Wedding Traditions

African wedding traditions

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Africans dancing
African tribe members dance in celebration
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The diversity of Africa is reflected in African wedding traditions.

Africa, a continent heralded as one of the oldest civilizations on Earth, is home to a wide variety of religions and cultures. The colorful diversity is reflected in its cultural practices. Nearly every aspect of life in Africa including child birth, maturity, the naming of a child and death are honored with grand celebrations steeped in rich traditions. African wedding traditions are no different. An African wedding is, more than anything, the bringing together of two people as a single family or the combining of two families or even the mixture of two tribes into one family unit.

Religion and Culture

The wide varieties of religions represented in Africa weigh intricately on African wedding traditions. Many northern Africans are influenced by Muslim traditions, while those further south are split between Christian, Hindu and even Jewish traditions. In some instances, more ancient traditions are still practiced; in many places, young girls are trained to be good wives from an early age. They may even learn secret codes and secret languages that allow them to talk with other married women without their husbands understanding what is being said.

The regions of Africa also determine how elaborate a wedding ceremony will be. In some cases, the actual wedding may last five to seven days - with festivities beginning days before the actual uniting ceremony and lasting days after. Often, huge ceremonies are held during which many couples in one tribe or region are united at the same time. In the Sudan and in other areas along the Nile, a man must pay his wife's family in sheep or cattle for the loss of their daughter's labor in support of the family. A wife may cost a man as many as 30 to 40 head of cattle.

Ceremony Traditions

Bright festive colors, song and dance are definitive elements of African wedding ceremonies. Elements of the wedding day in South Africa feature a bridal procession into the church; a prayer of dedication precedes the wedding ceremony. After the exchange of vows, a unity candle is lit. The couple will then be pronounced man and wife, and be blessed by the priest. The 12 symbols of life important in African culture may be administered as part of the wedding ceremony. These include wine, wheat, pepper, salt, a broom, honey, a spear and a copy of the Bible or the Koran. To mark the start of the newlyweds' life together, the parents of both the bride and groom carry fire from their hearths in their homes to the home of the new couple, where a new fire would be lit.

In Egypt, where marriages are still largely arranged, there is a musical wedding march called the Zaffa, just before the ceremony. The Zaffa features traditional Egyptian music, belly dancers, drums horns and flaming swords performances. In the Sudan, the focus is on the groom. He is welcomed to the wedding location with a unique and large decoration called the Umbul-Umbul. Then he is adorned with a garland of flowers by the bride's mother, welcoming him into her family. The mother will also give him a keris a hidden message encouraging him not to be disheartened while toiling for his family.  

The procession welcoming the bridegroom is followed by a procession of ladies with candles, who pray for the ceremony. The bride and groom sit next to each other under an umbrella in front of the entrance to their future home with a veil covering both of their heads. The umbrella serves not only as shelter from rain or sun, but it symbolizes esteem and respect.
Adding the flavor of Africa to your wedding will require research and more detailed planning. From Morocco to Johannesburg, the traditions, colors and symbols vary. A truly authentic wedding reflective of Africa requires intricate planning, but will lead to one of the most colorful and music-enriched affairs.  

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