Traditional African-American Wedding Rituals

African-American traditional wedding rituals arose from their history in Africa and America.
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Traditional African-American wedding rituals have their roots in slavery and West African culture. Though many African-Americans opt for mainstream wedding ceremonies, some want to begin their married life in a manner similar to those of the past. Jumping the broom, perhaps the most prominent traditional wedding ritual, became popular among the Southern slaves. Crossing sticks, though less well known, was popular in the early 1900s. Sitting on wooden stools demonstrates African-American retention of West African culture. The sharing of a kola nut is a simple ritual of longstanding prominence.

1 Jumping the Broom

Legal codes in most jurisdictions prevented enslaved African-Americans from legally marrying. Nevertheless, marriages did occur, and some slave owners allowed the practice. Eager to demonstrate their unions, African-Americans embraced jumping the broom as a ritual. This tradition has roots in West African culture, where brooms symbolize domestic, or home, life. In America, the slaves would first say their wedding vows. Afterwards, the couple would together jump across a broom placed before them. This action symbolized that they were entering into a domestic union.

2 Crossing Two Sticks

African-Americans continued to create a vibrant culture in the early 20th century. One wedding ritual that arose during this period was the crossing of sticks. The ceremonial crossing of two long wooden sticks symbolized the enduring nature of the marriage. Traditionally, the couple chose the sticks from among the trees on the grounds of family property.

3 Wooden Stools

Sitting honored wedding guests on wooden stools pays homage to the Ashanti people of West Africa. In Ashanti culture, stools constructed from a single piece of wood represent pride in family lineage. It is a sign of respect to sit on one of these specially produced stools in formal settings, including weddings. Some African-Americans have incorporated this practice in their wedding ceremonies. Often, the parents of the bride and groom receive places of honor sitting on wooden stools at the front of the wedding audience.

4 Kola Nut

The kola nut has a rich history in West African courting and marital rituals. According to some sources, West African men offered kola nuts to potential mates. Before the Atlantic slave trade era, Muslim West Africans believed the kola nut was a sign of fertility. African-Americans can employ kola nuts in the manner of their ancestors by offering a kola nut to their prospective spouse during the proposal. If the proposal is acceptable, then those present will share in the kola nut.

David Kenneth has a Ph.D. in history. His work has been published in "The Journal of Southern History," "The Georgia Historical Quarterly," "The Southern Historian," "The Journal of Mississippi History" and "The Oxford University Companion to American Law." Kenneth has been working as a writer since 1999.