If you’ve ever been to African weddings before, you may have noticed some unique traditions during the wedding ceremony. One of which is throwing money. Intrigued, you may have asked yourself: “Why do they throw money at African weddings?”
This African custom is called money spraying, and it originated in the southwest of Nigeria by the people of Yoruba. It’s a unique African tradition that symbolizes good fortune, good luck, happiness, affection, and abundant blessings. By throwing gold coins, dollar bills, or any other crisp notes of money, the family members and wedding guests show their love and support to the newly married couple.
Why Do They Throw Money at African Weddings? The Tradition
Like many ethnic groups in West Africa, the Nigerian culture has always been quite vivid. If you’ve noticed, African customs tend more extravagant than western customs. But despite this (or because of it), they always have a good time.
At the wedding reception, spraying money on the couple is one of their ways of showing off their culture’s opulence and flamboyance. And with Nigerians being scattered around the different African countries and the rest of the world, this practice has become a norm and has gained much popularity.
But to understand how it became one of the Nigerian wedding traditions, we need to take a step back and look at the origin of money spraying.
What we know now as money spraying had its roots in earlier foreign traditions of a similar nature.
Perhaps you’ve heard of the money dance, bridal dance, money rain, dollar dance, or the apron dance.
These dances from many different cultures have the same concept as the African money spray: there’s always money and dancing involved.
The Roots of this African Wedding Tradition
While it’s almost impossible to pinpoint the actual origin of this dance tradition, we can surmise that it’s been practiced for a long time.
Money spraying carries a traditional heavyweight and is a festive way of showing support to the newlyweds. This custom symbolizes showering support, good luck, happiness, and affection for the couple.
This custom or something like it is seen in many other cultures and countries, including Puerto Rico, Hungary, Mexico, Cuba, and most Slavic countries.
One variation is called the money dance, in which guests dance with either the bride or groom after paying a cost. The maid of honor and best man collect the funds and later give them to the couple.
Another Iteration of the “Money Dance”
Besides paying for a dance upfront, other cultures practice what is known as “money-pinning.” This usually happens when the bride’s family or other guests wish to give the couple money as a blessing.
Typically, they would pin, tape, or wrap the money on the bride’s wedding dress during the couple’s first dance on the dance floor. Then, at the end of the couple’s dance, they would be covered in bills.
Yes, this tradition may seem all fun and games, but it signifies so much more than that. This traditional wedding custom provides financial support to the couple in many countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
They can use the money they’ve collected during their wedding party to pay for their honeymoon, invest in their future, or buy a new home.
Other Unique African Customs on a Wedding Day
African wedding traditions are just as colorful as their garments. Besides the money spray, they also practice several other traditional customs unique to the African culture.
When you attend cultural weddings, don’t be surprised to see the bride and groom wearing anything other than the conventional Western white gown and tuxedo. In African culture, couples wear colorful attires (made from Ankara fabrics or Kente cloth) representing their heritage. Often, their attire matches each other to perfection, making them stand out even more.
In Nigeria, aside from the couple’s unique attire, the families of each side also get to wear something special and colorful. This is called Aso Ebi, roughly translated as “family clothes” in Yoruba.
Much like how the couples wear matching attire, the family members also wear identical fabrics and colors to the event to signify their familial identity. Doing this will separate them from the rest of the guests. Likewise, this will also distinguish them from the other side’s family.
To ensure the couple is happy with their family’s outfits, they decide what their relatives will wear and announce it months in advance to give the guests ample time to prepare and shop for their attire.
Sometimes, the bride and groom may even purchase these Aso Ebi garments and give them as gifts so their family can stay coordinated during the big day.
Tasting the Four Elements
Another exciting element to a traditional African wedding is what’s known as “tasting the four elements.” Although the Yoruba people in Nigeria primarily practice this custom, it is also present in other African countries like Togo and Benin.
This ritual involves the newlyweds tasting four flavors that represent the different stages of marriage: cayenne pepper, lemon, vinegar, and honey.
- Cayenne pepper represents the spice and romance in the relationship
- Lemon symbolizes the sourness of disappoints they will encounter in life together
- Vinegar represents the bitterness they will feel in fights and disagreements
- Honey depicts all things sweet about their marriage
By tasting each of these flavors, the couple symbolically demonstrates how they will withstand the challenges that come their way and remain loyal to each other for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and health.
Kola Nut Offering
Kola nuts play an integral role in many West African wedding celebrations. This caffeine-filled nut grows on big trees in the tropical forests of West Africa and is frequently used for medicinal purposes.
Besides this, a kola nut symbolizes healing, hospitality, respect, and unity. That’s why a man who wishes to marry a woman in Gambia must offer a kola nut to the family as a form of greeting and proposal declaration.
When the woman’s family accepts the offering, the representatives from both parties must meet, decide on a dowry, and set a date for the wedding (also metaphorically known as “breaking the kola nut”).
The couple will break the kola nut on the wedding day and share it with their guests.
Music plays a huge part in African weddings! While the DJ may introduce a few pop songs in the mix, chances are, some will be unfamiliar to you.
But don’t worry. Even if you’ve never heard them before, they’re easy to dance to – especially with the current popularity of Afro Beats. The songs are easy to pick up on and will inevitably get you on your feet.
No matter how traditional a wedding is, it’s still a celebration. This means having a good time with the people around you.
That being said, most Africans love to dance. So they will take the dance floor unashamedly and get dancing! What’s more, they’ll invite guests to join.
Many songs have iconic choreographies, so seeing people dancing to the same choreography is not unusual.
No Strict Guest List
When it comes to African weddings, expect everything to be big and grand. Besides the culture, traditions, colors, and ceremony, the number of people will also be quite impressive. Almost everyone is invited to a Nigerian wedding, even those who don’t personally know the couple. The same thing applies to Congolese weddings.
This concept might be new for North Americans, but Africans are naturally communal. They celebrate, work, and spend their daily life with each other. The same culture is present at weddings. That’s why rigid guest lists are less popular among African couples (especially among older generations).
However, take note: although the bride- and groom-to-be often don’t have a definitive guest list, they must still provide a “maximum number of attendees” for catering, favors, and venue set-up purposes.
Knowing this, don’t be surprised if the couple sets a 250-guest list, but around 500 people come to the wedding.
Up to Three Weddings
The western way of doing weddings is to have one celebration per couple. However, this is different for African weddings.
Instead of having just one, they tend to have at least two weddings (sometimes even three): a traditional wedding, a religious ceremony that’s more Western in influence, and a civil wedding.
Due to the complexity of having two special occasions, the couple tends to schedule these events days or sometimes weeks or months apart. In doing so, they can adequately prepare for their matrimony and cover all possible bases.
One of the aspects of preparation is the outfits they wear — particularly the bride’s attire. While many African brides-to-be wear a white Western-inspired wedding dress for the religious celebration, others want to represent their roots and wear stunning African print dresses.
They tend to complement their look with equally bright, bold, and vibrant accessories like body beads, bangles, chokers, and headpieces when they opt for the latter approach. From head to toe, they’re adorned with their traditional attire and stand out in the crowd.
Tying the Knot
At this point, everyone’s probably heard of the idiom, “tying the knot” and associates it with a marriage ceremony. But only some know that the origin of this term is connected to an age-old African ritual.
Although it needs to be clarified in which African country this concept was first introduced, it’s become increasingly popular among African American couples.
During the ceremony, the bride and groom will have their wrists tied together with either a string of cowrie shells, a piece of Kente cloth, a decorated rope, or braided grass. Then, with their wrists bound, they announce their vows in the presence of an officiant who will then confirm their commitment to one another.
What’s interesting about this practice is that it looks a little differently depending on the couple’s background. For example, some couples may only use a single string to bind their wrists, while others may use a three-cord knot to represent their faith and the union of the bride, the groom, and God.
Jumping the Broom
As the name suggests, jumping the broom is when both the bride and groom jump over a broom in unison. The act of doing so signifies the beginnings of their new life and new family.
They use a broom in traditional African weddings because it’s used to sweep away dirt and dust. Symbolically, this is translated as cleaning away their single lives, past wrongdoings, worries, and concerns.
While it’s widespread among the modern African-American community, many believe that this tradition originated in Ghana, where the tribes used brooms to sweep away evil spirits and past wrongdoings.
The broom used in matrimonial celebrations is often hand-made and highly adorned to make it more festive. Then, when the couple “jumps” over the broom, they signify the beginning of the party and the future filled with good fortune.
At the end of the ritual, the couple can keep the broom and display it in their new home.
With these traditions and more, it’s safe to say that African weddings are nothing short of fascinating.
They’re unique, meaningful, and highly traditional.
Even if the customs we’ve shared in this article date back decades or centuries, they still live in modern societies. They’re still being embraced, revered, and celebrated, which makes them all the more special.
Hopefully, this guide gives you a deeper understanding of the rich African culture and answers your question, “Why do they throw money at African weddings?”.
With the colorful attire, festive music, and heartwarming traditions of African wedding ceremonies, we hope you find them as enlightening and inspiring as we do.
With this guide in mind, you now know what to expect at a traditional wedding and how to better prepare yourself for the festivities coming your way.