African Wedding Culture and Traditions

Toronto African weddings are a family affair and involve the combining of two lives, two families, and sometimes even two communities! There are many different wedding tradition in the African continent and no two are exactly alike. However, in all the communities the bride plays a very special role and is treated with respect because she is a link between the unborn and the ancestors. A bride might eventually bear a very powerful child, so she is treated with respect.

Ethiopia

In some areas of East Africa the groom’s family would even move to the brides village and make a new home there. In Ethiopia the Karo people enhance a young brides beauty by tattooing her abdomen with different symbols.

Amhara people: Most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil ceremony sealing the contract. A priest may be present. Divorce is allowed but it must be begotiated. There is also a "temporary marriage, by oral contract before witnesses. The woman is paid housekeeper’s wages, and is not eligible for inheritance, but children of the marriage are legally recognized and qualify for inheritance. Priests may marry in this culture but are not eligible for divorce or remarriage.

Kenya

The Massai people of Kenya grow up with children of their own age and normally form relationships with these people. However, in marriage women are given to a man they do not know who is normally way older than them. The bride packs all her belongings and is dressed in her finest jewelry. At the marriage ceremony the father of the bride spits on the bride’s head and breasts as a blessing. She then leaves with her husband and walks all the way to her new home. The bride never looks back, because superstition is that she will turn to stone. This can be a very hard experience for the bride, who is usaully 13-16 years old, and sometimes walks a long way to get to her new home. Sometimes the women of the groom’s family will even insult the bride, to ward off bad luck. The Swahili of Kenya bathe brides in sandalwood oils and tattoo henna designs on her limbs. A women elder, or ‘somo’, gives instructions to the bride on how to make her husband happy. Sometimes the somo will even hide under the bed to ensure there are no problems!

In another area of Kenya the main event of the wedding is the kupamba, which happens the night after the wedding. It is basically a display of the bride and is normally very popular because it is a party just for the women, and when they enter the party they are able to take off their large veils and show off elaborate hairstyles and dresses. The party can almost become a competition because it is believed that if a woman has a good husband he will get her beautiful jewelry and clothes.

For the Samburu tribe, marriage is a unique series of elaborate rituals. The gifts prepared by the bride groom are of great importance (two goatskins, a container for milk, two copper earrings and a sheep), as are the presents for the ceremony. The marriage is complete when a bull enters a hut, guarded by the bride’s mother, and is killed.

Namibia

The Himba people of Namibia kidnap a bride before the ceremony and dress her in a leather marriage headdress. After the ceremony she is brought into the house where the family tells her what her responsibilities will be as the wife. Afterwards,  she is anointed with butterfat from cows. This is a sign she has been accepted into the family.The Wodabee of Niger court their cousins for marriage. The male cousins wear powerful amulets which are supposed to heighten their attractiveness to the girl. If there are two cousins who desire the same girl the girl chooses the one she wishes and the other man is welcomed into the home of the couple, and if consent is given by the bride he may even share her bed!

Sudan

The Neur people of southern Sudan believe the groom must pay a fee of cattle, over 20 and under 40, and the marriage is completed only after the wife has had 2 children. If the wife only bears a single child and the husband asks for a divorce he can also ask for either the return of the cattle, or the first child! This makes divorce very difficult. Another interesting fact is that if a husband dies then his family must give his brother to the widow.

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