12 African Wedding Traditions and Rituals

It’s always fun to learn a different part of different cultures, and wedding traditions are no exception.

While you might remember people throwing rice at weddings or driving away with cans off the back of the car, these are 12 meaningful African wedding traditions and rituals passed down generation after generation.

12 African Wedding Traditions and Rituals

1. Knocking on the Door

I’m starting the list off with this because first, we have to learn about classic proposals in African culture. This first proposal is unique because rather than being a conversation between the groom and the bride’s father, it is all of the family members from either side.

Knocking on the door is one of the traditional ways for a groom to ask his bride’s family for their blessing to marry her.

In African tradition, the groom waits to be welcomed into the home. After he enters, he announces his intentions in front of his family and in front of the bride’s family. They discuss these intentions, and after the groom’s intentions are approved, the bride is invited to enter.

Her father will ask if she wants to marry the groom three times, after which the ceremony concludes.

This asking for the blessing is cool because it develops a strong connection between the bride and groom’s family before the marriage begins.

2. Engagement Ceremony

This second tradition also deals in proposals but steers away from the old days when the groom would buy his bride from her family. It makes this list because modernized reasoning is extremely sweet.

Once a knocking on the door ceremony has concluded, the engagement ceremony usually happens next. Around the 18th century, men asked for their bride’s hand with a dowry payment.

While dowry payments aren’t as common today, the dowry looks different today than it did back then. Long ago, animals, clothes, and other items were used in these transactions.

In modern times, the dowry payment ceremony is more of a symbol showing that the groom can provide for and take care of his future bride.

3. Libation Ceremony

Similar to the something borrowed, something old, something blue wedding tradition, I think that this tradition speaks to keeping our family members, alive and dead, close to us during a monumental life event. I love that idea of closeness, which is why it has made my list.

The Libation Ceremony is a sacred way to include everyone in the family, especially those who have passed. The Libation Ceremony welcomes blessings from family members from beyond the grave and is a moment to reflect on life and death together.

Holy water, or alcohol, is poured in the four directions (north, east, south, west), and then prayers are said to bind the living to those deceased family members.

Not only is it a way to include family members who have passed on, but it acts as a way for couples to take wisdom from their elders and to accept gifts of advice from other family members present at the ceremony.

4. Kola Nuts

I love the symbolism here; this Kola Nut tradition is unique and speaks about sharing well wishes for each other, which is why Kola Nuts is number four in my African wedding traditions and rituals ranking.

Kola Nuts is a form of a proposal as they symbolize unity, hospitality, and respect. At the wedding ceremony, these nuts are split open during the vow exchange. They are broken to signify healing and being there for each other in sickness and health.

5. Proposal Letters

I’m adding one final proposal, where the groom asks for the bride’s family’s blessing. I’ve included this one since it shows that tradition is more sacred and meaningful than ever.

Proposal letters are similar to the Knocking on the door tradition. In this tradition, the groom and his family write a letter to the future bride’s family and request to meet with them. In this letter, they will outline their intentions and ask to schedule a time and place to meet with them.

The bride’s family can agree to meet or will request a different day if needed. At this meeting, the groom formally asks for their blessing on a marriage to the potential bride.

6. Cooking for the In-laws

I liked how this tradition brought the two families together before the wedding, which is why it is on the list as tradition number six.

Sharing food represents the unity that the couple is about to embark on within their marriage. The bride will cook traditional country dishes for her in-laws, and both families will enjoy the meal together a few days before the ceremony.

After this meal, the bride’s family leaves for home. However, on the way, they must stop to bury the remaining bones from this meal. If they return home with any bones, it is interpreted as a sign of bad luck.

7. Aso Ebi “Family Cloth”

I love bridesmaid dresses and how classy they look, but this African wedding tradition is sweet and is a strong way for all women in the family, as well as close friends to the bride, to show unity during the ceremony.

While brides will have bridesmaids dressed in the wedding color of their choice, an African tradition that’s similar to that is Aso Ebi in Yoruba, or “family cloth.”

In this tradition, the bride will have family members like sisters, cousins, and close friends, all in the same print or similar colors. The mother of the bride and mother of the groom usually wear something of their choosing but sometimes will match the Aso Yoruba.

8. Henna

While I’ve often seen henna done as a trend, I enjoyed learning more about the true significance of its application and the good wishes that accompany a bride receiving henna on the eve of her wedding.

Henna is a special ceremony performed the night before the wedding. All ladies closest to the bride are invited, and henna is applied as an act of good luck wishes to the couple. The henna also restricts the bride from doing any household chores after application.

9. Tasting the Four Elements

Though I’ve seen brides and grooms asked to commit to each other in sickness and health, this African wedding tradition is a physical reminder of what married life can mean and shares the message that it’s an adventure meant to be done together. That’s why it’s here as tradition nine.

This tradition, undertaken by both the bride and groom before the wedding, symbolizes married life and the difficulties and happy times they will experience together.

The flavors are sour, bitter, hot, and sweet, said to be the emotions of marriage the couple must be able to withstand to survive and be happy together.

Vinegar stands in for the bitterness, to remember that while fights may be inevitable, partners should always be on the same side and should always reconcile.

Lemon is said to be a disappointment, that there will be some shortcomings and trials throughout life and the marriage, and that together as a unified front, the couple will be able to persevere.

Cayenne represents hot, emphasizing that the couple must make an effort to keep ties with each other through spicing things up and trying new things together.

Lastly, honey is the sweet part of marriage, the part that makes any difficulties or obstacles all the more worth it.

10. Crossing Stick

I can’t ignore the traditions that are rooted in dark pasts. While the Crossing Stick originates from a period of slavery, it shows resilience and strength in two people who committed to a life together despite all odds.

The Crossing Stick was a ritual during years of slavery. During this time, the bride and groom would each grab a stick from somewhere on the property. Then they would join them together crossed as a way to show commitment to each other.

It is also said to be a symbol of power and unity.

11. Tying the Knot

I had to put this one on here! While people say ‘tying the knot’ to refer to getting married, literally tying a knot during the ceremony is an enormous African wedding ritual and tradition. How could I not put it on this list?

During the ceremony, a well-respected family member steps up and binds the couples’ hands together during the vows. This symbol shows the bride and grooms binding themselves together not just with the vows they say but also in their physical form.

Many materials are used for binding, like vines, leather, or fabric. The type will also have its significance. Red resembles strength, so red cloth could wish strength upon the new couple.

12. Jumping the Broom

This tradition has made my list because of its significance to the culture. The final African wedding tradition and ritual stems from slavery, similar to the crossing stick. In this ritual, the couple who wished to wed would jump over a broom together.

Doing this symbolized sweeping away evil spirits and wrongs while showing the couple stepping forward together in a blissful, domestic union.