African Themed Wedding
Many African-American couples wish to honor their heritage by having a wedding that reflects traditional African ceremonies. These ceremonies can incorporate as many, or as few, African traditions as you wish. Often, traditions are remade to reflect American culture, as many African-American couples also place great value on their American culture.
In Afrocentric weddings, the bridal party’s attire is usually made out of a woven African cloth, called Kente. The bride wears a headpiece, resembling a cap, and a wrap skirt, shawl, and blouse. The groom traditionally wears pants, a shirt, and a long jacket, all made out of the same cloth. This cloth incorporates the inspirational African colors of red, gold, and green. The color red symbolizes the bloodshed of Africans; the color gold represents prosperity; and the color green symbolizes the fertility of African land. Couples may choose to wear traditional American wedding garments that are accented, or bordered with Kente cloth or traditional African patterns.
Family and Traditions
African weddings place a large importance on family, ancestors, and tradition. A marriage is also considered to be the joining of two families, and the bride’s parents are heavily involved in the wedding planning. The groom must ask the bride’s mother’s permission to marry her daughter, and he must bring gifts to the bride’s father to demonstrate that he will be able to take care of his soon to be wife.
African weddings also usually include a libation ceremony, in which blessed water or alcohol is poured onto the ground while prayers are recited to the ancestors. The water or “spirit” should be poured to the north, south, east, and west so that all ancestors will be included. The names of family members who have recently died are usually also mentioned here, and their blessing is asked for the new marriage. Because Africans place great importance on honoring their elders, it may be a good idea to ask one of your older relatives to pour the libation and to pray on your behalf.
Some African tribes tie the bride and groom’s wrists together with plaited grass before they walk down the aisle. If you would like to incorporate this tradition, you can either update it by simply entering the ceremony while holding hands with your intended or you can go all out and have your wrists tied together. For a more traditional gesture, use kente cloth or another symbolic African material to tie your wrists together.
Another African tradition is to taste four different elements: sour, bitter, hot, and sweet, which symbolize the different times people go through in marriage. These elements demonstrate the sacrifice that is required for a successful marriage, and the harmony that results when each person makes an effort. Each element – usually lemon, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and honey – is placed in a crystal bowl and one is placed to the north, one to the south, one to the east, and one to the west. The bride and groom usually have watery eyes by the time all elements have been tasted, and the guests enjoy watching this tradition.
The kola nut is an important African symbol; for African Muslims, it represents both healing and fertility. These nuts are exchanged between the couple’s family members as well as the couple themselves, and they represent the family’s bond and promise to help heal each other. The tradition is meant to recognize that no problem is too great to be solved by love. The kola nuts are important keepsakes after the wedding. These keepsakes serve not only as mementos, but as reminders to the couple that they must strive to work out their differences and demonstrate their love for each other.
From your invitations to your cake, your wedding can incorporate your heritage and your personal style. There are many different ways to customize your African-style wedding, and these are just a few. Take some time researching traditions, especially if you know which African tribe your ancestors were from, and then choose the activities that are most meaningful to you. Also, check out Jumping the Broom (link) an African tradition with dubious origins.