THE FAMILY GETS OVER!!!
The African continent includes a variegated patchwork of people, cultures, languages and traditions. This makes difficult, as well as wrong, talking about “African Culture”. Personally I am enchanted and astonished by the variety distinguishing each country of this precious continent. I wish to respect the wonderful range of stories and traditions that it talks about. I don’t want to fall into the very common error of sawing the tares with the wheat! Therefore, I’m going to cover on tiptoe just some meters of an ancient and mysterious path winding along many routes. Shall you come with me ?
Many aspects of the Nigerian wedding vary according to the region and its social and religious traditions. For example, in some areas the bride and the groom freely choose each other, while in other areas the unions are usually arranged by the families. Anyway, it’s generally possible to single out three different kinds of marriages:
Civil wedding , celebrated inside the Registry Office.
Religious wedding, celebrated with different rituals, according to the religious beliefs of the couple.
Traditional wedding, celebrated according to the ancient rites that are actually almost left down or corrupted by modernity.
The spouses oftentimes choose to combine the traditional ritual with the civil or the religious one, since in this way the women can benefit from more guarantees in case of separation.
Previous to marriage, many days before the real wedding ceremony, there is the Introduction. During the Introduction the families of the bride and groom-to be meet each other. In this occasion the groom’s family gives a letter to the bride’s one, asking the bride’s hand in marriage and mentioning money, cattle or potatoes as dowry. It is a solemn occasion celebrated by wearing traditional clothes. This custom is still popular in spite of the Western influence. This dowry is traditionally called “the price of the bride”. It is actually a symbolic gift to the bride’s dad and it is regarded as a legal contract. As matter of fact it binds the couple and regulates its mutual obligations. In Nigeria, as well as in other African contexts, the wedding goes beyond the union between two individuals. It is literally a family matter: to get married and guarantee the family’s grown is above all a duty to society, more than the greatest gift a son ever gave to his parents. This is the reason why the spouses’ families pay special attention to the “compatibility” of the couple. They make sure that there is no blood relationship between them and check scrupulously whether any hereditary disease is present in one of the branch of the clan.
The night before the wedding there is the Engagement during which the families meet again and the bride’s family replies to the letter. The Engagement is a joy moment, an event that both families attend by dancing and celebrating with food and drinks. The highest moment of the Engagement celebration is when the couple toasts with palm-wine served by a family’s old man.
Finally, the real wedding ceremony is celebrated. It usually takes place at bride’s home. During the traditional ceremony the bride and the groom wear dresses manufactured by the refined colourful African fabrics.
The bride’s outfit is further enriched with the traditional headgear and some jewels. Furthermore the Nigerian brides usually dress up their body with henna tattoos. Do not forget that many couples decide to have a religious wedding more than the traditional ritual. So it’s not unusual that the newlywed first wear “Western” dresses to celebrate the wedding in the place of worship they have selected, and then they change into different clothes for the traditional ceremony.
The hearth of the celebration is the vows exchange followed sometimes by the exchange of symbolic objects like food , Holy Scriptures or rings.
Up to now the solemnity of the tradition, but after toasting the party begins! For the wedding dinner are mostly used traditional fabrics and floral decor in bright colours. Gold colour, even if in small details, is much appreciated and definitively in demand in order to emphasize the joyful atmosphere. Most of the times the buffet is made of food and drinks typical of IGBO and just as typical is the music accompanying the dancing. But the story does not finish with the cake cutting … After the party the bride comes back to her father’s where undresses the traditional clothes. Then her husband along with his family will go there to get the bride and he will publicly (and definitively!) claim her as his wife.
Even in Cameroon the wedding is a moment that gets involved the whole family. More in details the wedding is arranged by the uncles of the spouses, sometimes even regardless their will. In the last few years anyway the Department of Emancipation of Women pursued important policies directed to allow women to enjoy more rights and freedom; above all they should be given to vindicate their right to choose their life partner. In Cameroon we find again a custom of bringing a dowry. The groom’s uncle, as his intermediary, will agree upon the dowry with the bride’s family. The dowry can be made of money or cattle and it is a symbolic gift to the bride’s father for the loss of his daughter.
The wedding dress is traditionally made up by the women and it’s usually white as well as the groom’ suite.
For the guests, meaning almost all the inhabitants of the village, it is a very important moment. Everyone wears his best clothes and the girls comb their hair one another creating special hairstyles made of many dreadlocks. This operation is of course extremely time-consuming!!! Colours play a very important rule both during ceremony and festivities. The gaudy colours of the guests’ clothes express their joyful feelings and their wishes to the couple. Also the streets and the houses are decorated with colours like white and yellow that are expression of light and happiness. After exchange of the rings that are usually gold even if few carats, the merrymaking begins. The wedding dinner is arranged by the whole community that works together to prepare the food and that in many cases do even place at the newlywed’s disposal some decors, utensils and crockery.
In Eritrea, according to the tradition, the best month for the wedding celebration is January while the favourite day is Sunday. Before the wedding, at the bride ’s home, at bride’s expenses, is celebrated the “arki halifot”, meaning the friends’ party. It is a kind of showing off during which the groom’s friends (“arki”) metaphorically brake into the bride’s home to kidnap her. In Eritrea most of the people practice the Coptic Christian faith, so the wedding rituals follow that liturgy. The morning of the marriage the groom leads the bride to the church where the Minister of Worship officiate the wedding in Tigrinya language in order to allow all the guests to participate. The priests, white dressed, sing and dance to the beat of liturgical sounds, while the believers pray accompanied by the chorus and the triangles tone. The spouses’ friends play a role similar to the one played by the witnesses in the Catholic rite.
Anyway the real stars are the bride’s maids of honour . You can easily recognize them at first sight thanks to their showy dresses and their plunging. Along with the bride they are responsible for the party warming up by leading the dance. Great emphasis is placed on the careful selection of the dresses and on the hairstyle. The bride dresses up with henna tattoos, braids her hair with gold strands and dreadlocks and wears jewels received as gift by the groom. According to the tradition the newlywed remain at groom’s home for twenty-five days….without never leaving the nuptial bed (wow!).