Rooted in the ancient wisdom of its tribes, a wedding in Africa calls upon the traditions that underpin both family and society to exhibit in the union of a couple. African wedding culture celebrates in a technicolour fusion of beauty, dancing, food and ceremony.
African wedding traditions are as diverse as the peoples of the continent. Whether you’re the African groom or bride, African bridesmaids, parents of the happy pair or a guest at an African wedding, understanding the rituals and customs will immerse you in the big day.
Maybe you identify with a specific country, ethnic group or religion, or you simply want to mark your special moment with a celebration of your roots. If so, here are some of the most common, essential and fascinating African cultural wedding traditions.
Pre-marriage rituals - knocking on the door
In African culture, marriage is considered to be the joining of not only the couple but also two families. Much importance is placed upon the gaining of permission and blessings from the family before the wedding.
In Ghana the would-be groom asks to take his future bride’s hand in marriage in the “knocking on the door” ceremony. Locally the ritual is known as "kookoo ko". Accompanied by his own family, he takes gifts to the home of the prospective in-laws. If the “knock” is answered, plans are made for the families to unite before the blessing is granted but not before the bride has answered “yes” three times to the proposal.
Tying the knot - the African way
Tying the knot may be a colloquial expression for getting married, but the symbolic ritual behind the term has its origins in many wedding customs around the world.
In Africa, tying the knot means a tradition of literally and figuratively connecting the bride and groom together. The bind is typically formed from Kente cloth, a string of cowrie shells, braided grass or decorated rope and the knot is tied by the officiant after vows have been exchanged.
For better, for worse - the bittersweet taste of marriage.
The Yorùbá are one of the largest tribal populations in Africa and make up much of the people of Nigeria. Yorùbá weddings are noted for their positive vibes and delightful celebratory spirit.
The Yorùbá tradition of Tasting the Four Elements is a ritual that represents the joyous but also the challenging phases of marriage. The bride and groom taste each of the flavours that will represent their years together - cayenne for spicy, lemon for sourness, honey for sweetness and vinegar for bitterness. The tasting is intended to demonstrate how the couple will stay true and loyal for better, for worse, for richer for poorer.
Matching outfits for the bridal party
A golden rule of Western ceremonies may be that no one should upstage the bride. Still, African customs positively promote togetherness, as demonstrated by the wedding outfits, particularly among those observing bridal traditions.
Matching dresses for the bridesmaids may be a common tradition throughout the world, but African traditions extend this to sisters, cousins, and friends in some parts of the continent.
The practice is most common in West Africa, and in some regions, a ceremonial cloth is used. In Yorùbáian tradition, this is referred to as “Aso Ebi” - meaning “family cloth”. Aso Ebi is a beautiful way for those closest to the bride and groom to illustrate their bonds. The women of the wedding party usually dictate the overall style, and today many take inspiration from fashion’s most preeminent African designers. For guests, African designer clothing that nods to the Aso Ebi theme are also popular.
With this, I thee wed - traditional wedding rings in Africa.
The exchange of wedding rings is an age-old tradition across many cultures, but the place in the ceremony, the symbolism and the wearing of a band have different forms and meanings across Africa.
Many African couples do place wedding rings on each other’s fingers. African wedding rings are elaborately etched or decorated with symbols like adinkra, ankh or Yoruban knots in some cultures.
In Kenya, ornate beading has long been a cherished craft and is common in traditional African rings, particularly engagement rings. Beware in Nigeria, though, in traditional Hausa culture, a ring given to a woman by a man other than her husband places her under his control for as long as she consents to wear it.
Weddings - African trends and African fashions
For thousands of years, the wedding was a transaction by which to achieve “marriagehood”, then marked by celebrating the joining of man and wife, along with the new ties between families and the prospect of societal climbing with a successful union.
Today, African wedding rites and rituals extend beyond the functional exchange of vows and are inextricably bound to celebrate the couple’s tastes, identities and values. Yet, they remain built upon traditional tribal customs.
Social media has enabled the splendour of African weddings, with their rich variation, to extend to every corner of the globe. There are many ways in which to express African and Black culture in marriage celebrations. The deep symbolism and spirituality hark to sagacities as old as the earliest peoples. Incorporating some African elements into your wedding - no matter your creed - lends deep meaning to your big day.
Shop our collections of the latest designer wear to bring African flair and fashion into your wedding day wardrobe.
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