As with many African countries, the Benin culture constitutes a number of different tribes. Naturally, wedding customs in Benin and traditional marriage practices will and do vary from tribe to tribe and culture to culture. Both monogamous as well as polygamous marriages are seen in the Benin culture but the traditional wedding is pretty much the same regardless.
Among the Edo people of Benin, girls are traditionally betrothed at birth to young boys. As the girl approached puberty and the boy matured, his family his family would begin to send gifts to her family.
The two fathers will jointly arrange a formal day for the betrothal ceremony of their children. On the day of the betrothal, traditional gifts which include palm wine, kola nuts, and coconuts will be given by the groom to the bride’s family. By tradition, the groom-to-be was required to work for his future in-laws and give them yams periodically. Nowadays however, the groom more often tends to give money and fabric for making clothes.
Kola nut – a staple at African weddings
How You Can Integrate Benin Culture Into Your Own Wedding
- Arrange an intimate family dinner for both sides of the family i.e. bride and groom’s parents. You may also invite other close relatives to this event but keep in mind it is more for members of your inner family circle.
- Coconuts are easily accessible here in the U.S. but in lieu of palm wine and kola nuts which may not be as easily accessible, you will have to make some substitutions. You can substitute a mild alcoholic beverage of your choice for the palm wine and in place of the kola nut you can use some dorian fruit. I suggest dorian fruit because even though it looks and tastes very different from authentic kola nut, they belong to the same plant family and you can easily get some from and Asian market.
A cup of delicious palm wine
To make the marriage official, the groom gives a payment of money to the bride’s family.
On the actual day of the wedding ceremony, the bride is taken to the groom’s family home but her parents are not allowed to go with her. One of the older female relatives of the groom will wash the bride’s hands with water that has money and cowrie shells soaking in it. This symbolizes fertility and shows that she is accepted by her husband’s family. After the cleansing ritual, the bride must dine alone.
How You Can Do This At Your Own Wedding
- Ask an aunt of yours to be your escort/stand-in wedding consultant. Her duty will be to guide you to where your groom is awaiting your arrival. You will have to ensure that your groom is in a separate area from where you are so that your “journey” to him can be ceremonial. Perhaps have him wait in a different part of the house.
- Ask one of the groom’s aunts to be the one to do the honor of washing your hands. You should also ask one of your sisters or his sisters (or good female friend of yours) to be responsible for organizing to have a basin of water with coins, (quarters and dimes), thrown into it. In the place of cowrie shells you can use regular sea shells.
- It will be kind of lonely for you to dine alone I’m sure, so you can ask your maid of honor, and perhaps even some bridesmaids to stay in a separate area with you while you all share a light dessert. After this you may rejoin your groom and the rest of your guests to carry on with your wedding festivities.
The bride’s relatives will then return to their homes and the groom will send gifts for her parents through these relatives. He will then make an official visit to his in-laws’ home a few days later. After his official visit to his in-laws they will now be permitted to visit his own home where their daughter now resides.
How You Can Honor This Tradition of Benin Culture
- Have your new husband send a nice fruit basket or gift basket to your parents, (or you can do it on his behalf).
- You can also combine your first visit to your parents with the delivery of the gift basket if you prefer to kill two birds with one stone.
A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers
– African proverb
Photos courtesy of Bob Walker (kola nut) and Tatehuari (palm wine)