Afrocentric weddings add culture to tradition


June is a popular month for couples taking the leap of faith into marriage.

And in the African-American community, many weddings are anything but traditional. There's the bride in her white dress and the bridesmaids wearing themed colors. The groom and the groomsmen are usually dressed in tuxedos and colors to complement the bridal party. But more and more African-American wedding ceremonies are including Afrocentric stylings.

Elaborate brocades with ethnic patterns are stitched into the women's dresses and West African kinte cloth accents are added to the men's lapel, jacket and bow tie.

Beyond the clothing, many are using other African accoutrements as well, experts say.

Caribbean rum cake or black cake complements the traditional three-tiered cake, and Egyptian unity candles are lit to bless the union.

The result is a traditional wedding tinged with ceremonies that represent different parts of Africa's culture.

"Many couples want that traditional feel that they saw in their old black-and-white family photo album but with new customs and traditions that reflect their modern tastes," says Dana Powell, editor of BridesNoir, a wedding magazine for the modern bride of color.

More couples are blending African and American traditions because doing so celebrates the tradition and the legacy of the old while making an abrupt, bold segue into the new, she says.

Mozelle Scott-Bey, a Baltimore-area wedding planner, says she's seeing more African-American couples adding other traditional African customs to the marriage ceremony.

In some weddings, the ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, may be prominently displayed throughout the chapel; some couples pour libations (usually water or wine) to show respect to ancestors or the elders; some have drummers or a gospel choir to celebrate the event. Many jump the broom, a West African tradition that symbolizes crossing a threshold to take a leap of faith into a shared life together.

Some couples share a drink from the kola nut, which symbolizes sharing in the hard times to come. They also give cowrie-shell-encrusted wedding favors to their guests.

Because these features add a unique twist to the ceremony, Scott-Bey says a wedding official or pastor usually explains part of the ceremony while it's in progress.

And that's important, says African-studies expert Adrienne Childs.

"I've been to a few African-themed weddings and I love the tradition, the culture and the consciousness of these wedding," says Childs, a graduate fellow at the David Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at the University of Maryland at College Park. "I just hope that people embrace [African-themed weddings] more and actually know what the traditions and customs mean."

Every action symbolizes something different, she says.

For example, the broom in West African-tradition wedding ceremonies has significance.

The spray of the broom can represent all of the different tongues, customs and colors of a village. But the tightly knit broom handle symbolizes that we all come from the same place.

"I just want people to educate themselves a little on this part of the culture," Childs says.

"You don't want to throw banana fritters instead of rice if you don't know what it means."


RESOURCES Suggestions on picking fabrics for outfits, choosing invitations,selecting entertainment and deciding on a menu. Bridal customs from around the world, including traditions from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the Caribbean. A place to get jumping brooms. Custom orders accepted. You can even get brooms decorated to match your color scheme. Find businesses that provide services to African-American couples who are planning to marry.

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