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4 Famous African Traditional Wedding Customs


Article posted by :- Victor Kekereekun

Posted on 2019-05-17
Yoruba Traditional Wedding (Nigeria)

This is usually a very colourful ceremony. The ceremony is usually moderated by two people usually females and they are called the Alaga Ijoko for the bride’s family and the Alaga Iduro for the groom’s family. The duty of the ‘Alaga Ijoko’ is to properly officiate and coordinate the proceeding so each procedure of  the tradition is strictly adhered too. The groom’s family also hires a professional called the Alaga iduro which means the standing master of ceremony, who follows the groom and family to ask for the hands of the lady in marriage. The Alaga iduro is also a professional custodian of Yoruba wedding tradition.

The ceremony starts off with the entrance of the groom and his entourage. The Groom is not allowed to enter the venue until he pays money to the Alaga Ijoko who then ushers him and his entourage into the venue with singing and dancing. They are led to greet the bride’s family who are already seated, with the males prostrating and the females kneeling down.

After the greetings, a letter of proposal from the groom’s family is read out by the youngest female in the bride’s family, stating their intention to marry the bride. The groom is made to prostrate with the friends first before his own family and then before the bride’s family. He makes his intentions towards the bride known and is made to beg for her hand in marriage.

The bride is usually the last person to arrive at the venue; she is veiled, and then escorted into the venue by her friends with lots of singing and dancing. She kneels in front of her parents for prayers and then proceeds to do the same for her groom’s parents. She is unveiled by the groom’s parents; she joins her future husband and dresses him up with ‘Fila’ ( Yoruba cap) to signify her acceptance of the union.

At the instruction of the ‘Alaga Ijoko’, the bride goes to the place where the engagement gifts have been arranged and she is asked to pick the most valuable thing there.  She picks up the Bible or Quran which has a ring attached to it and moves back to her groom. The groom puts the ring on the fourth finger of her left hand and they move on to cut the traditional marriage cake if there is any.

At this point, the dowry is handed over to the various groups entitled to it, the bride’s father makes a show of returning the bride price to the groom after taking a small sum from the whole, to show the world that he loves his daughter too much to sell her while entreating his new son in law to take proper care of her.

This signifies the end of the traditional marriage rites. However, the event continues with a lot of eating and celebratory dancing.

 Akan Traditional Wedding (Ghana)

As soon as a man decides to marry an Akan lady, he first informs his family and they fix a date and approach the family of the lady in question. They go there to perform what is known as “kokookoo” or “Knocking rites”. This is done to inform the ladies’ family that their son has seen a lady in their family and will like to marry her. However, both the Knocking rites and the traditional wedding are done on the same day in recent times.

The man’s family takes along Schnapps and some money when going to perform the Knocking rites. The man’s family is presented with a list of items needed for the traditional wedding once the lady’s family accepts the gifts.

The list which is given the man’s family could include anything but mostly it will have 12 half pieces of clothes, shoes, jewellery, under wears, full piece clothe plus money for father, half-piece clothe for the mother, money for her brothers known as “Akonta Sikae” and the most important, the dowry which could be very expensive, depending on the family.

The ceremony usually takes place at the brides father’s house, the items presented to the ladies’ family as requested are inspected one after the other to make sure it’s complete. This is done in the absence of the bride.

After this has been done, the man’s family request for their bride to be brought before them. The brides’ family goes in to bring her out but not without some dramatisation from their spokesperson who normally will claim that he/she has run out of fuel and needs money to refuel to bring the bride.

She is then given money by the groom’s family after which the bride is brought out. She will be asked if she knows the man by her father.  After she gives an affirmative answer, she’s then told that the man has brought gifts to them to ask for her hand in marriage. Her father then asks her if they should accept the gifts and give her hand in marriage to the man. She then answers in the affirmative and is presented to the man. She is presented with a Bible and a ring which the man puts on her finger. Their union is then blessed and the merry-making begins.

After everything is done, the man’s family then presents their thanksgiving gift to the brides’ family for accepting them and giving them their daughter.

Traditionally, after the presentation, the man’s family will return and the lady will be brought by her family to the man in his house in the evening, as a sign of them handing over their daughter from her father’s custody to him. The two were expected to have their first sex that night to seal the marriage.

 Zulu Traditional Wedding (South Africa)

A large and important ethnic group that spread across the East African countries are the Zulus. The traditional Zulu wedding ceremony is called Umabo.  Traditionally, an Umabo takes place at the groom’s parents’ home. The bride changes into a traditional Zulu outfit. A major highlight of the traditional wedding comes when the parties from the bride’s and the groom’s families compete with each other through the medium of Zulu dance and songs.

The family of the groom then slaughters a cow to show that they are accepting the bride into their home during this ceremony. The bride puts money inside the stomach of the cow. This is a sign that she is now part of the family. The ceremony begins with the groom’s father welcoming his new daughter-in-law, then the bride’s father giving away his daughter to her new family. The family and guests usually sit on grass mats as the brides’ sisters and bridesmaids bring gifts in the form of blankets from her to her new family. This tradition is called ukwaba.

Even the long-deceased family members receive gifts and are represented by the living ones. The family cover themselves with the blankets in an open area where everybody will see. The spectators rejoice, sing, and dance for the family.

Kikuyu Traditional Wedding (Kenya)

This is also known as a Ngurario. The groom comes with his family and age mates to enjoy an incredibly large amount of resistance from the bride’s family. The groom’s ladies carry lots of gifts such as bananas, flour, sugar and carry these while singing at the gate. Traditionally, it is an offense to put the gifts on the ground, so the women must remain strong while they sing and dance.  The songs are Kikuyu songs which request the gate be opened. There is often a sing-song exchange between the ladies on either side of the gate, which goes on until the gates being opened.

A meal is then taken together. The groom is then made to find his bride who will be hidden in a group of women all wearing lessos which cover them up completely. To make it just a little harder, the women will even wear thick woolen socks. So, there is no way he can cheat the system by recognising her ankle tattoo and if he picks the wrong girl, he will be fined.

As soon as he successfully finds his bride, he will then be asked to cut the shoulder of the goat (kiande) slaughtered in honour of the occasion. He would have to get tips from the local butcher because the shoulder joint fights back! Next, he will share some select pieces of meat with his family and in laws.

For example, the ears of the goat are served to the bride’s young single friends as a reminder to the women to listen to their husbands. A few tough questions would be asked by a representative of the wife’s family and voila, it is done.

It is now the turn of the bride to perform her rites. She will have to ceremonially groom her husband by combing his hair and shining his shoes. She will also have to feed him some porridge. This is symbolic of how she will take care of him as his wife.

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