wedding attendants leave the house and the couple are left alone.



In a small city called Lamu, situated outside the coast of Kenya, lives a group of Swahili Muslims with an Afro-Arabic background. 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 (Fuglesang, 1993:29). 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 (Fuglesang, 1993:29). When the enter this party they all take off their black veils and underneath they have beautiful dresses and wonderful haircuts etc. These are often inspired from the latest released movie in Kenya or other foreign influences. It has become a sort of competition to be the best dressed woman at the ceremony, and the one who is considered married to a good husband can make him get her whatever she needs. This ceremony is only for women as said before, but sometimes there are men there, the musicians. Even tough these men break the rule for this kind of ceremony, the women can not stand to live without live music. So they still uses male musicians for these kinds of occasions, even though it is a sin. To film and take pictures of the ceremony is common and it causes troubles. Because when the husbands to the women sees that there are men attended at the ceremony they get furious and sometimes it goes so far as they ask for divorces (Fuglesang, 1993:31-35). 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.

The main attraction of the ceremony is when the bride does her entry to the party and when she comes she gets welcomed with applauds and cries of joy. Today’s brides often wears the western kind of bride dresses and it is a opportunity to show themselves "modern" and that they have control of the modern people’s way of live and know how to dress and act. Some wealthy brides make arrangements to have a second kupamba, where they wear the traditional wedding dress and are then showing that they are pride of their own culture and background (Fuglesang, 1993:33). The underlying idea with this ceremony is that the bride is able to become the star of the night like the women in many of the romantic Indian movies. These movies are very famous  and popular among the women in Kenya and they are all dreaming to one day be able to look like the Indian moviestars, and at a kupamba they have a chance to do so.

Many fundamentalists claim that the bride’s veil is borrowed from the Christian religion and that many other symbols are borrowed from them as well. The wedding ceremonies seem to change in Kenya today and it becomes more western and the strict religious rules seem to be taken in a less strict way. Even the tradition that the bride must be a virgin at her wedding is no longer  compulsory. But  in today’s Lamu the brides from the upper class must be virgins because she must protect her family and give the family a good reputation.

It is not only Swahili Muslim who lives in Kenya. Still there are also some groups of Masais living in Kajiado of Kenya. The Masais are pastoral people who tend to follow their old traditions. They believe that women don’t have the same right as men. The Masai society claim that women are having the same position and the same rights as children, who they on their part are considered as some kind of cattle (Vick, 1998:26). Marriage between two people are often arranged and it is common that brides get forced to marry her husband, which sometimes can be resulted in further consequences as sexual violation of cruel husbands.

When man find a woman he wants to marry he have to pay a brideprice to her parents, often a few cattle and sometimes there is money involved as well. Today it has become more common to look for younger brides and this has become a major problem. The Masai people still practice the female circumcision as a ceremony to make the girl a woman, and a when men want to wed younger girls it has become more common to do this ceremony at a earlier stage than usual (Vick, 1998:26-27). For the men who want to wed these younger girls there is another problem. One must have a lot of money and cattle because one must pay more for younger brides. This seems to be a question of economy and that parents of daughters don’t look for their children’s’ best. It is quite evident that they treat women and children as cattle and they don’t care about their own flesh and blood’s feelings.


Kalahari Desert

The !Kung are an egalitarian, band society that have traditionally survived by hunting and gathering in the Kalahari desert of western Botswana and eastern Namibia. Traditionally, the search for a marriage partner for a girl or a boy usually begins soon after the child is born. Girls get married pretty early around a age between twelve to sixteen after they have had their first menstruation. Boys, in contrast, are between twenty and thirty and often ten years older than their wives. The reason is that they must prove that they are real men and kill a large animal to show the audience that they will manage to provide for a family. All first marriages are arranged by the parents and may involve a decade of gift exchange before the children are actually wed. But these gifts are no bride-prices, they are just exchanged primarily to celebrate the occation (Shostark, 1990:127).

In seeking a suitable companion for their children, parents must pay particular attention to the kinship and name relationships of the prospects. The !Kung forbids incest and people may not because of this marry a closely related kin or not even a first cousin. Boys are in their choice of partners forbidden to marry a girl with his mother's or sister's name. Aside from the proper kinship-name connection, the parents of a girl look for several other qualities in a son-in-law. He should be a good hunter and must not have a reputation as a fighter. He should not be too many years older than their daughter, be co-operative and generous (Shostark, 1990:128).

Before the actual wedding takes place there are a lot of negotiations and gift exchanges and after that the real wedding starts. Members from both families build a hut for the groom and his bride and it is set apart from the rest of the village. When it is done they take the girl from her parents’ hut to this new built hut and the groom wakes there as well and sit by the door. After that coal is brought to the hut from the fires of both families and they start a new fire in front of the hut. Everyone, except the couple, join in the festival and sing, pay and joke. After everyone leaves the couple spend their first night together and the next morning the couples mothers rub their married children in with oil and head back home to their villages (Shostark, 1990:130-131).

After the marriage the groom comes to live with the bride's family at her parents’ village for a period of years and to hunt for them. This is because the bride is not expected to leave her mother when she is so young. Only after several children have been born can he take his wife and family back to his own people. Often elderly men wed younger girls and stay with her family and just waits for her to grow and sexually mature while his other wife stay at his home. Even though they are not that common anymore polygamous marriages exist in the !Kung society. Monogamous marriages is the most common but there is quite a few people who lives in polyandrous union (sharing one woman).Although polygamy is allowed and men desire it, it is the wives who in general oppose this form of union. Polyandry is even less common and is considered an irregular union. When it occurs, it is usually between older people past childbearing age. The ability to heal seems to be a sign of power among the !kung and therefore taking more than one wife may be one of the few status symbols associated with it (Shostark, 1990:170-171).

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