History Of Marriage Customs In Africa

In the history of marriage customs in Africa, the institution has taken on at least three (3) principal forms:

  • Marriage by capture
  • Marriage by purchase
  • Marriage by choice

Interestingly, research shows that marriage customs in other parts of world have patterns that are (or were) very similar to the history of marriage customs in Africa. Perhaps this is even more proof that we probably all do share the same roots... but I digress...

Marriage By Capture

The bride-to-be may be either kidnapped or captured prior to the official wedding ceremony or at some point during. During the wedding festivities, friends of the couple may kidnap the bride and will release her only after the groom negotiates for, and pays, her ransom. The kidnapping can be done multiple times throughout the wedding ceremony and it is up to the groom to notice when his bride goes missing.

In the other type of marriage by capture, the groom's family and friends abduct the bride. When the abduction comes to light, the groom's "posse" and the bride's "posse" meet halfway between their villages (or halfway between their family compounds if they are from the same village), where they will either engage in a mock battle OR exchange gifts and/or payment for the bride.

Such practices are seen among the Ganda/Bantu tribes of Uganda and the people of Nyanza in Kenya.

Marriage By Purchase

The theory behind this is basically self-explanatory, however there are subtle differences form tribe to tribe in Africa when it comes to the actual execution.

In Zaire, the groom brings two copper rings or an arrow to the bride and her family. Upon acceptance of the gifts the couple becomes officially betrothed. More gifts are exchanged during the actual wedding ceremony, one of which is a knife given by the groom to the bride's father. The knife signifies that the new husband is now responsible for the wife's safety and well-being.

Among the Zulu, the groom gives cattle to the bride's family and father. The theory behind the cattle is that if for any reason the marriage doesn't work out and the bride has to return to her family, the cattle serve as insurance for her so that she will be able to support herself.

The Nyakysus people of Malawi consider a marriage legitimate only after the bride's representative has received cattle from the groom. The groom still has to work on his bride's father's land for some time. If the marriage doesn't work out then the cattle can be returned and the marriage will be dissolved.

Marriage By Choice

Also known as a "love match", this one of course requires very little to no explanation.

Okay, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Get more African marriage trivia and learn about african wedding rituals too!

Now that you've learned about the history of marriage in Africa, learn how you can incorporate many of these wonderful, colorful, and very festive African wedding traditions and customs into your wedding as well. You don't have to limit the African American traditions you use in your wedding to just jumping the broom.

Love is a fever which marriage puts to bed and cures.
- Richard J. Needham

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