A Tradition of Oneness
Typically, whenever I’m asked what my weekend plans are, my response is almost always “My friends are getting married.” This year, I witnessed six marriages. They weren’t your typical Western wedding, with a church ceremony and short reception afterwards, they were a major celebration.
And not just one major celebration, multiple. A year full of celebrations that honors God, family and our parents’ culture passed down from generation to generation and continent to continent.
Weddings have always been important in Nigerian culture, that and pregnancy announcements. To many American-born Nigerians, African-styled weddings can feel like an elaborate waste of money. These days, first-generation Americans’ adaptation of their ancestral culture has slowly blended in with their own modern twist, and you can tell when attending these weddings. The outfits are vibrant and bedazzled out, make-up costs a couple hundred dollars, the décor is top-notch, and vendor prices are extremely inflated once you tell them it’s for a wedding. But there’s one tradition that our parents got to keep and will not change: the traditional ceremony.
My brother, who got married a few years ago, said having a traditional wedding was not that important to him, but, “Giving space for my parents on both sides to have fun and celebrate was fulfilling. Traditional weddings are a beautiful way to honor your parents and the culture that raised you.”
When I say I am going to a wedding, I should also mention that I am going to a series of events. A Nigerian wedding typically has three parts: an intimate gathering between both sides of the family known as the introduction, then a traditional wedding, followed by a “white” wedding. The traditional wedding varies from tribe to tribe, but the goal remains the same: a union of two families becoming one. A moderator from the bride’s side of the family and one from the groom’s side of the family speak as representatives for their respective sides. They narrate a story of the groom meeting the bride’s family for the first time, prostrating before them to show respect and receive their blessing. The bride comes in later to formally say goodbye to her parents and family and turn to officially join the groom’s family. The groom picks the bride up to show off his strength to her parents, to show that he is able to carry her and lead his household.
The groom and groomsmen prostrate before the bride’s family to greet them as a way of showing them respect and honor. The groomsmen then get up, and the groom prostrates again while the bride’s mother and father blesses him.
The venue is filled with hundreds of guests, whether they were invited or not does not matter because people have traveled far and wide to get an opportunity to dress up and celebrate. Family members and guests are coordinated by color as well as fabric material, called aso ebi. The bride’s parents and the groom’s parents wear identical outfits to symbolize unity. Friends of the bride and groom are also wear identical fabric material, cut to their unique styles that they’ve chosen. The uniform cloth is used as an indicator of solidarity to the couple and identifies which group an individual attending the ceremony belongs to.
My friend whose wedding I was in a few months ago said, “Having a traditional [wedding] was important to me because I felt it solidified my commitment to maintaining my Nigerian culture for my future family. One thing I worry about is the fact that our children won’t experience the depth of the culture because they’re second generation born in America. So things like having a traditional wedding helps as a reference point, something [my husband] and I can look back on and talk to them about.”
The Gift Table
At Nigerian traditional weddings, there is a gift table, placed around the bride and groom’s high table. The gifts are presented to the bride’s family from the groom’s family. The bride’s family gives them a list of items they want prior to the traditional wedding, and the groom’s family package and present the gift items to the family.
The colors, the attire, the live music and the ceremony all signify something meaningful to the couple. It represents the union of a community of people who were once strangers, now becoming family. The traditional wedding communicates love and oneness. The events include an intricate weaving of dance, recitations, reverencing, song and ceremony that combine into a beautiful filigree of family and identity that strengthen bonds across cultures and generations. Whether the significant other is from a different ethnicity, race, or tribe, it does not matter anymore. Just as the bride and groom are joining together before their family, the family is also welcoming each other with open arms.