In Africa, despite some westernization, it is important to stick to the local traditions during celebrations. This is the case, for example, with the celebration of a marriage in which traditional practices are still carried out today.
Below are examples of some African wedding traditions from 10 different countries.
The Moroccan wedding is a festive event that is celebrated in several stages. For many Moroccan couples, marrying according to tradition is essential to respect religion, parents, and the local culture. That is why, the most important moment in a Moroccan marriage is the meeting of the families of the bride and groom. But, before getting married and arriving at the wedding ceremony, it is necessary to know that there are several things to celebrate, and that can last from two to six days, according to the families.
In Morocco, the first phase of the Moroccan marriage begins with the betrothal, also called the “Khetba.” It is the father and mother of the future husband who must come and ask the hand of the young woman to the in-laws. It is only once the agreement is total between the two parties that can begin the preparation of the marriage ceremony.
According to the pure Moroccan tradition, there must be a day of “Henna.” For this ritual, the bride is dressed in green, and a “Nekacha” will tattoo her hands and feet. This tradition marks the prosperity and happiness in Morocco. Then, after dinner, the groom and his family often offer the wedding gifts with the presence of sugar to symbolize the happy life, milk to signify purity and caftans that the bride will wear during the evening.
During the wedding ceremony, the bride will be like a queen. She will parade throughout the evening with several dresses and traditional outfits. Later, with her diadem around her neck, the bride will enter the room, dressed in white, in “Ammarya,” to take a tour of the entire room, which is a sort of sublime cortege carried by her relatives. Then, dinner begins and, of course, the menu is composed of three dishes: A pastilla, a dish of meat (Tajine, Méchoui, Couscous), and a dessert.
In the Senegalese culture, marriage is, above all, an alliance between two families. There is a lot of emphasis on family education. There is a whole ritual to prepare the bride. It is a very important day for her, the passage from the world of adolescence to that of an adult. The bride is washed according to a specific ritual before the gathering of women. She wears a “Gris-gris”on her neck to protect her from evil spirits. The celebration of the religious marriage takes place after the prayer of the Asr (third prayer of the day, in the middle of the afternoon). All the men go to the mosque, pray, and then the chosen “marabout” pronounces the marriage. Later, the fathers of the bride and groom will give their consent before witnesses. Till now, the bride is not present because she has the right to see the groom only at night. She stays with the women in the house; it is the moment during which she is prepared.
Once the consent given, blessings for the bride and groom are made, and the kola nut is given. It is a fruit that plays an important role in African celebrations; it is a sign of union, of rapprochement, of forgiveness. In all important situations, there is cola nut. The women, surrounding the bride, head for the groom’s house, forming a procession. All along the way, songs are sung to praise the bride and her parents. After the mosque, the men join the women in the groom’s house. There, all guests share a meal, the Thieboudienne, of course, which is the dish of festivity par excellence.
The party then continues all night: Songs, music, and dances animate the marriage. For seven days, the wedding festivities continue at the same rate, but the “Walima” remains the most important day. It is the day after the wedding in which an ox is slaughtered and the meat is distributed, but the bride and groom should never eat this meat as it is believed that misfortunes could happen to them.
According to the Gabonese tradition, each wedding must go through a celebration in great pomp. First of all, the man, accompanied by his parents, must consult those of the girl before asking her hand. After family consultation and the acceptance of the parents, the date of the engagement is fixed by the family of the man. Informed by her future husband, the woman, in turn, informs her family that the date is fixed.
The betrothal, or “Ekulu dzangane,” is the first public appearance of the future spouses. At that time, the woman dresses wonderfully in traditional ways with masks of kaolin, red and white, and coal. At the arrival of the man’s family, a clan leader, or an important man on the side of the woman, welcomes them and asks them for the purpose of the visit. Then, a representative of the man’s clan answers and offers a certain amount of money to the woman’s family. It is not yet the dowry. The daughter’s family then has to make a decision and tell the visitors.
It should be noted that the fiancés do not yet appear throughout the negotiations. In case of agreement, this is where the fiancé is presented to the in-laws. The woman appears only after convocation. Then, visitors are invited to a feast before returning home with the bride. Finally, before leaving, the man’s family offers a dowry, or “Nsua,” to the woman’s family to compensate for the daughter’s departure, and a small ceremony of ritual blessing of the couple is organized by the aunts of the married.
In Egypt, families are ready to spend countless days and money to make the wedding day unforgettable. Depending on the social class of the couple, ceremonies take many forms. Big weddings take place in large hotels in the capital; the others often take place in the courtyards of houses and in the street. A wedding breaks down into several stages. First of all, the suitor offers a bracelet to the bride as a sign of engagement. Then, one day before the wedding feast, the “Henna ceremony” takes place. This is an opportunity for the women of the family to get together and prepare the future bride for her wedding night.
On D-Day, a traditional music group or DJ provides entertainment and a cameraman follows the bride and groom step-by-step. It is very common for men and women to be separated. It should not be seen as a religious rite, quite the contrary. Once united, men do not deprive themselves of celebrating. As for the women of the family, and the dancers of the belly, they are unleashed to the rhythm of the nagging music. Once the party is finished, it is the “Leilat al-dukhla,” the wedding night properly so called.
Traditional marriage in Nigeria never begins the same day as it is fixed, but long before. First of all, the bridegroom and his family must introduce themselves to the family of the future bride. The groom’s family designates a spokesperson for the Olopa Iduro (the one who presides them), and the bride’s family also names a spokesman for the Olopa Ijoko (the chairman who sits). The groom’s family officially demands the hand of the bride. Normally, everything goes well and there is no rejection because the marriage was agreed earlier before the ceremony. Then, there is a symbolic exchange of food. A kola nut is eaten by the “olopa” of each family and passed to each member. Then, a local prayer is said wishing the new couple a happy life.
The ceremony continues with songs, dances, and words of blessing are exchanged between the two families. Finally, one or several large suitcases are given to the family of the bride with traditional clothes, jewelry, and all kinds of gifts.
Marriage in Sudan is very different and special. When a young man wants to get married, the girl’s family asks for two weeks for consultation. After this period, the mother of the young man visits the mother of the girl to know her consent, and then she gives her some money. These manners are called (Fatih Alkeshum) or (Gulet Kir). The family of the young man sends money, gold, clothes, perfumes and food to the other family. After they make an appointment for the wedding, the girl does not go out for up to three months.
The first day of the wedding is Alhina: The girl makes the special hina, the same with the young man. The second day of the wedding is called (aged Algeran). In the morning, the girl’s family prepares the breakfast, and then they send it with 20-30 friends to the young man’s house to eat together. In the evening, many people are invited for dinner. The young girl wears her hair and get dressed in a long white dress with a veil. All guests dine and dance with traditional music.
On the third day of the wedding, the bride dances for her husband wearing traditional clothes. Friends of the groom sit down at the left and the bride’s friends sit at the right, while the bride dances in the middle. Traditional music doesn’t stop at all!
The fourth day is called (Aljertiq). The bride and her husband wear traditional clothes with a necklace composed of sweets. Then, there is a custom called (Geth alrahet), in which the groom pours milk on the body of the married and distribute sweets for all people. This custom is very interesting because it means, in the local traditions, that marriage will last.
The traditional Malagasy marriage starts with the visit of the suitor’s family to the bride’s house in order to ask for permission to come another day to ask for the girl’s hand. For the Malagasy culture, it is very important to obtain the blessing of the parents to be able to marry. The two families then make their acquaintance and talk about the details of the wedding ceremony.
Then, the “Vodiondry” comes. It is a phase of “negotiation” (often symbolic) between the married families during which the groom gives a gift to his future wife. Formerly, the groom had to give a sheep to his future in-laws, but today, no more sheep are given. It is replaced by a dowry given to the future bride. The fiancés are considered legitimately married in the eyes of Malagasy Society and, therefore, not having made the vodiondry, it is a shameful act in the eyes of the community.
Later comes the wedding ceremony in which all attendees enjoy a meal served on the “Fandambanana,” or on a clay plate, which symbolizes a wish to live a long and healthy life. The groom and the bride must eat from one spoon carved from black horn. Additionally, the couple are sprinkled with cold water to protect themselves from the “evil eye,” as it is believed in the local culture.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The Congolese marriage is marked by human warmth, humor, prayers and enriching exchanges. It goes through different stages and practices to make the marriage ceremony a special one.
The first formal protocol is when the “rites” are read to the bride and groom by the mayor’s delegate. Then, the guests are invited to try a cocktail and a meal prepared by the groom’s family and some friends. All are well-dressed and have a heart in the celebration. It is during this occasion that people are invited to eat the beautiful juicy caterpillars!
Later, the groom deposits the dowry to his in-laws. Generally, it is a present offered to the in-laws to honor the woman who will become the future wife as proof of love and commitment. Throughout the day, a group of women gather to cook and prepare for the evening ceremony. They are all colored with their loincloth, gathered behind the house to prepare an incredible variety of dishes; turtle, crocodile, mutton, salted-boiled-braised fish, shrimp, chicken, beef, rice, potatoes, plantains, beans, cassava leaves, etc. Every moment a woman begins to sing or dance, the others follow her or encourage her with cries of joy. Most of the activities organized by Congolese people are accompanied by music and songs.
In the evening, there is also a party that ends only in the wee hours of the morning. In order for the spouse to enter, he had to disburse money to the bride’s aunts to demonstrate his good faith towards the new wife and her family. The bride then arrives majestically acclaimed by all, and then she tries to fetch her husband to dance with her.
As a general rule, marriage does not happen on a whim in Cameroon. Things have to be well-planned, and people have to be informed. First of all, the future son-in-law must meet the girl’s family officially. For that, he must come to meet the father of his future wife. It is a presentation ceremony known in the local culture as “Toquer a la porte.” For this day, the future husband must be accompanied by his family and friends who should bring with them a bag of rice, fish fillets (Corvina bars preferably), some beer and juice boxes, match boxes, etc. After speaking to each other and enjoying a meal together, the bride’s father gives to the son-in-law “The Sorrowful,” the list of things needed for the dowry. Generally, the list is divided into two parts: The necessary for the ceremony of demand of the hand, and the necessary for the ceremony of the dowry.
On the day of the request for the hand, a family member goes with a copy of the list that has already been handed to the groom to verify that nothing is missing. If it is good, he has, finally, the right to ask for the hand of the girl. Then, the head of her family addresses her by saying, “Here is a man who came here to ask you to marry you. If you agree to the wedding, take a few bottles from those he brought and give them to me. If you do not want him, take bottles down there and hand them over to him, let him go with his things.”
Therefore, if the girl chooses to proceed with the marriage plans, her parents and grandparents would be given some goats by the groom. A dowry would be determined by her father, and after the marriage ceremony, the bride will be escorted by her relatives to her new home. Generally, to welcome the new wife, the groom’s father will throw water on the couple’s feet before entering the house. These traditions and practices differ from one tribe to another.
In Angola, there is a fairly strong tradition around the demand for marriage, called “Alambamento.” It consists of a series of rites, such as the delivery of a letter with the request of marriage. Sometimes, there will be a person, often an old man, hired to write this letter. It must clearly mention the demand of marriage. Usually, it takes two weeks to receive a reply, which is often written, specifying the date for the husband and his family to visit the bride’s house.
When the union is officially celebrated, the party begins. A lot of food and drinks are served to the guests, always with good Angolan music.