I'm often asked by American friends, and even my American- raised daughters, how to incorporate African customs into a wedding day.
I think back to the culturally rich marriage celebrations of my childhood. I can still remember even as a little six year old girl how my father's last, of five, young bride was brought to our compound. The bride's face was fully covered with a lappa cloth, her special escort was an entourage of people singing happy and light hearted songs. The bridal train stopped at the gate leading into our compound to receive the customary tip before continuing their slow march to my father's first wife's house. Several other sudden stops were made along the way and tips given. Finally the new bride was taken into the inner chambers of my step-mother's house. A line quickly formed. Anyone who wanted to see the new bride's face had to offer a tip. As kids we rushed out of the room giggling and trying to describe the new wife's face to those still in line. After the "unveiling of the bride" my step- mother's doors closed. The rest of the cerebration and feasting took place in the courtyard and in my father's parlor/living room. Lots of people came to our compound and they ate, drank and danced till late in the night.
Though most African marriage ceremonies of today are performed in the Western Christian or Muslim traditions, it is relatively easy to bring African elements to modern unions. For the wedding, it's as simple as inclusion of African clothing- traditional attire for the couple and 'uniforms' for family members and African spirituals during the ceremony.
At the reception African music, dance, food, bridal escort party or "showering" can be done.
Music: Dance tunes provided by African CD or tapes or an Afro-centric live band.
Gift Giving: I witnessed a great reception where the bride and her family came in and were seated, then drumming commenced followed by dancers and young men carrying basins of wrapped gifts on their heads. These gifts were lined up in front of the bride's family. After which a well dressed groom adorned in rich African garb accompanied by his grooms men entered the room. They all headed towards the bride's family. Down went the groom, "prostrating" before his future in-laws with great humility and respect. This was really a sight to see! After a few minutes, the bride's father got the groom up and offered the groom his daughter's hand. The two took their seats at the center of the "special table" and the ceremony/feasting began.
Bridal Escort: The women in the bride's retinue came into the room enveloping the bride, amid songs and light dance. In the meantime, the women on the groom's side waited at the end of the room. The bride's train presented her to the groom's people. The groom's women danced along and led the bride to the center of the room. (While all the while the bride's escorts train danced backwards to the door and then forward to join the dance at the center of the room). The groom was then brought to join in and then "showering" (with money bills) began. The new couple was showered with money throughout the rest of the night. They danced and danced while bridal maids gathered and picked up the money underfoot to be given as a token of abundance for the couple to start their new life.
With these pointers, you don't have to go home to Africa for your traditional marriage if you are overseas.
Auntie Chambu, 52, was born and raised in the grasslands of Cameroon. This sheltered nineteen year old, boarding school girl came to a rebellious 60's United States to pursue a college degree and her dreams. She garnered degrees in social work and counseling, got married, and had four kids who constantly put her education and home spun wisdom to the test. After over twenty years of living on the two continents, her advice has a great mixture of traditional African insights with a spirited American independent thinker streak.