Note: this article was originally published in October, 2022
Africa is full of rich cultures and one of the most prominent ways we display this is through our grand, colourful wedding celebrations. With vibrant music, solemn rituals and wedding attires that could very well be fitting for the most sophisticated of fashion shows, Africans don’t come to play when it comes to weddings.
But which countries really go all out and break the bank for their weddings? This article lists 5 African countries whose weddings you would definitely want to attend to have the time of your life.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, is at the forefront of the continent’s wedding sector. This is understandable for a country that places so much value on all things entertainment. The West African country’s million dollar wedding industry boasts of extravagant weddings that could host up to 1,000 guests on average.
Some weddings can cost as high as 100 million naira ($146,666). One Nigerian lady posted a detailed account of how she expended her N15 million ($22,000) wedding budget on Twitter. Nigerian weddings are often characterised by flamboyant displays of wealth, with the celebrants being sprayed wads of cash as they dance. More recently, weddings of upper class people may even feature sprays of US dollar bills. Many couples throw weddings with budgets beyond their means, with some even taking loans to have the grandest of weddings and keep up appearances.
Nigeria has a plethora of cultures owing to its over 500 ethnic groups, however, the general process for weddings across cultures is largely the same. The marriage process typically starts with an introduction ceremony where the extended families of the bride and groom are officially acquainted, with moderate celebration.
Sometime after the introduction, there is the engagement/traditional marriage ceremony where the bride and groom are clad in traditional attires and traditional rites of passage are adhered to. This is often the part of the marriage process where the groom and his family pay the ‘bride price’, a token of appreciation given to the bride’s family for ‘releasing’ their daughter for marriage to the groom. Bride price in Nigeria is often in cash and kind – livestock, food items, fruits, jewellery, traditional clothing and so on. In many cultures, the man and woman are not considered married until the bride price is paid.
The last – and often grandest – part of the marriage process is the white wedding and reception for Christians; and the Nikah ceremony and Shaadi (reception) for Muslims. Some people choose to have both the traditional marriage ceremonies and the religious ceremonies on the same day, but the more common practice is to have them closely follow each other.
Kenya also has a booming wedding industry, characterised by myriads of wedding planners and businesses which offer all-inclusive wedding services, magazines, television shows and so on. In the past, Kenyans seemed to show preference for grand white weddings rather than traditional weddings, but now a switch is being made as couples are now owning the latter by fusing the traditional customs and grand celebration style together. Some have both white weddings and traditional weddings.
Before the wedding events officially start, several meetings are held to first introduce the groom to the bride’s family and declare his intentions; to negotiate the bride price between the two families; and finally to pay the bride price.
Just before the main wedding day, the bride and her party gather for a henna ceremony, while the groom and his party gather for Kirumbizi (fight dancing). At the henna ceremony – which may take from two days to a week – rituals such as bathing of the bride, perfuming, hairdressing and henna decorations take place. Female family members and friends of the bride may also apply henna to their bodies. The ceremony also entails songs and prayers for the couple.
For Muslims, the Nikah is a largely inexpensive event as the weddings vows and prayers are simply made in the mosque followed by guests sharing a meal of coffee and halwa, a sweet dessert. Small gatherings of males and females meet in separate rooms at the mosque. The reception, dubbed ‘kupamba’ in Swahili, is a grand women-only event featuring loud music, elaborate attires, lots of food and merriment. Of course, the more grand the kupamba is, the higher the perceived social class of the family.
Extravagant weddings are not a foreign concept to South Africans, with many upper class South Africans splurging millions of Rands to make their wildest fantasies come through on their big day. Some planners even refer to South African high-end weddings as elaborate productions rather than just events, as they feature multiple-day celebrations and interesting spectacles.
South Africa also has quite a number of ethnic groups, but the Zulu are the most prominent. Nowadays, many Zulu couples opt to have both a traditional wedding and a white wedding.
After the groom and his family present the lobola (bride price) to the bride’s family, there is a typically 3-day wedding ceremony which starts on a Friday. The groom and his family go to the bride’s family home to join them in dancing and singing traditional songs. The following day, the white wedding takes place, followed by the traditional wedding (Umabo) on the last day.
The bride – covered in a blanket – and her family leave their home in the morning for the groom’s family home where the father of the bride gives her off to her father-in-law. Friends and well-wishers are also usually part of the event, seated on grass mats. The bridesmaid presents the gifts from the bride’s family to the groom’s. The event also typically features dance-offs.
Moroccan weddings are celebrated in several stages. There are usually two to six days of festivities – depending on the families – leading up to the main wedding day. The North African country is mostly made up of Muslims, so much of their wedding culture follows Islamic norms. Nonetheless, the local culture is still colourfully displayed throughout the process.
The preliminary stage is the Khetba (betrothal), where the groom-to-be’s father and mother ask the hand of the bride-to-be from her parents. After the bride’s parents approve the marriage, discussions about dowry and wedding arrangements commence. The families also sign the marriage contract under Islamic law – considered the most important part of the marriage ceremony. Once all of this is settled, the preparation for the marriage festivities can begin.
The bride may wear up to seven sumptuous outfits throughout the wedding events. It is common for brides to hire a negafa (wedding planner and stylist) to assist them in planning and curating the outfits. Nowadays, many brides rent wedding outfits instead of making bespoke ones due to their exorbitant prices.
A Hammam (public bath) ceremony commences the festivities. The bride, her female relatives and in-laws to be come together to purify themselves and relax. After the bath, the bride gets her hair and make-up done. A Henna party for the bride, her female relatives and friends follows – not necessarily on the same day. The bride is dressed in a vibrant green or gold kaftan at the party, as the colours represent good luck, opulence and wealth in Moroccan culture. After the party, there is a dinner with the groom’s family where they present wedding gifts, including milk and the caftans will wear on the wedding night, to the bride and her family.
The main wedding sees the bride making a grand entrance on a ornate carriage called an amaria, after the groom’s family presents hampers of gifts. Later in the event, both the bride and groom are paraded around like royalty in Midas, ornate seats. The bride goes for several outfit changes during the course of the event. Live bands are a major element of the event, as they play vibrant music that keeps the merriment going.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Congolese weddings entail several stages that all come together to signify the beautiful joining of two families, not just the bride and groom. The marriage process starts introduction ceremony where the groom-to-be and his family formally seek the bride-to-be’s hand in marriage and present an initial gift of money. The introduction ceremony is also where the bride’s family gives their dowry requirements – usually including cash, livestock, clothes, kitchenware and so on. The expensive nature of the dowry usually deters many Congolese men from marrying early.
Thereafter, the traditional marriage ceremony, called ‘the dot’, is held. Rites are read to the couple by the mayor’s delegate. In the spirit of celebration, the groom’s family and some friends treat the bride’s family and other guests to cocktails and meals. The dowry is then presented by the groom’s family and inspected, one by one, by the bride’s family to ensure all the items are in good quality. The humorous part of the ceremony is when the couple has to be found or the bride has to fetch her groom – the latter is also featured in weddings in some Nigerian cultures.
Many Congolese couples also have a civil wedding and a final white wedding. In some Congolese cultures, the couple isn’t even considered officially married and cannot live together until the white wedding is conducted. Each stage of the wedding is characterised by grand celebrations, with lots of music, food in abundance and gorgeous attires.
As you can see, whether you go to East, West, Central, North or South Africa, weddings are treated with a great deal of importance. They are seen as a time for the families to get know each other, for grand celebrations and sometimes, for flashy displays of the families’ wealth and status. There’s never a dull moment at an African wedding.