African wedding traditions: Clothing, flowers, food and decorations
Information on traditional African weddings including, clothing, flowers, food and decorations.
The tradition of African weddings is sacred and symbolic. The clothing, food, decoration, and flowers are all picked out carefully so that the bride and groom can remember their special day.
Most of the wedding dresses that are African style have four pieces to them. The best style of fabric is called aso oke. Lace is also often used to make the dresses. The four pieces are the buba or blouse, iro or wrapper (skirt), gele or head-gear, and ipele meaning shawl. The head-gear is usually a piece of cloth, about three to ten yards in length and is wrapped around the head. The shawl is usually worn over the right shoulder. The colors of the brides dress can be white and cream, but a more traditional African wedding would have fabric that includes prints and colors of earth and sky, such as yellows, browns, reds, blues, etc. The men’s wedding attire is a three-piece outfit in white, known as a dashiki suit. This consists of a shirt or buba, which is usually embroidered and goes to the knees in length. The pants will match the shirt in pattern. Men also wear a hat with their apparel. The bridesmaids’ outfits consist of two pieces, the buba and iro. They also sometimes wear a head wrap, but it needs to be smaller than the brides.
Traditionally, African brides will carry a bouquet of grains, such as wheat or raw rice. However, the flowers that the bride carries can also be either all white, which symbolizes ceremonial rites, or a combination of very vivid colors, such as burgundy roses and black calla lilies. Many brides will make a bouquet where the fragrance and color will symbolize the groom’s name or a romantic message. The floral arrangement can be tied with cowrie shells or a textured African fabric. All of the participants in the wedding can also have a decorated flower necklace or bracelet.
The African food will vary depending on the region that the wedding is taking place. If it is South African, then fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, and soul food are often sued. However, cornbread, soup or stew, ginger fried fish, string beans, rice, and banana fritters are used in almost every African tradition.
Besides serving food for dinner, there are also several symbolic foods used at a wedding. These can either be eaten or simply used for decoration. Kola nuts are often eaten by the participants in the wedding to symbolize fertility and good health. Wine is used as the mixing of the blood of the two families. Wheat is either used for decoration or eating to symbolize fertility and the giving of life and land. Pepper is used for the heated moments in the family. Salt is healing and preservation of the marriage. Bitter herbs are mixed in for growing pains of marriage. Water can also be used as decoration or food to show purity. Honey is eaten as the sweet love between the married couple. Often times, the bride and groom will taste the four different kinds of tastes at the same time: honey, pepper, bitter herbs or vinegar, and water. This is similar to the tradition of cutting the cake in Western ideals.
The traditional aso oke fabric or kente cloth is used for many things in the decoration of the wedding. It can be used for table cloths, runners, bows for the flowers, and backdrops. Bowls, baskets, stools, and cooking vessels are often placed around the area. This is a symbol for union, shelter, and nourishment. Swords are also a strong symbol in the African wedding tradition and are often given to newlyweds. It symbolizes marriage and fertility. These are given with the shield, which is the honor and pride of the home. Brooms can also be displayed for cleanliness of health and well-being. Lastly, is the Bible or Koran, which is the symbol of God’s truth and power.