NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, October 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from member-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Next up: celebrating a marriage, Nigerian style.
The West African nation of Nigeria has a population of nearly 200 million. That’s the largest population on the continent.
Nigeria also has a large diaspora. The government estimates as many as 17 million Nigerians live outside the country, and they clearly prefer the United States.
More than any other country, America is the destination of choice for Nigerian immigrants.
EICHER: And they’ve taken their traditions with them, particularly their wedding customs.
Many Nigerians living in the West do have Western-style weddings. But they also honor their heritage with a traditional Nigerian ceremony.
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg recently attended one and brought back this report.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: My Nigerian friend, Toyin, got married last Friday. This was the first Nigerian wedding I’d ever attended, and I learned a few things. First, while the ceremony rituals are serious, watching two people get married is also something to party about.
AUDIO: [Sound of loud music and talking]
Western weddings typically save the celebration for the reception. But this wedding, done in the Nigerian tradition of the Yoruba people incorporated it throughout the marriage ceremony.
During the ceremony, guests seated at tables eat fish and fried plantains, drink soda and wine, and talk to other guests. That’s good for them because Nigerian ceremonies aren’t over in 30 minutes. This one lasted nearly four hours.
The Nigerian master of ceremony sings and speaks in English and in the families’ ethnic Yoruba dialect. She ensures each tradition is strictly adhered to.
MC: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you once again for coming. [Singing: Thank you Lord.]
At the front of the wedding hall, chairs for the bride and groom’s families face each other with an aisle in between.
AUDIO: [Sound of MC talking to families]
The bride and groom’s parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins enter the hall wearing brightly colored dresses and tunics. They dance and mingle. The groom’s family bows to the bride’s. A bridesmaid explains:
BUKI: They are supposed to be begging for the bride. Like literally begging. So in the olden days if you go with the groom’s family, you literally live in their house, so you are in a big compound where the whole family lives, so you don’t get to see your family as much. You have to travel to see them, so it’s very serious to let your daughter go.
AUDIO: [Sound of MC Singing with drums throughout paragraphs]
A second lesson. Western weddings emphasize the marriage covenant between the bride and groom, but the Nigerian tradition also emphasizes the covenant between the families.
AUDIO: [Sound of MC speaking in Yoruba]
After the families have approved the marriage, the groom and his groomsmen enter the back of the hall—dancing.
The groom wears a long tan tunic with pants and a robe. To show the bride’s parents just how badly he wants their daughter, he lies completely flat on the ground at their feet. He’s also begging for their blessing. They give it.
He’s then allowed to sit on an ornate couch at the front of the aisle. There he waits for the bride. She’s been patiently waiting for her turn to enter.
AUDIO: [Sound of Nigerian women talking, dressing bride]
Nigerian women have dressed her in a traditional head tie, an elbow-length top, and an ankle-length swath of material tied around her waist. Colorful flowers and beads are stitched all over the tan material.
When she enters the wedding hall, guests whip out phones and cameras. The music blares. The bride and her bridesmaids twist, shuffle, and shimmy their way to the groom, a stark contrast to the often solemn walk of a Western bride.
Family members stand and “spray” the smiling bride with $1 dollar bills. The money will help the couple start their life together.
AUDIO: [Sound of MC talking couple through vows]
After more rituals between the bride and the two families, she kneels in front of the groom, and they exchange vows. Then he helps her to her feet. They are now man and wife.
AUDIO: [Beginning of Naija song]
I love and appreciate the symbolism of Western wedding traditions.
But the Nigerian wedding’s unfamiliar traditions reminded me that sometimes another culture can help us appreciate something as timeless as the institution of marriage in a new way.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Salt Lake City, Utah.