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The institution of traditional weddings in Africa

16.03.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Marriage is a very significant step in the life of both men and women. In the African society, marriage is considered as the proof that a man is mature and is capable of taking care of the family he will build with his wife. Marriage is also seen as means of expanding kinship ties, as a marriage takes place between two families not just between a man and a woman who are in love as is the case in the western world today. Marriage is also seen as a source of continuity, thanks to the children that will be born of the union.

Africa is a very diverse continent where almost every society has its own culture and tradition. As a result the stages involved in a traditional wedding are different, though communities with similar customs and traditions may have the same ceremonies but there is always something unique to behold.

Traditional wedding in the Arab communities in Africa

Arab traditional weddings are quite unique in the sense that most bride and groom do not meet and fall in love or court in order to get to know each other before getting married. This is because about 80% of Arab marriages are arranged; where families look for appropriate partners for their children. A considerable number of Arab marriages are also consanguineous. A traditional Arab wedding can last as long as 3 days with very colourful and lavish parties. Though the processes may be different in some communities, a basic traditional Arab wedding has the following elements.

Tulba (the Proposal) : The man’s family formally ask for the woman’s hand from her father or eldest man in her family, during a private ceremony which involves only the families of the bride and grooms to be. Here, the families officially agree to marry their children.

Khitbah-Engagement : This is the Arabic form of courtship, a ceremony during which the couple dresses in matching colours and exchange rings. Those of the Muslim faith read the read the first chapter of Quran, asking for Allah’s guidance. This ceremony conducted by a priest includes friends and family and they are served light refreshment, including cake.

Henna Night : In a more traditional setting, the groom’s family dances their way to the bride’s house on the henna night bringing henna to mix with that of the bride’s family as a symbol of unity. The groom also brings a gift of gold for his bride. The night is characterized by dancing and feasting. A female henna artist decorates the hands and feet of the bride and willing guests. During this ceremony the brides wears a special embroidered dress called “Itthyab” and the groom wears a “Thobe”.

After this stage, the marriage is legalized by signing the wedding contract and registering it in the presence of an imam or sheik.

After the signing is the wedding proper; where the bride wears a fully covered dress with a matching headdress, and the groom wears a wedding thobe. The bride and groom are escorted to the wedding venue separately. They are welcomed with wedding songs and dances which may last for hours. After the singing and dancing, the bride and groom officially sit on their platform above their guests and switch their rings from their right hands to their left wedding finger; the couple is officially married. This followed by heavy feasting.

Traditional wedding in the central and southern part of Africa

Most countries in this part of Africa have similar customs and processes with regards to marriage. Here, arranged marriages are less common since the courting (not premarital sex) is somehow permitted, though this was not the case a few decades ago.

After the man and woman (of legal ages) agree to get married, the first step is taken by the man’s family; who officially meets the woman’s family. This is the introduction ceremony commonly called “knock door”. During this ceremony, the groom is accompanied by his family and close friends, who come bearing gifts. After sharing a meal; usually prepared by the bride’s family, the bride’s father gives his future son-in-law the list of things needed for his daughter’s dowry. These may vary in different communities.

On the day of the traditional wedding, the groom and his family present the things on the “list” which may include assorted drinks, cows, goats, fowls, rice, palm oil, money and African printed fabrics (may vary in different communities).

After these things are handed over to the bride’s family, the traditional wedding ceremony proper begins. The bride’s father or representative gives his daughter a symbolic cup of wine (palm wine or traditional drink in most cases) to give to the man she wants to marry as a symbol of her consent. The groom empties the cup and puts money in it and they both take the cup back to the bride’s father and ask for his blessings.

After this there is heavy feasting with lots of food and drink. The bride is later on accompanied to her new home by her family and friends.

Traditional wedding in Madagascar

A traditional Malagasy wedding begins with the “Fisehoana”; a visit of the man’s family to the woman’s family to ask for permission to come on another day to ask for the bride’s hand. The next meeting during which both families discuss the details of the ceremony and set a date is called “Fanapahan-Draharaha”.

After this, comes the symbolic “Vodiondry” (the most significant part of a Malagasy wedding), which is the negotiation phase between the two families and the groom is expected to bring a gift for his future bride. The groom gives a sheep (Lamb rump) to his future in-laws, a sign of respect and to thank the bride’s parents for raising his bride. This ceremony marks the official marriage between the man and the woman.

During the wedding ceremony, the newly wed share a meal of rice, milk and honey, served on the “Fadambanana”; a clay plate, which symbolizes the fragility of relationships and also the wish to live a long and healthy life. The couple also shares one spoon as a symbol of their oneness.

The guests offer their gifts to the newly wed, and at the end of the ceremony the bride follows her husband to their home where they begin their life together.

Importance of traditional weddings to the youths of today

Before the spread of Christianity and modernity, traditional weddings were the only form of weddings in Africa. Despite the introduction of new forms of weddings; like the “white wedding” mostly done by Christians, and civil weddings with all the legal paperwork involved, the African traditional weddings still hold an important place in the eyes of the young people.

Although many young people dream of lavish modern weddings; a white wedding gown, a bridal train, and a grand wedding reception with cameramen and hundreds of friends and family taking pictures to share on social media, they all begin with the traditional wedding where the groom asks for his brides hand from her father and pays her bride price (dowry) so as to show his worth and gain respect from his family and the society.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Credit image : google images/africa traditional marriage

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