African wedding traditions

Africa, with its many nations and tribes, is very rich in different wedding traditions. An old African proverb says, "A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers."

Egyptian weddings are often arranged. At the engagement part a groom-to-be gives his bride-to-be a money known as Mahr. This money is used to buy jewelery called Shabka and furniture. The groom gives her a ring which she wears on her right hand. Before the wedding henna tattoos are applied on bride's feet and hands.

The wedding starts with the performance of Zaffa music which involves traditional bendir drums, bagpipes, horns etc. The wedding ceremony is performed in mosque or church.

At the wedding feast the happy couple sits on Kosha chairs raised on a platform. Kofta meatballs and rose water drink called Sharpat are just two delicacies served at the wedding meal. In Egypt women pinch the bride on her wedding day. It means good luck.

Father blesses his daughter
Father blesses his daughter

At the wedding ceremony held by the Masai (Maasai) nation of Kenya the father of the bride blesses her by spitting on her head and breasts. Then she leaves with her husband. While walking to her new home she never looks back as she believes that she will turn to stone.

Henna tattoos being applied
Henna tattoos being applied

Swahilli nation of Kenya bathe bride in sandalwood oils and apply henna tattoos on her limbs. Somo or a woman elder instructs the bride how to satisfy her husband. The somo sometimes hides under the bed in case some unexpected problems appear.

Samburu men
Samburu men

Semi-nomadic Samburu nation lives in Kenya too. For the Samburu people presents prepared by groom (two goatskins, two copper earrings, a milk container, a sheep) are especially important.

Polygamous marriages are common in the Wodabee nation of Niger. Marriages called „coogal“ are arranged by parents during couple's infancy. There are also marriages as result of love. Such marriages are called „teegal“.

Groom's family offers a price to the bride's family. If it is excepted the bride and groom are married. A bride lives with her husband until her pregnancy. Then she returns to her mother's home, where she will remain for the next three to four years.

With the birth of a baby the woman becomes a boofeydo or "someone who has made an error." Being a boofeydo means that she can not see or speak with her husband. The husband can not express any interest in her or the baby.

After two to three years, the woman will be able to visit her husband, but not live with him. Finally, when the woman's mother buys everything that is needed for bride's home, she and the baby return to the husband.

Karo woman and child (photo by Monkeyji)
Karo woman and her child

Between 1000 and 1500 Karo (Kara) people live on the east banks of the Omo River in south Ethiopia. To enhance the beauty of the Karo bride her abdomen is tattooed with different symbols. The Karo man can have as many wives as he can afford. Usually he has two or three wives.

In Sudanese Neur tribe the groom can get married if he pays for 20-40 herds of cattle. Wedding is complete when the wife gives birth to two kids. If the wife has only one child the husband can ask for divorce. He can also ask for the cattle or the baby.

If the husband dies, his brother must become new widow's husband. Any children from this relationship are treated as children of the deceased.

Muslim weddings in Tanzania are usually organized on Sundays during Sawwal, which is the tenth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. Before the start of wedding every bride gets a Sumo. The Sumo is the best friend of bride's mother. Sumo accompanies the bride wherever she goes.

Sumo performs the beauty treatment of bride's hair, skin and nails. Special mixture made of sugar and lime juice is used to cover bride's body. This mixture is used to remove all of her body hair except those on the head. Bride's hands and feet are decorated with "mehdi" or "henna" tattoos. Special oils are put on bride's hair. Her make-up is applied. Perfumed oils are smeared on her body. Finally, she gets her jewelry and a weil.

After the wedding ceremony, the sumo prepares a bed for the happy couple. Some aromatic petals are usually placed on such a bed. This ends the sumo's duties. The groom pays her an agreed fee.

Being a virgin is very important among Tanzanian Muslims. Stains on the bed sheet are expected to proove bride's virginity. In the case that there are no stains she has to return all the wedding presents she got. Being a virgin until the first wedding night ensures her deep respect of the groom's family. After this test of virginity it is time for the wedding reception to start. Such parties usually last between three and seven days.

Ndebele people
Ndebele people

The Ndebele people live in South Africa and Zimbabwe. Mother-in-law of the Ndebele bride makes her a "jocolo". The Jocolo is a five-paneled, beaded goatskin apron. During ceremonies this apron is worn by all married women.

The Shona people live in Zimbabwe and southern Mozambique. Dowry or "roora" is a regular part of their weddings. It is paid to the bride's family as a sign of respect. The bride decides when she will go to her groom. She can arrive at night with her female cousins escorting her. She arrives during the day when she wants to surprise her future husband. She then wears white from head to toe. It is believed that by doing so nobody can see her.

As soon as members of groom's family notice her they start dancing and ululating. The groom's family begins preparations for a party. It takes some time, so the bride is encouraged to keep walking through the village. People are very happy as her arrival and giving birth to babies is going to enlarge their community.

The procession ends when the mother-in-law escorts the bride to her new home. There the bride gets presents and is being pleaded to remove her veil. It is a sign for the party to begin. Such parties last all through the night.

The Yoruba people live in Nigeria and some other parts of Western Africa. Out of Africa Yoruba communities exist in Brazil, the USA, Jamaica, Haiti etc. One of the ceremonies held at the Yoruba weddings is tasting. In this ceremony the bride and groom taste for example peppercorns for bitterness, honey for happiness and dried fish for nourishment.

Yoruba people
Yoruba people

Very important character at the Yoruba wedding is the Alaga Iduro ("Standing Chairperson"). She is a professional, hired and paid by the bride's and groom's family. She has all sorts of duties. She is a combination of singer, poet, comedian, spokesperson and priest.

The Igbo (Ibo) people live in the southeast and south of Nigeria. At local weddings there is a tradition where an elder person gives an "ofo" to the couple. The ofo is a wooden stick which symbolizes unity, truth and indestructibility.

The wedding ceremony in Igbo communities includes something what is known as the "bride's train". It is consisted of the bride and her single female friends. These women enter the church dancing to the music. People throw money over them. This is seen as an act of blessing.

Banknotes are also important when the couple is dancing at the wedding reception. Guests wish them prosperous future by throwing banknotes around the couple or placing them on their foreheads.

The Woyo (Bahoyo, Bawoyo, Ngoyo) people live in Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire) and in the Angolan Cabinda province. When the woman gets married her mother gives her a set of pot lids. These lids are carved with illustrations which represent proverbs describing relations in the marriage.

In situations when a husband makes his wife unhappy she gives him a meal in a bowl with a lid with the suitable proverb. This tradition is also performed when the woman wants to express her discontent in public. For example, when husband's friends come for a visit.

The Zulu people are the largest South African nation. Most of them live in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. At the traditional Zulu wedding bride sometimes changes her clothes three times. She is doing so to impress her in-laws. Zulu bride wears a traditional red headdress which was in the past made of her mother's hair.

The wedding ceremony includes lot of dancing and singing. After the ceremony everyone goes to the groom's home. A cow is slaughtered there as a sign that the bride is welcomed in her new home. The bride officially becomes member of new family by putting money in cow's stomach. The wedding ends with a ceremony called “ukwaba” during which the bride gives special blankets as presents to her new family.