The sound of African drums saturating the air with a rhythm that speaks directly with the heartbeat within ones soul sets the scene for the traditional Igbo marriage ceremony of Adaobi & Chester in Buffalo NY.
The women sway in and out of conversations adorned in magnificently colorful dresses and traditional hair wraps while the men arrive in clothing that looks so comfortable and yet formal it makes one a bit jealous. People’s voices combining laughter and conversation overrun the beat of the drums as the volume of the room increases several decibels. A group of young men enter all dressed in the same color Isiagu (shirt and pants) enabling the guests to know that the ceremony would soon start.
Igbo people originate from south-central and southeastern Nigeria in Africa. Tradition among the Igbo community runs deep and has been carried into their American culture with great care. The father of the bride invited the leader of the most native tribe to open the evening with prayer. Michael Martin of the Onondaga Beaver Clan, dressed in traditional Native American attire shared knowledge of his tribe and prayer for the couple and extended family.
This traditional Nigerian wedding ceremony had so many interesting components to it as their culture is rich with detail so I’m choosing to highlight two features in this article; the traditional coral worn by the bride and the bowl ceremony. I will address two additional customs concerning the breaking of the Kola nut and the showering of money in another article.
The coral beads which adorn the neck, hair, and hands of Adaobi are traditional to their culture and are often times handed down within the family. Both Nigerian men and women wear the precious coral beads which are typically a deep salmon or rich red in color and in the Igbo tradition it indicates royalty. By wearing it on their wedding day it signifies recognition and greatness.
Dance is a HUGE part of the Igbo Nigerian tradition. Every entrance of any importance was greeted with intense music and dancing, but when it came time for the bride to choose her husband the room went silent as she knelt down in front of her birth father and two other male elders of the community. She was asked various questions but the most important was what her wishes were. She indicated that she wished to be married and a bowl of palm wine was handed to her by her father. From this bowl she took a sip, carefully stood, and went on her way to find the man she wanted to marry.
Finding him in the sea of people is a bit of a challenge as other men step in the way begging her to choose them and others are literally encircling the groom in order to keep him out of her eyesight. She navigates the room carefully carrying the bowl of wine as the first man to drink from this bowl will be her new husband. Yes, that means if she chose a different man that night by offering him the bowl and he drank of it…they would be married. Adaobi does eventually find Chester and offers him the bowl of which he drank. This officially seals the marriage and loud applause, dancing, and cheers usher the newly married couple back up to the front of the room for parent’s blessings.
This was an evening filled with color, music, food, and hundreds of people all celebrating the uniting of two young people in marriage. Family runs deep and spreads wide as every Nigerian child is a child of the community and they are one as a whole. They take on tender responsibility for each other and travel great distances here in the states to celebrate with one another. Please check out the kola nut article to read more about this tradition of honor.
Thank you Zula Sonner Photography for the beautiful images.