A lot of people seize the chance of the holiday seasons to organize their weddings. The reason is partly that they want a time when most of their friends will be free from work duties and attend their celebration. The other reason is that most communities in Africa have elaborate bridal traditions that stretch beyond a day.
Wedding ceremonies have remained the most joyous occasions that take place in most communities. It is characterized by the flamboyant display of clothes and dance steps. Nevertheless, a lot happens before the actual wedding day and several bridal traditions take place. In this article, we look into some of the most unique bridal traditions in Africa.
#1. Mossi (Burkina Faso)
Submission is key for a successful marriage. It is taught in almost all religious settings. It is an important topic in traditional weddings too. In Burkina Faso, among the Mossi people, the aspect of submission is displayed literally.
The new bride is presented with a special drink by her relatives that she is supposed to offer her husband to be. Interestingly, she shows how submissive she will be to her future husband by offering the drink while kneeling.
#2. Maasai (Kenya and Tanzania)
The Maasais are among the few tribes in Kenya and Tanzania who have held onto their cultural practices. Their marriage is equally fascinating. Traditionally, the elders arrange a marriage ceremony without involving the bride to be and her mother.
On the actual wedding day, the mother of the bride is gifted a bull as a sign that one of her children is leaving the homestead. The father, on the other hand, spits on the bride to bless her as she sets to start a new family life. As the bride departs from her parents’ house, she should not look behind or else she will turn into a stone.
#3. The Frafra (Ghana)
Do you know that kidnapping is a serious offense? Well, not among the Frafra tribe of Ghana. If a young man identifies a girl who will make a suitable wife, his family kidnaps the girl. She is then kept under watch round the clock so as not to escape.
The man’s family then plans for a visit to the bride’s place to report that they indeed have their daughter. They take gifts like guinea fowls, tobacco, and kola nuts among other things to the kidnapped bride’s family. If their intention to marry the girl is accepted, a ceremony called hand running is carried out.
#4. The Neur (Southern Sudan)
The Neur people also have an interesting tradition where a man is required to give the bride’s family 20 to 40 cows. Consequently, the bride is required to deliver two children before the marriage process is fully completed. In case the woman is unable to meet this requirement, the man can ask for a divorce, custody of the child born or retake the cows he gave as bride price.
#5. The Himba (Namibia)
A Himba girl getting married will also have to be kidnapped. During her time in isolation, the bride is pampered and given new clothes, and adorned with expensive jewelry. Some of the special clothing she wears at this time is a leather headdress called Okori which is a gift from her mother.
The groom on the other hand prepares a goatskin which he gifts his wife to be and her mother. The bride’s father is not left out in this ceremony. He slaughters a goat and shares the meat with neighbors and fellow villagers. The offal is given to young women including the bride. They place this meat on their heads to show respect to the girl’s father.
#6. The Wodaabe (Niger)
Among the Wodaabe, it is the groom’s family that determines the bride price. After the bride price has been paid, the bride and groom can stay together. Interestingly, if the bride gets expectant, she goes back to her parents where she stays up to four years. During this time, the groom continues performing other rites. Immediately he completes all the marriage rites, the bride who is now a wife returns to her husband.
#7. The Fulani (Northern Nigeria)
A responsible man can do anything to get a wife. This is the core belief of the Fulani people. A groom has to undergo a cultural practice called Sharo. This literally means flogging the groom in public. The ability of the groom to endure the strokes demonstrates that he is ready for marriage. It also shows that he is strong, perseverant, and can protect the woman he wants to marry.
#8. The Moor (Mauritania)
Among the weird bridal traditions practiced in Africa is the bride fattening among the Moor of Mauritania. For a long time, most Mauritanians believed that a heavy curvy woman is best for marriage. This was a sign of prosperity and good tidings.
Consequently, young girls were enrolled in fattening camps where they were forced to eat up to five times. Although this culture is thought to have ceased, women are still looking for different ways to gain weight so as to look appealing to men.
#9. Latuka (Sudan)
In Sudan among the Latuka people, kidnapping of the bride also takes place. The man or groom kidnaps the girl of his choice to make known his interests. The older members of the groom’s family then visit the girl’s family to seek permission from her father. If the girl’s father agrees for the union to take place, he whips the groom as a sign of acceptance. If the bride’s father does not agree with them, the groom might marry the girl by force.
#10. Yoruba (Nigeria)
The Yoruba of Nigeria has some of the most elaborate cultural practices. For instance, to signify the good and bad times in a marriage, a ceremony of tasting is carried out. On this occasion, four elements namely lemon slices, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and honey are presented to the newlyweds.
The sour taste of lemons represents the disappointments often found in marriage. Vinegar represents all the bitterness the couple has to overcome. Cayenne pepper represents life’s passions and spices while the honey represents joyful moments in marriage. Tasting these elements together signifies the unity in which the couple will face all the seasons of their life together.
#11. Bemba (Zambia)
Culturally, one of the duties of a wife is to ensure that her husband is well fed. Among the Bemba people of Zambia, this aspect is checked during a ceremony called Chilanga Mulilo. In this ceremony, the bride’s family prepares several delicious cuisines which are presented to the groom and his family. This is to basically show the groom the kind of food he will eat once he marries his bride.
Another event that takes place in a Bemba marriage ceremony is Bana Chimbusa where the bride goes through a secret counseling session. Ama Shikulo is also another event that signifies the merging of the bride’s and groom’s families. In this event, people give well wishes and words of advice to the new couple.
#12. The Zulu (South Africa)
Zulu’s traditional wedding also known as Umabo takes place after the usual white wedding. The payment of dowry or lobola follows soon after. The groom and his family bring gifts to the bride’s mother and other close family members. Unlike in many other cultures where the bride and her family are the main recipients from the groom’s side, the Zulus do it differently. The bride also shows her appreciation to the groom’s family by presenting groceries and other household items.
#13. The Swahili (Kenya, Tanzania)
Swahili predominantly in Kenya and Tanzania has a unique way of carrying out their marriage ceremonies. Men and women perform several activities separately. For instance, the bride and her bridal entourage attend a Henna party where they apply henna on their hands and feet.
The men, on the other hand, attend Kirumbizi which is a dance accompanied by the sound of drums and flutes. The dance is also characterized by wrestling matches. Thereafter, Nikah or vow ceremony takes place after which the groom and his family attend a luncheon known as Walima.
#14. Amhara (Ethiopia)
The bridal traditions among the Amhara people are mostly negotiated by the bride’s and groom’s families. After the negotiations are complete, a civil ceremony is then conducted to seal the marriage. A hall is intricately decorated to hold the guests during the wedding. The guests are then served traditional cuisines and beverages.
Habesha attires are mostly worn during Amhara weddings. For instance, the bride wears a glamorous white gown embellished with red or golden trimmings. The gowns can also be decorated with black, bright blue, and dark green shiny trimmings.
#15. The Igbo (Nigeria)
Sharing is the spirit of all wedding ceremonies and it is no different among the Igbo people. However, the sharing of a kola nut is a bridal tradition that makes Igbo weddings unique. Despite the small size of the nut, it is symbolically shared among those attending the wedding and the remainder is kept by the newlyweds in their new home.
Among most of the West African communities, kola nuts signify healing and prosperity. It also acts as a constant reminder of the couple’s commitment to each other.
The numerous bridal traditions in Africa are one of the numerous beauties of the continent. Interestingly, in Africa, marriage was encouraged mainly for prosperity and multiplication. Love and companionship were not necessarily valid reasons for marriage. Did we miss the marriage tradition in your tribe? Feel free to share it with us in the comment section below.