As a continent, African society is a mixture of culturally diverse traditions and rituals. In seeking to learn about African wedding traditions one must study each of the countries, regions, tribes, and cultures to fully understand what traditions are unique to which group and what traditions are not of African origin. Jumping the broom, for instance, is often mistaken for an African custom. Although it has some basis in African tradition and refers to sweeping away bad feelings or past wrongs, it is more commonly associated with the union of American slaves during a time when marriage was considered illegal. Jumping the broom is practiced almost exclusively in the United States.
While not the same, there are certain similarities that can be drawn between some of the African cultures regarding weddings. As a whole, African weddings are known to be family affairs, and are often not only dependent on the relationship between the man and woman, but on family input and approval as well. Marriages in Africa are strongly dictated by religious influences. Many Northern African marriages are decided by their Muslim faith, while other regions follow the traditions set by their ethnic religions, Christianity, Judaism or Hinduism. Yet another similar tradition in many parts of Africa, is the paying of a dowry prior to marriage. In South Africa, for instance, this is referred to as lobola and is a gift of cattle or money given to the father of the bride.
Food and Dance
The celebration of food and dance is another common theme amongst African weddings. Often wedding celebrations can last for as little as a few hours up to several weeks. The types of foods served during these occasions differ from region to region, depending mainly on local food trends. For example, guests of a Ghanian wedding may enjoy a popular celebratory dish called Oto, which is prepared with onions or tomatoes, while guests of a Somali wedding might be treated to a popular confection named Xalwo. Another main feature of marriage celebrations in Africa is the enjoyment of music and dance. A wedding in Yoruba will likely feature the playing of the iya'lu dundun; a drum that is used for special occasions including weddings. In addition to instrumental music, songs that express joy and religion are often performed by juju artists. In Nigeria one might hear Mo yege, Halleluyah mo yege (I've Overcome, Hallelujah) or another region may here The Lord's Prayer sung in Swahili.
In Ghana, the influence of family and religion is apparent in the wedding ceremonies performed. There are three distinct steps involved in the wedding ceremony which can last from one day up to one month. In the first step, a prospective groom and elder male members of his family must first go the bride's home and perform what is called the “knocking”. During this visit they bring alcohol, that is used for the libation, and money is presented to the brides' family along with the intentions of the groom. If the family approves of the proposal, they will then accept the gift and request another visit to interview the groom. This next step is often referred to as the interview. If the groom is unknown to the family, they will use the interview as an opportunity to learn more about the groom and his family. They will also prepare a list of gifts that the groom and his family are required to complete prior to the wedding, or engagement. The final stage of the wedding ceremony is the engagement which is the actual wedding ceremony. Before invited guests, the two families will go through introduction and prayer and the requested gifts are submitted for approval. During this process, the groom does not speak and the bride is hidden from view. If the list has been met, the bride will be revealed and she must consent to marry the groom when asked three times by her father. With her approval the groom may give her his ring, there are prayers and the pair is presented with a Bible as a symbol of the importance of religion in marriage. Although this is the ending of the traditional ceremony, in today's society, often times this ceremony is followed by a westernized church wedding. During the engagement ceremony, the wedding party will wear traditional outfits of kente cloth with the bride wearing a headwrap or crown, boubou, or a fitted skirt with a buba top and the groom in a Grand boubou or dashiki. The wedding attire, just like the ceremonies, differ from region to region and can include garments made of aso-oke and Adinkra cloth.
When it comes to African weddings, traditions depend greatly on the culture of the region and people involved. While some weddings stay true to long held practices of courtship, symbols, ritual and attire, others are moving further away and adapting to reflect customs from around the world. What remains constant in these traditions is the involvement of family and the roles that each member and gender must perform.
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