Africa is a large and diverse continent, and African wedding customs vary greatly depending on the region, nation, religion, and ethnic group of the couple. The United States is home to a vibrant African diaspora from many different countries, so it's no wonder you've been invited to an African wedding.
Don't worry! Although the basic mechanics of the ceremony (readings, vows, and symbolic rituals) are probably familiar, there will be some cultural differences that you'll want to know about.
Some of the most popular African wedding customs that you may experience as a guest are explained below.
Wedding Style and Traditions in North Africa
This consists majorly of the Muslim region of Africa which includes Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia.
It is traditional for brides in this region to take a ritual bath, called a Hamam, to purify themselves before marriage. Next, the bride and her loved ones will gather for a henna party, where her hands and feet will be decorated with traditional dye for good luck.
If you are part of the African wedding bridal party or a close friend of the bride, you may also be invited the night before the wedding.
The traditions and customs of North African marriages are virtually always derived from Islam. It is important to dress conservatively in the mosque for the ceremony (no bare arms or legs for both sexes), and for women to bring a scarf to cover their heads.
You will also be asked to remove your shoes before entering the ceremony site. A Muslim wedding will include a short ceremony called a Nikah, which is gender-segregated. The wedding reception can be completely separate as well, with different rooms for men and women, or partially separate with a partition in the center or men and women at different tables.
Wedding Style and Traditions in West Africa
Among West African nations are Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cameroon, and Senegal.
Because Nigerian Americans make up a sizable community in the United States, there's a good chance you'll be asked to a Nigerian wedding. Customs differ depending on the tribe, though.
Traditional Yoruba weddings include a ritual called the Tasting of the Elements, which represents the balance of emotions in a relationship. The officiant presents the couple with sour, hot, sweet, and bitter foods or beverages that are eaten to show that they are prepared to go through the ups and downs of life together.
Another Nigerian ethnicity with unique wedding ceremonies is the Igbo. The kola nut is indigenous to this group, and it can be shared in a traditional ritual. During the ceremony, the couple symbolically shares this little nut, which they then keep in their home to remind them of their devotion to each other.
Aso Ebi is a West African wedding tradition that comprises a ceremonial fabric that will be worn by not just the bridesmaids, but also close friends, sisters, and relatives of the bride. The mothers of the bride and groom can also select their attire for their immediate family and colleagues. During ceremonial events, the Aso Ebi is a method to display your closeness to the family.
Wedding Style and Traditions in East Africa
Among the great nations of East Africa are Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, and Tanzania.
The Swahili people are native to Kenya, Tanzania, and also parts of Central Africa. Many from this part of the continent practice Islam, and their marriage customs reflect those of other Islamic cultures. Like the North Africans and Indians, Swahili weddings offer a pre-wedding henna party for the bride, bridesmaids, and the other women closest to her. The Swahili bride and groom and their friends gather for a night of pre-wedding fight dancing called Kirumbizi.
The Amhara people are native to parts of Ethiopia, and their traditional weddings include garments made from Habesha cloth. Brides wear elegant white gowns made from this fabric trimmed in gold or red, and accents in deep greens, bright blues, or rich blacks. The groom's attire can be a western suit or a long coat with pants in the same fabric.
Ethiopian Orthodox is one of the most popular religions in the region, and many Ethiopian American couples will celebrate their weddings this way. With teachings similar to those of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic religions, these weddings are always celebrated in a church and feature the symbolism of the Holy Trinity.
Wedding Style and Traditions in Central and South Africa
Some of the countries in Central and South Africa are South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and the Congo.
The Zulus are a large and important ethnic group that spans the entire region. The traditional Zulu wedding ceremony is called Umabo, although couples from these countries also often have a "white wedding", or Westernized ceremony, on a different day. You may be invited to both ceremonies.
An Umabo was traditionally held in the home of the groom's parents, although modern couples could alter it. Zulu brides wear a cowhide skirt that is only worn by married women, as well as a particular headgear known as Isicholo, which is also a sign of marriage.
The wedding begins with the groom's father welcoming his new daughter-in-law, followed by the bride's father presenting his daughter to his new family. Guests and family members traditionally sit on grass rugs, while the bride's sisters and bridesmaids deliver gifts to her in-laws.
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