African Wedding Traditions
Africa is a large and varied continent containing some of the oldest civilizations on earth. It is home to a wide diversity of religions and cultures, and this colorful diversity is reflected in its diverse and colorful weddings traditions.
If any one wedding tradition might be said to be indicative of the African continent it would be the importance of family. 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. The concept of family is one of the unifying ideas of the African continent.
There are more than 1,000 cultural units in Africa and each culture, each tribe has its own wedding and marriage traditions, many of which can trace their origins back hundreds or even thousands of years.
There are also many different religions represented in Africa. Many northern Africans, especially, have been influenced by Muslim traditions, while further south there are more Christian, Hindu, and even Jewish traditions interspersed with more ancient traditions.
In many places in Africa 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.
Depending on which part of Africa you are in, wedding ceremonies can be extremely elaborate, some lasting many days. Often huge ceremonies are held during which many couples are united at the same time.
In 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. Often it is difficult to pay the family yet still have enough cattle left to support his new wife.
In Somalia a man is allowed to have as many as four wives if he can support them all, and it is not uncommon for a girl to be engaged before she is even born.
Bright festive colors, song, dance, and music are vital elements of many African wedding ceremonies. Common to all wedding ceremonies is the concept of transitioning between childhood and adulthood. In many African cultures children are encouraged to marry as young as 13 to 15 years of age, as soon as they have reached physical adulthood.
Divorce is rare in African marriages. Problems in a marriage are often discussed with both families and solutions found. Often entire villages join in to help a couple find solutions to their problems and keep a marriage from failing.
Marriage is sacred the world over, and that is definitely true in Africa, no matter which region or which culture you come from, and no matter what your religious beliefs. In fact, many cultures have a special totem that is designed to remind a couple that cultural and tribal differences must be allowed for in order to make a marriage succeed.