The Ethiopian Wedding Tradition–One of the World’s most Beautiful and Egalitarian

The Ethiopian Wedding Tradition–One of the World’s Most Beautiful and Egalitarian

-Ethiopia has close historical ties with all three of the world’s major Abrahamic religions, namely Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and the country’s wedding ceremonies are informed by those traditions, along with native customs. In the 4th century, Ethiopia officially adopted Christianity as its state religion, thereby becoming one of the first Christian states in the world. Today, approximately two-thirds of the country’s population is Christian, and approximately one-third is Islamic. A significant population of Ethiopian Jews resided in the country until the 1980s.

-Traditionally, a young man’s parents search for a suitable bride for their son. It was once customary for Ethiopian men to marry at age 30, inspired by the Biblical tradition of Christ’s beginning of his ministry at age 30. It is not uncommon, however, for the parents of Ethiopian boys of the age of 18 to begin looking for a suitable bride.  In Christian Ethiopian weddings, the virginity of the bride is almost a requirement, shame falling upon her family in cases where she is not. Consequently, traditional Ethiopian brides tend to be younger than their husbands.

-Traditionally, in order to ensure that a bride and groom are not related by blood, at least seven generations of family lineage were researched. Today, however, five generations free of consanguinity qualify.

-Once a prospective bride has been identified by the young man’s parents, a mediator is dispatched to the parents of the young lady to inform them of the interest in the union.  The parents of the young lady oftentimes imposes conditions, which the mediator take back to the parents of the young man, thereafter arranging for a date and place for both sets of parents to meet.

-When both sets of parents have reached an agreement, the young man and young lady are engaged and a date for the wedding is set.

-All of the wedding expenses are borne by both sets of parents.

-The bride and groom first see each other on the day of the wedding.

-The wedding ceremony begins with music and dancing, then the bride’s family gives the groom a dowry, typically consisting of money, cattle, and other valuable objects. (In some traditions, the groom’s family provides a bride-price to the family of the bride).

-Both sets of parents prepare food and drink for the wedding and invite guests. Meat is especially prominent at Ethiopian weddings.

-At the end of the wedding ceremony/reception, the groom takes his new bride to his parents’ home, where he is expected to take the bride’s virginity within three days.

-(The Ethiopian concept of the nuclear family is broader than the Western concept thereof. When the groom takes his bride to the home of his parents, the eldest male of the household—in some cases not the groom’s father, but his grandfather—is the patriarch of the family and head of the household).

-Depending on the economic circumstances of the groom’s parents, the honeymoon, which takes place at the home of the groom’s parents, lasts from one week to three months.  The best man/men remain(s) with the groom during the honeymoon period. For the duration of the honeymoon, the bride is prohibited from leaving the house during daylight. She may, however, leave the home after sunset.

-After the honeymoon, the bride and groom, accompanied by the best man/men, return to the home of the bride’s parents for a set period of time.

-Non-traditional, urban, and foreign-dwelling Ethiopians oftentimes do not adhere to many of the wedding traditions outlined above, arranged marriages being one of them. But familial approval of spouses is still expected.

-Part of the ritual of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church requires that both parties to the marriage promise never to divorce.

-Due to increasing Western influence, modern Ethiopian brides generally wear white wedding gowns, and modern grooms don tuxedos.

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