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Marriage In The African Culture

Marriage takes many forms in Africa. Throughout the continent, the diversity of systems
reflects the traditions, religions, and economic circumstances of a wide variety of distinct
cultures. Islamic laws and customs have shaped the institution of marriage in North Africa and
in some nations of western and eastern Africa. In recent years, modern life, industry, and cities
have brought changes to African marriages and to the roles of men and women.
African marriage systems do share several characteristics. They almost always involve the
transfer of dowrycash, goods, or servicesfrom the groom or his family to the bride's
family. This exchange is both real and symbolic, as it marks the woman's passage from one
social group to the other. Thus, for Africans, marriage is a matter between families as much as
between the bride and groom, and many families arrange the marriages of their members.
The Western attitude that marriage is the union of two people drawn together by love has had
some influence in Africa, especially in the cities. But African cultures emphasize that the
union of two individuals must fit into the larger picture of social networks known as
KINSHIP, CLAN or TRIBAL groups. Each marriage creates an alliance between or within
kinship groups, and the children of the union will inherit property, rights, and responsibilities
from their kin.
African Weddings

Introduction
African weddings are a family affair and involve the combining of two lives, two families,
and sometimes even two communities! There are many different wedding traditions in the
African continent and no two are exactly alike. However, in all the communities the bride
plays a very special role and is treated with respect because she is a link between the unborn
and the ancestors. A bride might eventually bear a very powerful child, so she is treated with
respect. In some areas of East Africa the grooms family would even move to the brides village
and set up a whole new house there.
There are many steps that take place before marriage starting at a very young age where
training takes place in how to be a suitable partner. Girls will many times go to circumcision
schools where women teach them what is involved in marriage, and in some ethnic groups
even learn secret codes and languages so that they can communicate with other married
women. In the Wolof tribe there is even a time where the elders of the village gather with the
bride and give advice and gifts.
Weddings can be very elaborate, involving feasting and dancing for days within a community,
they can be very simple, or they can even be performed in huge marriage ceremonies
involving many different couples.

African Wedding Cultural Traditions


Ethiopia

In Ethiopia the Karo people enhance a young brides beauty by tattooing her abdomen with
different symbols.
Amhara people: most marriages are negotiated by the two families, with a civil ceremony
sealing the contract. A priest may be present. Divorce is allowed and must also be negotiated.
There is also a "temporary marriage," by oral contract before witnesses. The woman is paid
housekeeper's wages, and is not eligible for inheritance, but children of the marriage are
legally recognized and qualify for inheritance. Priests may marry but not eligible for divorce
or remarriage.
Kenya

The Massai people of Kenya grow up with children of their own age and normally form
relationships with these people. However, in marriage women are given to a man they do not
know who is much older then themselves. The bride packs all her belongings and is dressed in
her finest jewelry. At the marriage ceremony the father of the bride spits on the brides head
and breasts as a blessing and then she leaves with her husband walking to her new home she
never looks back fearing that she will turn to stone. This can be a very sad experience for the
bride, who is 13-16 years old and may walk a long way to get to her new house. In order to
ward off bad luck sometimes the women of the grooms family will even insult the bride.
The Swahili of Kenya bathe brides in sandalwood oils and tatoo henna designs on her limbs.
A women elder, or somo, gives instructions to the bride on how to please her husband.
Sometimes the somo will even hide under the bed in case there are any problems!
In another area of Kenya the main feature of the wedding is the kupamba, which happens the
night after the wedding, it is basically a display of the bride. It is very popular because it is a
party just for the women, and when they enter the party they are able to take off their large
veils and show off elaborate hairstyles and dresses. The party can almost become a
competition because it is believed that if a women has a good husband he will get her
beautiful jewelry and clothes.
For the Samburu tribe marriage is a unique series of elaborate ritual. Great importance is
given to the preparation of gifts by the bridegroom (two goatskins, two copper earrings, a
container for milk, a sheep) and of gifts for the ceremony. The marriage is concluded when a
bull enters a hut guarded by the bride's mother, and is killed.
Namibia

The Himba people of Namibia kidnap a bride before the ceremony and dress her in a leather
marriage headdress. After the ceremony she is brought into the house where the family tells

her what her responsibilities will be as the wife and then anoint her with butterfat from cows.
This shows that she has been accepted into the family.
Niger

The Wodabee of Niger court their cousins for marriage. The male cousins wear powerful
amulets which are supposed to heighten their attractiveness to the girl. If there are two cousins
who desire the same girl the girl chooses the one she wishes and the other man is welcomed
into the home of the couple, and if consent is given by the bride he may even share her bed!
Sudan

The Neur people of southern Sudan the groom must pay 20-40 cattle, the marriage is
completed only after the wife has born 2 children. If the wife only bears one child and the
husband asks for a divorce he can also ask for either the return of the cattle or the first child.
Divorce therefore is very difficult. Another interesting fact is that if a husband dies then the
husbands family must provide a brother to the widow and any children born to the brother are
considered the deceased's children.