African wedding reception etiquette is not something Emily Post could possibly have written about because some of our African wedding reception activities are so unique, we certainly have a code of conduct that's all ours. That's not to take away anything from Ms.Post's wonderful body of work on etiquette but we as Africans have a different set of rules and norms when it comes to our weddings so naturally, we need to do things our way.
Wedding reception etiquette is different across the continent based on various cultural norms and traditions. As can be expected, in a continent as large as ours, with over 50 countries and hundreds of different tribes, there are even more differences. Yes, there are some basic similarities but the differences come in from slight cultural and/or religious variations (since various religions exist on the continent) from country to country and tribe to tribe. In many cases, weddings in some African countries span more than one day and the reception may be a mixture of western and traditional practices.
To ensure all bases are covered, proper wedding reception etiquette in some south African groups such as the Xhosa require that there may be one or more receptions after the marriage ceremony. Some couples will have a western styled event followed by the traditional one where everyone is welcome to partake of the activities.
In most African wedding cultures, there is always the famous money dance. In Western culture this may not be looked upon very favorably since it involves, at it's core, the newly-married couple dancing as long as they possibly can as their wedding guests shower them with loads of cold hard cash. What happens to all the cash collected varies from culture to culture; some couples get to keep it all as a gift to themselves whereas in some areas the money goes to the mother of bride. This is perfectly acceptable wedding reception etiquette.
Then there's the After Party... At the after party, the couple receives toasts and words of advice, which vary from culture to culture. In some parts of Nigeria the husband's age grade members will escort the couple from the reception venue to their new home and the new wife will entertain his friends. This is supposed to be a time for the new wife to get to know her husbands friends and also show how well she will take care of him, entertain their guests and keep their new home. Though not technically wedding reception etiquette, it is however considered proper etiquette to display hospitality to these guests even though they may playfully make some near-impossible demands just for the fun of it and to give the new wife a hard time.
In African societies, wedding reception etiquette also includes paying homage to our elders and ancestors. Serve both drinks and food to the older members of both families first and most ceremoniously; and depending on your cultural practices and religious beliefs, you may choose to set aside for your ancestors during the reception. This tradition is prevalent in some African American weddings as well as in other countries with strong African heritage such as those in the Caribbean.
In most cases, where there is a celebration of this nature, traditional songs and dances are the order of the day. From the dancing of the bride by her friends and age-grade members into the reception or to meet her waiting husband; to the bride publicly hand-feeding her new husband to show off to all the wedding guests (who serve as witnesses) to how well she will take care of him in the future. If she does not feed him or give him a drink "properly", the senior women in her family and his are required to show her how to do so properly. Nowadays, in our modern-day society, these rituals are performed ceremonially and more for show but the roots remain as strong as they ever were.
Many African weddings still maintain much of the tradition of the cultures of the couple and even if you do get married in the West and have a more traditionally Western-style white wedding, you can still incorporate these traditions for a colorful event that pays homage to your heritage.
How To Incorporate African Wedding Reception Etiquette
About halfway through the reception ceremony, it is not uncommon for the bride and groom to change into a matching traditional outfits and they are danced back into the reception venue by the brides friends (her friends act as an entourage for the couple). Check out vendors in my Brides Guide Directory to find a seamstress that can sew traditional African clothing for you.
Feeding Your Husband
Have one of the brides aunts give her some food and a drink; while she is distracted with the organizing of his meal, his friends will hide him away somewhere in the crowd of guests. Once securely tucked away, the new wife will have to search for him among the guests and once she finds him, she will feed him by hand with both the food and drink that she was given to serve to him. Once he eats what she has given him, she will then take him and officially present him to her parents as her husband. Her parents will ask her in front of all the guests to confirm that she has made this choice herself and she will publicly agree.
This one is pretty straightforward... just add music and dance! However, if your guests are not accustomed to "spraying" as it is called, it might seem a bit self-serving if you were to announce that it was their duty to come and shower you with cash. This particular tradition will only work best if there are guests who already know that once you and your new spouse hit the dance floor in your traditional attire that it's time to "make it rain" and start the spraying. Once some people start showering you with cash most guests who aren't familiar with this tradition will easily catch on.
Note: please do not expect anyone for whom this practice is not the norm to be prepared with cash to join in the festivities and please be gracious to those who do as well as those who don't participate. Remember that some societies do not consider this proper wedding reception etiquette.
Be sure to pick a very lengthy song or make sure the DJ doesn't break between songs so that the momentum isn't lost and also because that way you get maximum "cash back return on your dancing investment time..."
Proper African wedding reception etiquette requires that the oldest male present, usually a relative of the bride or groom, present give the blessing of the couple and the festivities about to be celebrated. This person should be pretty easy to identify if he is a family member, let him know he'll be doing this, and that's it!
African Wedding Reception Checklist
- Top 10 Common Wedding Reception Mistakes - check out my list of the top 10 common wedding reception mistakes that you'll want to avoid making in African wedding ceremonies
- Wedding Reception Centerpiece Ideas - some easily-implementable ideas of how to incorporate and infuse some African themes in a classy way into your reception ceremony
- Wedding Reception Decorating Ideas - transform your wedding reception venue into an African oasis and transport your guests to a whole new world for your wedding reception. Get some ideas right here.
- Wedding Reception Protocol - there are some must-dos and do-nots at African weddings, get in the know as you plan for your wedding and be sure not to step on any toes
- Wedding Toast Ideas - the best toasts take time and effort to craft but if you're going to be giving a toast at an African wedding and you want some ideas of how to put an African twist to it or you'd like to know whom to pay homage to and how, you'll find it here.