I recently attended a Nigerian traditional engagement. The bride like me was Jamaican marrying a Nigerian groom. I wasn’t made aware of this fact until I arrived at the event. I was a little salty about the fact that I and my hubby didn’t have a traditional ceremony due to him not having much family in the UK and him not being particularly interested in having one. I was pretty annoyed at the time but had pretty much forgotten about it, until I got to this event.
I have attended many traditional engagements before but none since I had been engaged or married. I absolutely love the tradition of the ceremony. The room was colourfully decorated and all the guests were adorned in beautiful Nigerian attire. The colours and fabrics were absolutely gorgeous and most women wore elaborate gele’s (This is a traditional Nigerian cloth which women wrap around their heads. There are many variations of how they wrap it.)
The bride’s parents had made a real effort to embrace their son in laws culture. The father looked very regal in his white agbada (a long robe worn over clothes) and hat. The mother of the bride wore a green buba and iro (A Buba is a loose fitting blouse with long sleeves and a neckline that is either V-shaped or round. It usually falls a little below a women’s waist. Iros are long wrap-around skirts. The rectangular skirt is worn by wrapping it around the waste and tucking it in at the end.) She also wore a very sizeable gele.
The bride’s family sat on one side of the room and the groom’s family sat directly opposite them. Both families were at the top of the room with the rest of the guests sat watching them. There were a number of ladies emceeing the event who were absolutely hilarious. Particularly when one of them began trying to speak patois to try and relate to the Jamaican’s in the audience.
The ceremony lasted a few hours and I am not sure if I remember it all in order but it was very entertaining. Prayers were done throughout the entire afternoon by a number of different people including a pastor. A variety of traditional hymns were sung at intervals during the day also.
After the first prayer, the females of the grooms’ family danced into the room and danced for the bride’s family accompanied by a gentlemen playing the drums. Part of the ceremony then included the emcee pretending to not know why the ladies were at the event. She asked if they were there to see someone or to collect someone. The ladies kept responding no until the emcee relented and asked if they were there for the wedding to which the ladies all replied yes.
The groomsmen danced into the room and went through a very similar process. They then had to prostrate for the bride’s family and beg for the brides hand in marriage. The parents of the bride refused several times so they had to continue to beg for a few minutes until the parents agreed. The groom then had to take a seat on the elaborate throne like chairs on the stage. If he sat in the seat destined for his bride then it would have been some sort of sign of his unsuitability to marry the bride (I think).
A letter was then brought out by the groom’s cousin and read to the family. The letter was in a beautiful frame and wrapped in cellophane and ribbon. As the cousin read the grooms promise to look after the bride she stuttered several times. I assumed she had a problem but when the emcee stopped her and said that she needed glasses and money would have to be given to buy her glasses I understood it was part of the acting. She continued and read out the beautiful promise to the bride’s family.
Once the letter reading was finished the bride’s family agreed again to give their daughter to the groom’s family. The bride price was then paid. However, the bride’s mother returned the envelope with the money stating that she was not selling but in fact giving her daughter away. I am pretty sure that’s not how it normally works but it was a nice gesture.
The stunning bride then danced into the room alongside her bridesmaids. She was in a beautiful green dress made of French lace and a green gele. She attempted to say a few words in the groom’s language which the Nigerians in the room appeared to love. She then kneeled at her groom’s feet and was sprayed with money by the groom’s family.
The couple then came down off the stage and danced with both sets of families and more people sprayed them with money. It was great to see the bride’s family joining in the dancing with her granddad really rocking out. The music played was an afro-beats remix featuring dancehall artist Sean Paul which was cute.
Overall I absolutely enjoyed the experience and really regret that I didn’t insist on having my own traditional engagement. If you are marrying a Nigerian or are Nigerian and getting married I would definitely recommend ensuring you have a traditional engagement ceremony. It is a great way to keep traditions alive and a fantastic way to immerse yourself in Nigerian culture. Getting sprayed for dancing is also a great way of getting a bit of extra cash before the wedding. I joke!
The singing of traditional hymns, the following of generations old protocol, the beautiful clothing all help to make the event extra special. Each Nigerian tribe follows different protocols but this ceremony was very similar to the Yoruba tradition (although the family are from the Delta region). If you are marrying into a Nigerian family check what tribe your betrothed comes from to find out about specific traditions.
Next week is the main wedding ceremony. I look forward to sharing with you how it went.