In no other type of wedding celebration is family more important than it is in a traditional African wedding. The unity of a bride and groom in the African tradition is really a uniting of two families, or historically, the joining of two tribes. Planning a traditional African wedding is the perfect way to celebrate your heritage, your love for each other, and the bond you hope your two families will share as a result of your union.
Most American brides who seek to host an traditional African wedding turn to the Yoruba wedding celebrations for inspiration. The Yoruban wedding is a very spiritual event that focuses on the family, beginning with the ancestors of the bride and groom, and incorporating the families in the events of the day. Approximately a month before the wedding, the bride’s family hosts an event where spiritual readings are performed. It is at this ceremony that the groom officially asks the mother of the bride to grand permission for her daughter to be married. The groom must present gifts to the bride’s father for his approval, and if the gifts meet with the father’s approval, the plans for the wedding celebration can get under way. In traditional times, the gifts offered might include farm animals to help the bride’s family compensate for the loss of her labor at the home. Today, the gifts tend to be more ceremonial, like a bag of yams or a gift of money. Once it is agreed that the couple should marry, one of the elderly relatives will bring a bottle of gin to offer a drink to everyone, and sprinkling some of the gin on the ground as an offering for the couple’s ancestors. In today’s society, this spiritual ceremony can take place even on the day of the wedding itself, but many brides still choose to incorporate it because of the beautiful symbolism.
In keeping with the African tradition, many African American couples choose to wear authentic African attire to their weddings. There are plenty of locations to get custom made authentic African wedding attire, and you can purchase the fabrics made in Africa and have your outfit designed and made locally. There is much less formality in African wedding dress, and the colors are often much more festive than in a typical wedding. Although traditionally, African wedding attire used the colors of red (for the blood that was shed), gold (to prosperity), and green (a nod to the land itself), many brides choose to have their traditional African style attire done in a more bridal appearing white, usually with gold or silver accents.
The bridal attire is made up of several components. The head wrap, or gele’, is often made from anywhere between 3 and 10 yards of fabric. Additionally, some brides choose to add 5 or 10 yards of tulle to represent a more traditional looking veil. The tulle can also be used to stuff the gele’ to add height and to help keep the head wrap standing upright. Brides then wear a loose fitting garment called a bou-bou, or a wrap skirt known as an iro. Over top of that, the bride will wear a shawl, called an iborum, and a loose blouse known as a buba. Although the fabrics can be differently patterned, they traditionally match. The groom wears a wider leg pair of slacks, called sokoto, with a bubba, or shirt, and a long, flowing jacket known as an agbada. He traditionally wears a small pill box style hat known as a fila.
African American couples can choose to go with traditional clothing, or dress in a more typical wedding gown and tuxedo, using accents of purple Kente cloth to keep their African roots in mind. The bridal party can be attired all in traditional African garb, the makeup of which is similar to the bride and groom attire, or you can choose to dress them in purple and gold, to symbolize African royalty.
Most African American couples will incorporate the jumping of the broom into their ceremony. This custom is not an African custom at all, but harkens back to the days of slavery. African American slaves were forbidden from marrying, and to symbolize the union of two people, a couple jumped over a broom. The broom itself was symbolic, because it represented a bride’s willingness to help her groom’s family in life. Today, following the pronouncement of the couple as husband and wife, many African American couples will turn to the gathered congregation, and jump over an elaborately decorated broom, which is then usually given a place of honor in the couple’s home.
Incorporate traditional foods and lively music, festive colors and happy people, and you will have carried out a traditional African wedding. The thing to keep in mind is that your wedding brings together your family with the family of your beloved, and makes you all one family. Anything you can do to bring that message of unity to your wedding will be in keeping with the African tradition.
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