Traditional African weddings are not an event, they are a process–and a long one at that. First, a guest list of immediate and far-flung relatives and friends must be compiled and then alerted about the upcoming wedding. This list not only includes distant aunts and uncles but also cousins who are related to the bride and groom in dubious ways, as well as any person who may have held the couple for two seconds during their infancy. Compiling a wedding guest list that ensures all of the relevant people are invited requires diplomatic skills that can only be found in international agencies like the UN.
Secondly, the catering (which involves preparing and cooking food in advance); setting up the venue (which requires you to rope unwary cousins, brothers, and other male relatives into doing all the heavy lifting); and, the entertainment need to be planned. These processes make the construction of the Burj Khalifa look like an afternoon spent playing with LEGO.
Thirdly, traditional rituals must be negotiated with family elders to make sure everything is done in the right time and in the right place: all protocol must be observed unless one wants to be cursed by their ancestors and every major or minor deity in the specific culture. The negotiation of rituals is an interesting balance of age-old African practices that can be found in numerous cultural traditions on the continent, such as fetching the bride from her maternal home and bringing her to her husband’s household, and Christian practices, such as prayers and sermons led by the local pastor or priest.
The planning is exhausting for both families. But when the day of the wedding arrives everything runs like clockwork: the groom fetches his bride; there is singing and dancing in the street as the couple walks to the groom’s home; the couple is welcomed into the home; a prayer is said; gifts, both modern and traditional, are offered; and, during the course of the afternoon and evening there is eating and dancing.
And two families become one.