What better time is there for the honoring of long-held traditions than at one’s wedding? It is a time of family, celebration, and the joining together of two families. This momentous occasion in life is marked by many rituals that we are familiar with, such as the carrying of the bride over the threshold, the clinking of glasses to get the happy couple to kiss at the reception, and the bride walking down the aisle with something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue. And these are only a few of the many traditions that come along with getting married. That is, in the west.
Around the world, however, marriage customs are taken to a level that Americans would consider a little cuckoo. Varying religious beliefs, culture, and history have produced very different sorts of traditions when it comes to a wedding. For example, in Mauritania, brides are often force-fed to become fatter for their weddings, because there, a large wife is said to signify prosperity in a marriage. And in Kenya, the bride’s father spits on her face and breasts before she leaves with her new husband. Walking away with him, she cannot look back, or it is believed she will turn to stone. These are two examples of African wedding traditions, and they get all the stranger when it comes to the post-wedding festivities…
Speaking of the wedding night and consummation of the marriage specifically, the practices of many African nations and tribes would be thought of as downright weird in the West. Universally, the first night as bride and groom is known for one thing, and one thing only: consummating the marriage. This special time for newlyweds is thus the perfect time for families, friends, and the couple, themselves, to add the last bit of tradition to the day. And sometimes, those traditions can only be described as WTF, especially on the continent of Africa. The following are 15 of them.
15. Communal Consummation
Amongst the Northern African Berber people, who are indigenous to the area, there is quite the communal consummation of marriage. By this I mean that a couple will consummate their marriage either alone, or possibly with other newly-married couples in a shared wedding chamber. They use the community experience to learn the art of love-making and get accustomed to one another, since many of the newlyweds have not been acquainted for long. The new husband and wife will stay together with all the couples for five days, and it is on the last day that the newlyweds are shown off to the village. Having worn a veil at the ceremony, the bride’s veil is lifted by her new husband for all to see. The bedsheets from their first night as a married couple is also presented to the village to prove that the bride was a virgin before the wedding.
14. A “Helper” Hiding Under the Bed
In Swahili culture, arranged marriages are the norm, and typically the bride and the groom do not even see one another until the night they are to be married. In an older practice (but not one that is unheard of in modern times), the bride would be given a so-called “marriage mentor”, or somo. This woman, perhaps an older female relative who has already taken part in training the bride on how to be a good wife (part of the pre-wedding preparation), will sleep under the matrimonial bed while the newlyweds consummate their marriage. This is done to ensure the bride is not resistant to the consummation. Then, later, this marriage mentor can confirm that the consummation has taken place, a witness of sorts, and she will take a piece of the bed linens to show the other women the virgin blood. Finally, the newlyweds can be alone, and they remain isolated together for a period of seven days.
13. A High-Leg Kick to “Prove” Virginity
In a Zulu wedding, the highlight of the entire ceremony is often the dance competition that takes place between the family of the bride and the family of the groom. It is a ceremonial dance that signifies the transition of the bride from her own family into that of her new husband’s. At some point during the dance, which is performed during the wedding ceremony, the bride does a little dance all on her own, during which she kicks her leg high with the specific purpose of showing her mother that she is a virgin. That must be one very high (and long) kick, and that mother must have a very keen eye! This begs the question of whether the bride wears no undergarments to her wedding, or if she removes them just for the dance? Either way, it is quite peculiar and I would love to see a bride perform this move, and determine just how the mother can be sure her little girl is “pure”.
12. Smeared With A Cow’s Butterfat
Now here is one scenario that would definitely not be at the top of my list of things to do just after I get married. In the Southwestern African country of Namibia, known for its significant cheetah population, the wedding ceremony is typically followed by a visit to the bride’s father’s house. There, she is told by the family what her responsibilities as a wife will be. And after that, she is anointed with butterfat from cows, symbolizing that she is part of a new family, and has been accepted into it. This is a far cry from the usual wedding night we think of- which involves a lot less people (and a lot less butterfat from cows). Interestingly, before the wedding and this post-wedding ritual, the bride in these Himba weddings is “kidnapped” and dressed in a leather marriage headdress, like the one being worn by the woman in the photo above, who is part of the Himba tribe.
11. An “Emergency” Situation
In the Shona culture, the tradition of the wedding night begins even before the wedding! The bride decides when it is time for the ceremony, and on the night that she does, she and her female relatives walk through the village once it becomes dark outside. She is dressed from head to toe in white, and as she approaches her future husband’s home, his family will ululate and dance in celebration. The groom is told his bride has arrived, and often he had no clue until that moment when the wedding would happen. This is to test how he and his family will deal with an “emergency” situation. The bride eventually ends up at her mother-in-law’s house where she is encouraged to take off her veil, the first time her in-laws ever see their new daughter-in-law. A big party commences and lasts into the next day.
10. Threesome With the Bride’s Aunt
The Banyankole people of Uganda in East Africa have some interesting wedding traditions. First of all, the marriage must be consummated at the groom’s house specifically. But before the couple can get things going in the bedroom, the bride’s aunt must perform a “potency test” on her niece’s groom; that is to say, she must have sex with him to make sure he is able to perform. It is also done to confirm his virginity (I do not understand how, but whatever). It is thought of as a sort of “sexual check”, and while I do not know why it is the aunt who has the task of performing it, that is how they roll in southwestern Uganda. So after the ceremony and a feast, the aunt gets into bed with her niece and new nephew-in-law, and the marriage becomes official. Some traditions say it is the aunt’s gift to her niece to instruct her and guide her in the art of lovemaking. This can even include demonstrations!
9. An Audience Awaits
In the North African country of Tunisia, some of the old traditions regarding the wedding night are still practiced, such as the newlyweds showing off the blood of their sheets to prove the bride remained a virgin until marriage. Along those lines is another tradition they sometimes still practice. The groom will light a candle after consummating the marriage, and it can be seen from outside so that everyone knows his bride bled and was, therefore, a virgin up until that very evening. How awkward would that be, knowing that just outside, everyone you know and love is waiting to either judge you for not being a virgin, or find out that you were? And what if a woman was a virgin, but didn’t bleed? That is a lot of pressure, and would definitely take away from a pleasant wedding night.
8. Bridal Party a Party to Consummation
If you are getting married in Morocco, you’d better hope your future wife’s bridesmaids are easy on the eyes, because they just might be present during the post-wedding festivities. After being married at the ceremony, a Moroccan bride will be carried through the crowd into her bridal chamber, where she is aided in preparing for her wedding night. Her bridesmaids, their duty not over just yet, will verify that she is a virgin (don’t ask me how), and then they might stick around to witness the loss of her virginity by her new husband. Can you imagine trying to do the deed with your new wife for the first time and having a group of her friends just standing around watching? It would definitely not be ideal, but then again, I suppose some men are into that sort of thing.
7. There Will Be Blood
In Ethiopia, they take prioritizing a woman’s virginity to a whole new level. Arranged marriages are commonplace in this East African nation, and so is paying a dowry for the bride. Both of these things are normal in much of Africa, in fact. But on the wedding night in Ethiopia, it is imperative that the bride proves her virginity, more so than in many places. To do this, she will take her scarf into the bedroom to collect any blood with, while her mother-in-law and her husband’s best man wait outside. It would be intimidating enough to have people waiting for you to finish having sex for the first time, but if for some reason the bride has not remained a virgin, or if she has but there is no blood, she can be whipped by her new husband. He can even “send her back” and get a full refund of his dowry, a true shame to the bride and her family. If she does prove her purity, however, more celebrations ensue, and five days later her mother-in-law will take the stained scarf to the bride’s family with gifts congratulating them on raising their daughter “right”.
6. Consent or No Consent
In Tanzania, as in many other African nations and other countries around the world, a bride’s most valuable asset is her virginity, which comes into play more than any other time on the all-important wedding night. However, for Tanzanian brides, losing their virginity to their new husband may be scarier than it would be for women in other places. This is because until then, she has never even met him- not even at the wedding! The bride in Tanzania will be dressed up, made up, have her hair done, and look perfect like a doll. But while everyone else parties and feasts and celebrates, she must wait alone at home with one wedding attendant. The couple has only ever seen each other through her veil. The wedding attendant makes up the couple’s bed while they wait, until he arrives and pays a fee for his bride. Then, the newlyweds are left alone, and he is expected to take her virginity- whether she consents or not. As with many of these countries, if there is blood, she will be celebrated and welcomed into his family. But what a potentially terrifying night for the bride!
5. A Loud Procession to the Groom’s Home
In the Muslim nation of Libya, weddings can be quite lavish and last up to five days. On the fourth day, called Dokhla, the bride has a party in her home before her new husband arrives to whisk her off to his home for the first time. It is the first night they will spend as husband and wife, and on the way, a procession of their friends’ and families’ cars follow them, honking and shouting in celebration of the bride going into the groom’s house. There is a lot of teasing, banter, and good-natured goofing around about what is about to happen behind closed doors. Once inside the groom’s house, the newlyweds are greeted by family members, who will recite prayers together from the Koran, sometimes to music. The next day is called the sabahiya, or the “morning after”, and a large breakfast is held in honor of the new couple. This is the day the husband and wife will leave for their honeymoon.
4. Deflowered by a Midwife
After all the wedding festivities have died down in an Egyptian wedding, the bride and groom will, of course, proceed to the marital chamber to consummate their marriage. Often times, even in our modern day and age, the parents and relatives of the bride and groom will literally sit outside of their bedroom, waiting to hear if there was blood, and thus, if the bride was a virgin. However, one version of this custom includes a midwife, who is charged with following the couple into their room and deflowering the bride herself. She will use a white handkerchief to do so, and it will then be paraded before all of the guests. The mother of the bride will sing in joy, and be joined by all of the present women, celebrating the purity of their daughter and friend. All I can think is: how awkward and unromantic!
3. The Namibian Anti-Climax
In the coastal Atlantic country of Namibia in Northwest Africa, the bride and groom spend the first night after the wedding ceremony is performed separate from each other. A Namibian wedding is characterized by everyone being invited, henna art, killing livestock to be eaten, lots of music and dancing, and food, food, and more food. It sounds like an all-around good time, right? Well, imagine if, at the end of it all, you had to go home like every other night of your life and wait another whole day before actually spending the night as husband and wife. How anti-climactic! After wedding preparations that can take up to a year in Namibia, and after all the excitement of the wedding itself, the bride and groom are technically husband and wife, but spend one more night apart. The second night after the ceremony they may spend together, but shockingly, the marriage is not even considered official until the woman has given birth to her second child!
2. First Shave Head, Then Consummate Marriage
A Sudanese wedding is centered around family. The Nuer people of Sudan in North Africa begins with the groom’s family paying the bride’s family with cattle, which will then be used as payment when the bride’s family owes for their son’s marriage. There are three parts to a Nuer marriage: the betrothal (sealed by first delivery of cattle), the marriage, and the consummation. The balance of cattle is settled at the actual wedding, after which comes the third and part: the wedding night. After the ceremony, the bride is taken to the groom’s village by her peers, where her head is completely shaved. Continuing the fun, the couple can then consummate their marriage, although they have been considered husband and wife since the first-ever cattle payment, at which time an ox was sacrificed and they had promised to marry before consuming the slaughtered animal.
1. Practice Makes Perfect!
In the country of Zambia, practice makes perfect! The night before the wedding ceremony, the bride will be delivered to her future husband’s home once night has fallen. A tutorial is then given to the bride on everything one would ever want to know about sex, including how to please a man and even shaving and bathing each other! Then, according to traditional Zambian village wedding customs, the bride and groom are encouraged to “practice” as much as possible before their wedding the next day, which is a vastly different custom than any other I have listed (and more liberal than any I could find). However, it is also much closer to reality (and more fun) than all of the others. This is supposedly the woman’s last chance to get out of the marriage if her lover was unable to perform, and rest assured, all of the women in their lives will be inquiring about the lovemaking early the next morning to be sure.