There is no more important cultural tradition than a wedding ceremony. These events not only involve religion and spirituality but also family and community. Essentially, they symbolize the bringing together of two families or tribes. In fact, there are literally thousands of distinct cultures on the African continent and each tribe has its own way of celebrating a marriage, which they can often trace back hundreds or even thousands of years.
To this day Africa remains a continent defined by its religious diversity. In the North, many people follow Muslim traditions, while farther south most of the people are Christian or Hindu. There are also a great number of ancient religious traditions that are specific to Africa.
But no matter which part of Africa you are in, wedding ceremonies are often elaborate, some of them lasting for several days and involving several couples who are married at the same time.
Polygamy is not uncommon in many parts of Africa. For example, in the Sudan a man is permitted as many as four wives. In this instance, the groom is expected to pay the brides family a set fee or bridewealth for the loss of their daughter and her labor. Often this is paid in livestock like cattle.
Prearranged marriages are also a part of African culture and are common in many African countries. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for a girl to be engaged before she is even born. These agreements are made between families who are either close friends or have some sort of business arrangement.
African traditional wedding ceremonies always involve song, dance and bright, festive colors. They also symbolize the transition between childhood and adulthood, although most African newlyweds are little more than children themselves. In fact, it is not uncommon for people in African to be married at thirteen or younger.
In African culture divorce is frowned upon and therefore is a real rarity. If a couple does encounter serious marital problems, they are often discussed by both families and solutions are reached. Unlike in the United States, marriage is seen as more than just the union of a single couple, but rather as the union of two families each of which has a vested interest in the partnership.
As we mentioned, music and dance are extremely important in African culture. Since reading and writing came late to Africa, music and dance was the primary form of communication. African music and dance was based on oral tradition where storytellers relied on their body movements as well as musical instruments to tell their tales. African music is characterized by its unique rhythms, beats and harmonies. Though early African musicians were masters of many instruments, the quintessential African instrument is the drum which keeps the beat and drives the dance.