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african american - traditions

Ceremony: 7 Afrocentric Traditions

From jumping the broom to tasting the elements -- we've got seven great ways to help you add some culture to your big day.

Photo: Kimara Dixon Photography

1. Knocking on the Door

Since marriage in African culture is considered the official joining of two families, a large emphasis is placed on getting family permissions and blessings before the wedding. In Ghana, the groom requests permission through the custom of "knocking on the door." Bearing gifts, he visits his potential in-laws accompanied by his own family. If his "knock" is accepted, the families celebrate and wedding planning begins. Or, simply plan an outing (like a brunch or dinner date) to bring both families together before the wedding and begin forming family bonds.

2. Jumping the Broom

This tradition most likely originated with an African ritual in which a broom is used to demonstrate that all past problems have been swept away. During slave days, African-Americans were forbidden to marry and live together, so jumping over a broom was a formal and public declaration of the couple's commitment. Today, it has become very popular for African-American couples to follow suit at the conclusion of their wedding ceremony. The broom, often handmade and beautifully decorated, can be displayed in the couple's home after the wedding. Check with local cultural institutions for broom makers and suppliers.

3. Crossing Sticks

In a lesser-known tradition that also dates back to the slavery era, African-American couples demonstrated their commitment by crossing tall wooden sticks. By crossing the sticks, which represent the power and life force within trees, the couple expresses a wish for a strong and grounded beginning. If you decide to incorporate this tradition, choose large branches from both of your families' homes or from a place meaningful to you as a couple.

4. Libation Ceremony

Many African-American couples incorporate a libation ceremony into their weddings as a way to honor their African ancestors. Holy water, or alcohol, is poured onto the ground in each of the cardinal directions as prayers are recited to the ancestral spirits, and names of those that have recently passed are called out. The libation ceremony can also be used as an opportunity to honor the elders in a family, asking them to pass on their wisdom and guidance.

5. Tying the Knot

In some African tribes, the bride and groom have their wrists tied together with cloth or braided grass to represent their marriage. To symbolize your own unity, have your officiant or a close friend tie your wrists together with a piece of kente cloth or a strand of cowrie shells (symbols of fertility and prosperity), while affirming your commitment.

6. Tasting the Four Elements

In a ritual adapted from a Yoruba tradition, the bride and groom taste four flavors that represent different emotions within a relationship. The four flavors typically used are sour (lemon), bitter (vinegar), hot (cayenne), and sweet (honey). By tasting each of the flavors, the couple symbolically demonstrates that they will be able to get through the hard times in life, and, in the end, enjoy the sweetness of marriage.

7. Kola Nuts

Kola nuts play an important role in African weddings. The nut, which is used for medicinal purposes in Africa, represents the couple's (and their families') willingness to always help heal each other. In Nigeria, the ceremony is not complete until a kola nut is shared between the couple and their parents. Among African Muslims the nut is also a symbol of fertility, and is exchanged with family members during the engagement celebration. Many African-American couples incorporate the sharing of a kola nut into their ceremonies, and then keep the nut in their home afterwards as a reminder to always work at healing any problems they encounter.

-- Robin Beth Schaer

See More: African-American Weddings , Wedding Ceremony + Wedding Vow Ideas