African American traditions can very easily be incorporated into your wedding. There are lots more African wedding traditions than just jumping the broom. You certainly don’t have to feel limited to doing this one activity as the representative token of your African heritage. There are so many more that you can pick from that can just as easily, beautifully, and symbolically be integrated into your wedding ceremony.
First you will need to decide what part of your entire ceremony you want to dedicate to honoring your African wedding traditions and customs. African wedding traditions and customs can be as simple as the sharing of a symbolic food or drink or the performing of a simple yet symbolic activity. Typically, these African American wedding traditions don’t necessarily need a lot of time to plan beforehand. The African wedding ceremony traditions I discuss below, though not all-inclusive, they are some of the ones that I feel are easiest to incorporate into an African-themed wedding.
Check out some of the African American traditions below and see which one(s) you feel most comfortable blending into your wedding.
African American traditions – Kola nuts are a wedding staple
Cowrie Shells – some African American brides choose to wear necklaces made out of cowrie shells, or to decorate their wedding dress with cowrie shells because cowrie shells are believed to encourage fertility. Long ago, some African tribes used cowrie shells as money, and they remain symbolic of purification, beauty, and power.
Tasting the Four Elements – one tradition that has been forgotten by many couples is called Tasting the Four Elements. The bride and groom taste foods that represent sour, bitter, hot, and sweet to represent the different times in a marriage. Usually, lemon, vinegar, cayenne pepper, and honey are used to represent these flavors. The tradition is a literal way of demonstrating the pledge to love for better or worse, for richer or poorer, and in sickness and in health.
Tying the Knot – a literal interpretation of the phrase, some African tribes tie the wrists of the bride and groom together as a symbol of the bond of marriage. Today’s couples sometimes choose to have the wedding officiant tie the wrists together using a strand of rope, kente cloth, or a strand of cowrie shells as part of the wedding ceremony.
Libation Ceremony – as part of the wedding ceremony, some African American couples choose to honor ancestors and those who have recently passed away by holding a Libation Ceremony. Holy water or alcohol is poured onto the ground as prayers are recited to ancestral spirits. This tradition is normally performed either during the wedding ceremony or afterward, at the reception. Some people, Nigerians in particular, tend to like to use Schnapps in particular for this ceremony.
Kola Nuts – in parts of Nigeria, all weddings include the sharing of a Kola nut between the bride and groom as a symbol of the couple’s willingness to care for each other throughout the marriage. Couples choose to share a Kola nut during the ceremony, and then keep a Kola nut displayed in their home after the wedding as a symbol of their promise to work out any problems that may occur. A speech is first given by an elder male member of family of either the bride or the groom, the Kola nut is cut by the youngest man in the family and then served to the men first, starting from the oldest to the youngest, and then to the women starting from the oldest to the youngest.
Adinkra symbols – as an African American bride, you may also choose to wear a gown that includes Adinkra symbols woven into the fabric or simply drawn within the wedding gown to incorporate your African history into the wedding. Adinkra symbols are used in certain Western African societies, particularly in Ghana. The symbols were adapted by the people of the Asante tribe (yes, “Asante” is the proper way of saying it, NOT “Ashanti”), and they represent different concepts. The symbols are found on fabric, walls, and on pottery. The most common symbols are Akoma, Me Ware Wo, Gye Nyame, and Osram Ne Nsoromna. Each symbol represents a different concept that is important to marriage, such as love, commitment, the love of God, and perseverance. If none of these work, there are literally over 150 Adinkra symbols to choose from.
These are just a handful of other African American traditions that you can consider using your own African-themed wedding.