By Georges Budagu Makoko
Weddings are by far the largest social gatherings in African immigrant communities. Participants relish spending time together, enjoying traditional rituals, dress, and manners, and sharing delicious food. Everything about weddings is spectacular and warms the hearts of those who attend. In some African countries, wedding ceremonies take days as everyone enjoys each other’s company and partakes in the festivities.
African people here in the U.S. think nothing of driving or flying hundreds or even thousands of miles to be part of the weddings of family and friends. Pre-pandemic, others came all the way from Africa, Europe, Australia, or elsewhere to participate. Because of the pandemic, many people from the immigrant community put their weddings on hold in 2020. However, this summer more people went ahead with celebrations. In the cultures of Africa, people believe that where there are no people at a wedding celebration, there is no joy. However, people in the community are now concerned about the delta variant, and many are scaling down their wedding plans again. Here in Maine, the average number of people who attend an African wedding usually varies between 300 and 500 people – these days celebrations are smaller.
Weddings take serious preparation over a period of months. Committees and subcommittees meet regularly prior to the wedding to take charge of different tasks: decorations such as flowers, protocol such as arranging seating for invitees according to family or community status, housing for guests in volunteer homes in the community, transportation, fundraising. Money to help pay for weddings is raised across communities and throughout the country and even across continents. There is a great flurry of ticket purchases, money transfers, and wedding expense outlays in the months before a wedding. Technology and social media make it easy to connect people from different corners of the world.
American friends who have attended African weddings say they are fascinated by the traditions and rituals associated with the wedding. No matter whether Christian or Muslim, in all African communities a wedding goes on for hours or even days.
At present, there are very few mixed marriages in Maine between Africans and Americans. Mixed marriages between members of different African communities are also rare. Muslims may be reluctant to marry Christians, and vice versa, but it is also unusual for Africans from one culture to marry Africans from another. In the past, in most African communities, the marriage was arranged by parents, but these days brides and grooms decide for themselves whom to marry. They do, however, still seek permission from both sets of parents. Usually, the parents of the bride have a lot to say about the choice of a husband, as they want to be sure their daughter does not suffer in marriage. One major difference between African and American weddings that persists is the tradition of giving a dowry to the parents of a girl. The dowry might be gold, money, animals such as goats or camels, or other gifts of value.