African-American Wedding Traditions
With the opening of our 1800s Replica Historic Church available for Weddings and Vow Renewals, we have spent several months taking a look at common wedding traditions. Since February is celebrated as Black history month, we thought we would look at wedding traditions that originate in Africa.
This is one in our multi-part mini-series examining wedding traditions and their origins.
Some of the most meaningful traditions in a couple’s wedding can be traced back to the countries in Africa, especially the Yorùbá traditions of Nigeria and Benin.
Knocking on the door (also known as “kookoo ko”).This tradition originates in Ghana. Soon after the engagement, the groom and his family knock on the door of his fiancée’s family home with gifts. The bride’s family accepts the knock and opens the door to their future in-laws. If the bride agrees to the proposal, the engagement becomes final. In the past, dowry terms would be ironed out during the kookoo ko. Today families tend to celebrate the engagement with a common meal.
Taste of the Four Elements. This Yorùbá tradition incorporates four physical flavors to represent the four emotional flavors of married life. During the ceremony the couple tastes lemon for the sour times, vinegar for the bitter times, cayenne for the spicy times, and honey for the sweet times. This represents the couple’s willingness to stay together “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.”
The Libation Ceremony (Tambiko). During the ceremony, elder members of the families pour liquor or holy water in each of the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) to honor those recently passed. In addition, the elders themselves may be called on to impart their wisdom and advice to the couple. Libation ceremonies are rooted in many African cultures.
Jumping the Broom. Perhaps one of the best known tradition both in and out of the Black community is the custom of jumping the broom. Although there is some evidence the custom originated in Welsh-Romani gypsy communities in the 1700s, it was popular among slaves in the U.S. South who were not allowed to marry, so would jump a broom to signify their commitment. Today couples incorporate jumping the broom when they leave the ceremony. Customized brooms are often made made and kept as a memento.
Other Ways to Include African Elements in Your Wedding
Kente Cloth. This silk and cotton fabric native to the Akan ethnic group of Ghana can be incorporated into your wedding as an accent to your clothing, part of the attendants’ attire, or part of the decorations or flowers.
Colors. African tradition imbues colors with symbolic meaning. Using colors like red (for the blood shed in captivity), gold (for prosperity), green (for the land), and purple (for royalty) can give deeper meaning to your wedding and your history.
Cowrie Shells. This beautiful shell was once used as money in Africa, and now comes to symbolize beauty and power. They can be used as accents on clothing, tables, or part of the centerpieces.
These are just a few of the many African-based traditions that can be incorporated into your wedding. Some others include Crossing Stickswhere the couple cross sticks to symbolize their joined families; Tying the Knotwhere the couple’s hands are tied together as part of the ceremony; and Cutting the Cordto symbolize their leaving their parent’s household to form their own. In addition, there are Afro-centric clothing for weddings with special symbolism and proper ways of wearing. These many other traditional ceremonies can be found in the References listed below.
All best wishes from us at the Osceola County Historical Society as you make your story – history!!
Have a question about a Wedding or party tradition that you want answered? Are you interested in renting the many venues managed by the Osceola County Historical Society for weddings, meetings, parties, or events? Visit our venue rentals page.
Making Your Story – History!
African American Bridal. https://www.african-weddings.com/wedding_traditions/
Bartlett-George, Rosetta. “African Themed Wedding Ceremony,” WEDDINGVENDORS.COM.
Black Bride. https://www.blackbride.com/
Butler, Meg. “Black Wedding Traditions You May Not Have Heard Of,” July 23, 2013. https://madamenoire.com/283427/black-wedding-traditions-you-may-not-have-heard-of/
Moore, Cortney. “8 African American Wedding Traditions: Whether you identify with a specific culture or just want to celebrate your African roots in a symbolic way, here are the most common African wedding traditions,” the knot.com. https://www.theknot.com/content/afrocentric-wedding-ceremony-traditions/