Wedding Traditions From Africa and the Diaspora

Weddings worldwide are a time where you celebrate the union between not only two individuals, but two families and cultures. Wedding traditions can include dances that have been danced for centuries or dishes that ancestors prepared to bring love and prosperity for the new couple. In this article, we explore some wedding traditions from Africa and the diaspora.

The Republic of the Congo

The Republic of Congo is home to an array of beautiful wedding traditions. One tradition, for example, allows the couple and family to share the moment with their ancestors. The practice includes the bride’s father or grandfather taking the traditional beer and pouring it into the ground as a way of showing respect to ancestors. While it is not as commonly done anymore as much at weddings, it is still widely recognized.

Flag Dance- Carriacou, Grenada

Carriacou is an island off the coast of Grenada. Wedding traditions there are unique to the island, and one of these traditions is the flag dance. Traditionally, two months before the wedding, the couple would put flags on their respective parents’ roofs with messages written on expressing sentiments like love, peace and unity. On the day of the wedding, a man from each family would hold the flag and be followed by a string band playing a tune of their choice. The two parties would then make their way to a certain meeting point. As the two parties come closer together, the two different tunes clashing creates a vibrant atmosphere.

The flag bearers are supposed to then ‘fight’ with the flags. The intention of the flag dance is to keep the flag of the groom above the brides. This is a similar theme in the Cake Dance as well, which is another pre-wedding tradition. One woman from each family would hold a perfectly iced wedding cake and place it either on their head or in their hand. They would then start dancing to the music that the band is playing. Midway through the women while dancing will start holding the cakes up, and the intention is to get the cake from the groom’s side over to the cake from the brides. After the dance is over, the musicians and ensemble escort the bride and groom to the groom’s house where they prepare for the wedding.

Laylat-al-hinna- Egypt

One wedding tradition that is still important in many Egyptian weddings is ‘Laylat-al-hinna’ which is the henna ceremony. Laylat-al-hinna is held the night before the wedding, and it is where the bride is joined by her sisters, cousins, and close friends. The henna powder is mixed with water and complex patterns are drawn on the hands and feet of the bride. The henna is considered to bring good luck to the couple.

Photo Credit:Sarah Canbel, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Tasting the Four Elements- Yoruba Tradition

This tradition is said to originate from the Yoruba people in Nigeria, however, has spread and is used in various countries. The ceremony involves four shot glasses holding lemon juice, vinegar, cayenne pepper sauce, and honey. Each shot symbolizes the different adversities and blessings that the couple can expect during their marriage. They further symbolize emotions of bitterness, sourness, hotness, and sweetness, and by drinking all of them, the couple is showing that they can master these emotions and will be able to weather the hard times and good times.

Vodiondry- Madagascar

In Madagascar, a couple is not considered officially married without the officiation of the Vodiondry. The Vodiondry is a wedding tradition in which a Vodiondry (lamb rump) is given as a gift to the bride. The gift has a lot of symbolic significance and is seen as a sign of respect, and a way of thanking the parents of the bride for raising such a wonderful daughter. Traditionally there are wedding parties (representing the two sides of the family) and a representative from each family will meet. The verbal jousting/meeting is known as ‘Kabary’. The representative or spokesperson is called a ‘mpikabary’ and usually has experience in Kabary. This is important because one must always appear to be humble, and speak well on behalf of the groom’s family.

The mpikabary wear attire similar to the ones in the photo. Photo Credit:RAMIANDRISOA James Heureux, CC BY-SA 4.0

On the actual day of the marriage, some traditions have symbolism for how couples have to treat their new relationship as they proceed to this new chapter in their lives. Most often the couple will have a meal together on their wedding day, and the meal is traditionally served on a ‘fandambanana’ a woven plate or a clay plate. The significance of this is to highlight that just like the clay plate, that relationships can be fragile and need to be worked on. The couple also eat from a spoon that has been carved from Black horn to symbolize how their lives are one.

Weddings remain an important way to celebrate not only the couple, but also as a way to pass down tradition and keep culture alive.

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