Want to know what to expect at an African wedding? Expect nothing less than extravagant and extraordinary. Especially if you attend a Nigerian wedding, they are notoriously opulent, colorful, and expressive.
The wedding ceremonies are shaped by African cultures and customs, with regal clothing, symbolic rituals, traditional food, and so much more. Discover everything you need to know — and everything you can expect — from an African wedding below.
What To Expect at an African Wedding: The Big Celebration
Before we get started, it’s important to note that each country, region, or tribe has different traditions. So to speak about “African weddings” in general is an oversimplification.
That being said, in this post, we will address some elements and traditions that can be found in many African weddings around the continent.
The diversity of the African continent extends to its African traditional wedding celebrations. If there’s one thing you need to know about these celebrations, it’s that they’re always spectacular.
For example, in some African countries, during the traditional wedding ceremony, the bride and groom take part in a custom known as “tying the knot.” You’ve probably heard of this colloquial phrase in modern times, but did you know that its roots stem from African tradition?
Before saying their vows, the couples tie their wrists together with a rope. Then, they declare their promises to each other: to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do they part.
Once the couple says their vows, the officiant will tie the knot and confirm their commitment to love and cherish one another.
Nowadays, this simple and heartwarming tradition has developed numerous adaptations.
For instance, some modern couples will use a kente cloth, a vibrant patterned Ghanaian fabric instead of a rope. Others will use cowrie shells that are strung together. Finally, the more religious couples may opt for three cords braided together to symbolize the unity between the couple and God.
After the vows have been said and confirmed, the big celebration commences! Be prepared for upbeat traditional songs you can sway to on the dance floor, a happy gathering of family members, and delectable local dishes. These are what an African wedding party is all about!
The Traditional Dress Code
Now, if you’re attending an African wedding for the first time, there’s one thing you must remember: the dress code.
You can expect to see guests wearing traditional African attire such as Kente, Ankara fabrics, or Aso Ebi. The fabric is usually made from silk or cotton; it features vivid colors, intricate designs, or embroidery and is paired with exquisite jewelry or head wraps.
Let’s take Aso Ebi as an example.
Aso Ebi is a West African and Nigerian practice that invokes the notions of group dynamics and wealth, especially in social gatherings like weddings. As a Yoruba phrase meaning “family cloth,” Aso Ebi is a fashion statement where close family and sometimes close friends wear matching outfits made of identical colorful fabrics.
This is a communicable tradition that enables family members to display their social relations in public. While it started with just the immediate family of the groom and bride, now it can extend to include distant relatives and some of the couple’s closest friends.
Ultimately, the purpose of an Aso Ebi is to showcase solidarity, love, identification, and social bonding.
That’s why they play such an important role in significant events such as a couple’s wedding day.
Rituals and Epic Ceremony
Below are some of the notable practices you may find when you attend a traditional wedding ceremony.
More than the union between man and wife, marriage in African customs represents the union between the groom’s and bride’s families.
For this reason, an engagement ceremony is a practice that the couple participates in before the wedding ceremony begins.
An engagement ceremony is when the groom offers a dowry (also known as a bride price) tot he bride’s family.
In the past, paying the bride price guaranteed premarital female virginity and sexual fidelity. It also demonstrated the groom’s financial wealth, signifying his ability to take good care of his soon-to-be wife.
Today, the practice differs and can vary from country to country, but it has become more of a symbol of the groom’s love and devotion to his bride.
Conventionally, the bride price can be in the form of money. But some cultures also accept other assets, such as animals, kitchen utensils, clothes, or food.
Moreover, everyday products, like kola nuts, or complex labor services (like fieldwork, repairs, etc.) are also welcome means of payment.
Once the bride price ceremony is over, and a price is negotiated, the couple can live together. However, they will still need to celebrate a religious or civil wedding.
Tasting of the Elements
Another ritual that happens during (some) African weddings — especially within the Yoruba ethnic group — is the tasting of the elements. During this ceremony, the bride and groom taste four different flavors representing the various stages of marriage.
- Lemon: The sour flavor of the lemon represents the disappointments the couple will face over time
- Vinegar: The bitterness from the vinegar represents the fights and trying times that the couple must overcome in their marriage
- Cayenne: The heat from the cayenne pepper represents the passion and spice in their relationship
- Honey: The sweetness of honey represents the joy that married life can bring
By tasting each flavor, the couple demonstrates how they can overcome anything and everything that may come their way.
Kola Nut Offering
In many West African traditions, kola nuts are integral to weddings.
This caffeine-filled nut is a natural product of the extensive tropical forests in the region. While it’s mainly used for medicinal purposes, this special nut symbolizes respect, healing, unity, and hospitality.
That being said, if a man from a Nigerian tribe wishes to marry a woman, he first sends a kola nut to the bride’s family home as a form of his greetings and declaration of a marriage proposal.
If the bride’s father or mother accepts, then they follow through with the engagement ceremony and wedding date, where they will “break the kola nut” as a symbol of marriage.
While popular in the western region, other African communities and some parts of Ethiopia also celebrate this practice.
The money dance, also known as money spraying, is one of many wedding traditions that you need to know about. In this particular celebration, wedding guests, family members, and friends throw money at the bride while she dances on the dance floor.
By throwing crisp notes, everyone showcases their happiness for the couple and wishes them good luck, affluence, and a prosperous future together. At the end of the dance, the bridesmaids collect the money and deliver it to the newlyweds.
Much like other brides, an African bride pampers herself on her big day.
In several regions of Africa, the brides — along with their girlfriends and female relatives — have a bridal party or a henna party a few days or weeks before the ceremony.
This party can last anywhere from two days to a week and involves various rituals, including bathing the bride, putting perfume on the bride, hairdressing, and dressing the body with henna — a symbol of fertility and purity.
As the rituals occur, the bride’s mother and other women sing songs and pray for the newlyweds’ future. In addition, older members of the tribe advise the bride about having a new family and a brand new life, which can occasionally make the party very emotional.
The Different Wedding Ceremonies Across the Diverse Continent
Africa comprises many distinct regions, each with unique traditions, ceremonies, and customs.
In Africa, weddings are frequently the focal point of the community, and people who attend do their best to familiarize themselves with African wedding traditions as a sign of respect.
Although we mentioned some popular practices that can happen across the different regions of Africa, some unique traditions are practiced only within a specific area. Let’s take a look at some of them.
North Africa is predominantly a Muslim region. As such, they practice Muslim customs that set them apart from the rest of the continent.
For example, a part of the ceremony for brides is to perform a bath ritual known as “Hamam.” This particular ritual allows them to purify themselves before marriage.
Because of West Africa’s sizable population, the wedding traditions in the region are the most practiced not just in the continent but also in the African-American communities outside of the country.
These include the abovementioned customs, such as kola nut offering, Aso Ebi, and tasting of the elements.
Due to the position of East Africa, many of their customs are influenced by North Africans and Indians. As such, you’ll find similar practices between these regions.
Central and South Africa
Central and South Africa celebrate the most cultural differences among the different regions. As a large and diverse ethnic group, they celebrate traditional African and Western ceremonies on separate days.
Africa is as diverse as can be. They have many unique traditions and exciting customs that may be new to guests.
From the vibrant and matching attires and a one-of-a-kind engagement ceremony to the henna party and tasting of the elements, there’s always something new to look forward to when attending an African wedding. Knowing these traditions allows you to follow through with the program and enjoy your time at the ceremony.
So there you have it; now you know what to expect at an African wedding!