A magazine for Africans and friends of Africa...Our Voices, Our Vision, Our Culture

Something Old, Something New
By Natalie Goode

Soon after the wedding bands slipped onto Tia and Gary’s fingers to symbolize their unending commitment to each other, (to their surprise!) four spices were placed in front of the alter at the Union Baptist Church in Durham, N.C. Salt, pepper, honey and kola nuts—each to represent the different emotions of marriage.

“We told our pastor that we wanted an Afrocentric wedding,” said Tia, from Fayetteville, N.C. “But we didn’t ask him to do the [Tasting the four elements] ceremony—we were really in shock.”

Last summer, Tia, a medical communications specialist, and Gary, a relationship banker from Durham, both tasted the salt, as the pastor, dressed in a Kente cloth robe, reflected on the bitter times in a marriage. The next spice was pepper as a reminder to keep some zest and excitement in a marriage; followed by the kola nut, which represented the healing of differences; finally, the couple tasted honey to express sweet times in a marriage.


The Tasting Four Elements is a ritual tailored from the Yoruba tradition. By tasting each of the spices the couple symbolically reveals that they’re able to get through the trials and tribulations in life and, enjoy their union. The custom has become popular among African American wedding ceremonies as couples combine African traditions with personal touches to their special day.

Tia and Gary have a strong interest in learning where they came from, which sparked their interest to have portions of their wedding reflect African elements.

According to Harriette Cole, author of best-selling books: Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner (Henry Holte, 1995); Jumping the Broom Wedding Workbook: A Step-by-Step Write-In Guide for Planning the Perfect African-American Wedding (Henry Holte, 1996) couples search for a personal stamp for their wedding and they find it by looking to their heritage.

“A couple can go all the way African or incorporate what I like to call “cultural kisses” into the proceedings,” Cole told the wedding planner Web site, The Knot. “These are little things that introduce aspects of heritage into the sacred wedding ritual and call forth and celebrate one’s heritage and ancestry,” she added.

Tia and Gary Blount’s “cultural kisses” included hopping over a broom decorated with cowry shells, using Adinkra symbols as table numbers during the reception, and even tried to find a drummer to perform at the ceremony.

“We wanted a drummer, for guests to look at and watch perform,” Tia explains. “But we waited too long and it was too late.”

The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks and forecasts wedding trends, revealed in their 2008 Vendor Report that “more lavish ethnic ceremonies and receptions” are on the rise, while traditional trends continue to be popular as well.

While some aspects of the Blount wedding were Afrocentric, many elements were traditional such as the bride and groom’s wedding attire: Tia donned a long flowing strapless gown and Gary wore a white three-piece suit to match his bride.

“I didn’t want my wedding to be completely Afrocentric because I was worried about tradition and I was influenced by information that I read on The Knot and other wedding Web sites,” says Tia. “If I would have known then what I know now I would have put all those traditions on the back burner and really focused more on making our wedding reflect the couple that we are.”

More African Wedding Rituals

South African weddings are followed by a large feast called Karamu

In Ethiopia, the Karo people decorate a young bride’s abdomen with different symbols to enhance her beauty.

In some African tribes, the bride and grooms wrists are tied with a cloth to symbolize their union.