African weddings are bold, vibrant and full of culture. There aren’t many blogs that feature these weddings and celebrates its different customs and traditions. So, this inspired me to write this post, focusing on West African weddings here in the UK.
99.9% of the time West African Weddings are BIG. However, there is a simple reason for this….everyone is invited! Well not everybody, however, they tend not to leave people out even if they are not immediate family, e.g., the brides husbands cousins friend, the brides mum’s best good friend and so on. A wedding is such a big celebration that the parents and couple invite more or less everyone they know, so they can celebrate with them and make it a day to remember. Another reason for the large number of invites is that Africans typically come from large families. All guests receive an invitation, which is usually addressed from the couple’s parents requesting attendance to their children’s wedding.
The mothers and fathers tend to play a huge part in the wedding e.g., money, advice etc. This can be a great time for both of the couple’s parents to bond, work together and create a beautiful event for their children.
Traditional Engagement Ceremony
Depending on the country, tribe, and traditions, different customs are performed. However, most traditional engagement ceremonies will include the giving of many gifts and an abundance of prayers for the couple. For example, for a traditional Nigerian Engagement the groom and his family must have sourced all items from a list given to him. These gifts range from spices to traditional clothing materials. Once the ceremony is over, closing prayers are said and the music, eating and dancing commences.
Wedding Day Ceremony
Religion usually plays a very significant part. For this reason the wedding ceremony will take place in a religious building such as a church or mosque.
The wedding party can consist of a best man, maid-of-honour, several pairs of bridesmaids and groomsmen. In addition, there are several ushers and usherettes, flower girls, page boys and a little bride and groom. Identical looks and coordination are key, including matching suits, dresses and hairstyles.
The couple wear more than one outfit during the course of their big day. First, their traditional Western clothing i.e., white wedding dress and suit. Second, their evening wear which consists of outfits made from native material, tailored to a specific style e.g., Aso oke (Nigerian).
Rich and vibrant colours, beautifully structured geles (head wrap) and assorted styles of Ankara (colourful light-weight fabric that comes in endless amounts of patterns) are what make up the West African attire. Friends and family of the bride wear the same fabric, however they are free to take their material to a tailor in order to represent their own individual styles. The groom’s guests do exactly the same, but with a different patterned fabric. At the last wedding I went to the bride’s family wore gold gele’s, while the groom’s wore silver.
The majority of the décor and design is also colour coordinated. From flowers, chair covers and ceiling draping. Light snacks and drinks are placed on tables for guests to enjoy until the bride and groom make their entrance.
Number of Guests and Seating
Guest numbers can range from 500 to 1000. They do not have set places and so sit wherever they wish. The bride and groom have their own table where they sit by themselves or are joined by either their bridesmaids and groomsmen, parents or both. If the bride and grooms parents are not seated with their children then, they will usually have reserved seating. The same goes for ‘special’ aunts and uncles they would like to honor.
Food & Drink
Food is available throughout the course of the reception. There is usually a varied buffet serving many dishes including jollof rice, fried rice, yams, meat and fish dishes, salads, sauces and pounded yam. There are a selection of drinks from alcohol and soft drinks.
A lot of traditional West African music, with a selection of other genres.
Dancing is another major aspect of a West African Wedding. It can even begin with the church ceremony e.g., once the couple have signed the register this is classed as a celebration and so native songs are sang by the congregation. Everyone is encouraged to join in and dance, however, this does vary with each country and tribe.
Just before the bride and groom make their entrance to the reception venue they are formally introduced and enter dancing to a song selected by them. At this point all eyes are on them and they are watched as they show off their moves. When they reach a certain point, close family members may join them to dance, usually forming a circle around them.
Once the couple have had their first dance together, they can be joined by the bridal party to a different upbeat song. It is tradition for some countries to spray (place money on the bride and groom) as they dance. A member of the bridal party is usually at hand to collect all of the notes.
Towards the end of the evening, a family member will distribute a gift or several gifts to the guests. This may include mugs, key rings, magnets etc that have special messages (often thanking guests) and images of the couple. These are the equivalent to favors and serve to remind guests of the special day.
On the other hand…
As stated in the title this is a typical run down of a West African wedding in the UK. Whether you are Nigerian, Sierra Leonean or Ghanaian the elements are more or the less the same, but with their own traditions.
With the majority of today’s generation born and raised in the UK, it is becoming popular to incorporate Western ideas when planning a wedding. For example, some ceremonies take place in non-religious buildings but the couple will still call for the presence of a pastor/ priest to marry them. Another is the idea of having seating plans and place cards to ensure the large numbers of guests are catered for seating wise.
Personally, I love the mixture of the two cultures. Great traditions are still being preserved and couples are also embracing what they grew up with. In the end you get a wedding that pays homage to its roots but is a reflection of the couple also.
What are your thoughts? Have you recently had a wedding/ traditional engagement? Do you or your partner have West African heritage and are getting married in the UK? What traditions will you be embracing? Feel free to comment, I would love to hear from you!
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Have a good week,
Images Source: Bella Naija