5 African and Afrocentric Wedding Traditions

Whether you identify with a specific culture or just want to celebrate your African roots in a symbolic way, here, a roundup of the most common African wedding traditions and how to personalize them for your wedding day.
  1. Knocking on the Door (From Ghana)

    Photo by Laura Ivanova Photography

    Knocking on the door is a custom similar to asking for a bride’s hand in marriage. In Ghanaian wedding tradition, the groom asks the bride’s family for permission to marry their daughter by "knocking on the door." Then the prospective groom and his family visit his future in-laws. If his "knock" is accepted, the families celebrate and the couple’s engagement officially begins.

    Make It Yours: A far more informal approach is to plan a brunch or dinner to bring both families together when you announce your engagement, so that they can meet each other and start getting to know one another.

  2. Libation Ceremony (From West Africa)

    Photo by Brice Media

    In some West African cultures, libation ceremonies are a happy way to honor and include the couple’s ancestors. Typically, alcohol (which is thought to connect the living world with the spiritual) is poured onto the ground in each of the cardinal directions. Then prayers or toasts are recited in honor of the couple’s ancestors and recently deceased loved ones. The libation ceremony is also an opportunity to honor family elders.

    Make It Yours: To make the tradition your own, you could choose a libation that has meaning to you, like a fragrant herbal tea infusion or a particular deceased relative’s favorite fruit juice. Then ask your officiant or a trustworthy elder, or even work with a local cultural center, for help choosing the right wording for your libation toast.

  3. Tasting the Four Elements (From Yoruban Tradition)

    Photo by Janet Howard Studio

    In a ritual adapted from a Yoruba tradition, the bride and groom taste four flavors that represent different emotions within a relationship. The four flavors typically used are sour, bitter, hot and sweet. Each flavor represents the highs and lows that come with marriage -- ending in sweetness.

    Make It Yours: Typically lemon, vinegar, cayenne pepper and honey are used to represent the four elements, but you should feel free to incorporate foods or tastes that are meaningful to you. If you’d prefer to include this tradition in the reception instead of the ceremony, you could serve dishes that represent each element to share among your guests and include a note that explains why you’ve chosen those flavors.

  4. Kola Nuts (From West Africa)

    Photo by Candice Benjamin Photography

    In some West African cultures, kola nuts are thought to have healing properties, as well as to be a symbol of hospitality and welcome. In Nigeria, kola nuts are broken and shared among the couple and their parents during a welcoming ceremony. In Senegal, if the bride’s family accepts the groom’s proposal, they share kola nuts sent from the groom with friends and neighbors.

    Make It Yours: Instead of sharing a raw kola nut, you could also incorporate it creatively into dishes on the menu. Kola nuts were once the source of cola flavoring, so you could even sip a shared glass of Coke (as in the soda) together as a nod to the tradition. Also, if you do choose to include kola nuts in your wedding ceremony, consider keeping one in your home afterward as a reminder to always work at healing any problems that might arise in your marriage.

  5. Money Spray (From Nigeria)

    Photo by RH Photo Arts

    Money dances are popular wedding customs in a number of different countries, from Poland to the Philippines. In Nigeria, especially among Yoruba and Igbo cultures, the tradition of tossing money at the bride is called the “money spray” and is a celebrated part of the wedding ceremony. Typically, guests put bills on the bride’s head or shower her with money while she dances. Sometimes there’s so much money tossed to the bride and groom that a family member has to help the couple collect it all. The money is a gift from guests to help the couple start their new life together.

    Make It Yours: Guests don’t have to shower you with money at your reception. Some alternative toss ideas for the spray dance: confetti, fake money, sprinkles or even cowrie shells (from the beach). You could even have a bar of “spray” options for your guests to choose from. Just make sure to check with your reception venue first.

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