Sadly, I’ve never been to an Ethiopian wedding, (although dear readers, if you’re about to have one, please feel free to invite me, I don’t take up much space.) I have however, been fortunate enough to attend Muslim, Jewish and Christian weddings and other spiritual union ceremonies. Even if I didn’t understand the blessings, songs or dances, I have always been enchanted by the many different ways folks get hitched and the diverse ways to have a good old knees-up to celebrate one becoming two!
I turned my attention to Ethiopia, which I hope to visit at some point, to get a better grasp on some of the customs and traditions. What better place to start than marriage.
An Ethiopian Christian Wedding
In Orthodox Christian Ethiopian wedding ceremonies, the couple is usually dressed in flowing white ceremonial attire. The groom has the first word to kick off the ceremony with declarations, then it’s the bride’s turn, and a procession heads to a reception hall where the couple pass through an arch of orange candles.
The priest then delivers the wedding sermon, after which the congregation sings, usually with the help of the Church gospel choir. Everyone dances and eats their fill of yummy traditional Ethiopian food. Knives and forks usually go out the window in favour of eating with the right hand. Once everyone is so full they can hardly move, it’s time to work it all off with more singing and dancing. Last but not least, young Church deacons sing hymns to the newlyweds and guests wish them well, then everyone drifts off at their leisure to sleep it all off.
An Ethiopian Muslim Wedding
Ethiopian Muslim couples often marry at night. The religious part of the ceremony is conducted by an Imam and is generally an intimate gathering, which takes place earlier in the day and is attended by the couple’s close family. Prior to the couple’s entrance, the bridal party sings and dances to traditional music to honour the couple outside the banquet hall. The bridal party enters the reception hall first, followed by the bride, and then the groom and his entourage enter second.
The couple usually sits in throne like chairs facing the guests for the duration of the ceremony. Then it’s time to eat, drink and be most merry. The couple show their guests how it’s done on the dancefloor and everyone gets down and boogies until its time for the speeches. These speeches include complements, advice and best wishes for the newlyweds. Once these are done and dusted it’s back on to the dancefloor until the sun comes up and the guests leave in search of breakfast.
An Ethiopian Traditional Wedding
A traditional Ethiopian marriage ceremony is a whole other kettle of fish and one that takes some serious planning. The Oromo spend a whole month preparing for a wedding. When the big day rolls around, relatives and guests get together at the bride and groom’s homes for food and drinks. The groom dresses in traditional garb and is blessed by his parents, relatives and elders. He and his friends then head to the bride’s home. The bride meets them with her gang at the entrance, while beating drums. This is an old custom to prevent the groom from entering until he pays his dowry!
Once he’s paid his dues, the groom is welcomed and sits down to eat with his bride, while elders and parents bless the couple and present them with gifts. After the gift giving ceremony, the newlyweds head to the groom’s house to receive gifts from the bride’s parents. Interestingly, in a traditional Ethiopian wedding, the groom’s sisters are also given money. The newlyweds are escorted to a place to consummate the marriage, while the wedding procession sings, feast and dance outside!!! (talk about pressure to perform…)