In Western Africa there are three types of wedding ceremonies. Traditional, church, and civil. All are recognized as legal marriages in Sierra Leone and by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. We were honored to be invited to the wedding ceremony of our good friend Solomon and his fiance Ngadi. They had chosen to do both the traditional ceremony followed by the civil ceremony 2 days later. Each tribe has their own traditions. They are mostly the same but vary a bit by tribe. This was the Mende tribe ceremony.
When we arrived for the traditional ceremony, the bride and groom were dressed very casually and were mingling among the guests who were sitting and visiting around a large courtyard. We visited with them and others.
Notice the matching t-shirts that several of the bridal party were wearing.
They were preparing the stew for the bridal feast in a huge pot over the fire.
Traditional CeremonyAbout and hour after we arrived, we were invited to go into the house as they were preparing to start the ceremony. There were about 30 chairs in the house filling the dining room and parlor. We were seated on the groom's family side. We were the first ones in besides the two tribal leaders.
15 members of the bride's family were invited in and they filled half of the room. The door was then closed. There then was a loud knock at the door. The bride's father answered the door, asked who was there and what did they want. He said I don't know you. He was told they had come to get acuainted and if he would let them in they would explain what they wanted. Would you please let us in. He opened the door and 13 members of the groom's family came in. We already were seated in 2 of their chairs. They all sat on the same side of the room as us. The rest of both families stayed outside but they could hear the proceedings over the speakers as they were using microphones.
The chief invited the muslim pastor on the bride's side to say the muslim prayer. Ngadi's grandfather was the person who gave that prayer. He then invited the Christian pastor on the gooms side to give the Christian prayer. A member of the Bo North LDS District presidency gave that prayer.
The chief then introduced all the members of the bride's family. He paid special tribute and honor to the oldest member. The groom's family was then introduced and again paid honor and tribute to the oldest member. He then asked who was speaking for the groom. The president of the Bo East LDS District stood up and said he was representing the groom. The chief then asked him what inquires did he want to make.
He said that the groom had become attached to the most beautiful flower growing in the bride's family garden and wished to take that flower for himself and take it to his home with him. To help persuade them he had sent gifts to the bride's family. (Note; Originally these gifts were cola nuts which were very expensive and used as currency among the tribes. Today they used cash.) He then gave separate envelopes to the bride's father and mother, maternal and paternal grandparents, one for all the aunties, one for the uncles, one for the brothers and one for the sisters, and last of all one for the bride. The bride's family consulted and said they were in agreement.
The bride's family brought a jar of cola nuts and water and presented it to the groom's family. The groom's family brought out a bundle of cola plant starts, wrapped in leaves and presented it to the the bride's family.
They then called for the bride to be brought in. There was a delay, and a bridesmaid said she didn't want to come out. She was given a small amount of cash. She went back into the room, returned and said she still doesn't want to come out. She was given more cash and then a veiled young woman was ushered into the room amid sorrowful chanting. They unveiled her and asked “Is this the flower you are looking for?” It was the bride's sister. The groom's family said no, no, no and made a big protest. They took her back into the dressing room and after a couple more exchanges of money, brought in the bride.
The groom's family agreed that she was the one. She was seated in the middle of the room and given the envelope for the bride.
The father then asked her if she knew the groom and if she agreed to the proposal of marriage. There was a hush as everybody waited for her answer. She said she knew him and the groom's family cheered. The groom's family said they had a gift for her and presented her with a calabash (Note: A calabash is a very large goard bowl) containing a gift of great value. The bride and groom had previously agreed what this was going to be. It could be anything like a lump of gold, a diamond, or some livestock. Traditionally it was like an insurance policy. If her husband were to die it would give her the means to take care of herself and her children. The calabash also contained some sugar which signified that the groom would share all of the sweet times and everything he had with her. There was also something bitter, some buttons, a needle and thread, a cloth wrap and two straw mats. These represented her commitment to stay with him thru the hard times; to sew on lost buttons on his shirt and mend his clothes and if he couldn't provide her with a bed, to spread her mat next to his on the floor until times got better. This calabash was passed around and inspected by all the members of the family and then returned to her. The chief then asked her if she accepted the calabash. She stood up, took the calabash and gave it to her mother for safe keeping. The groom's family cheered again.
The groom was then called for.
He came in wearing the traditional clothing which matched her dress and was met by greetings and cheering from both families. He was seated next to the bride. He was then told that the bride had accepted the calabash and asked if she was the one that he wanted. He said yes. The chief then asked him if he had been previously married. He said yes but was legally divorced. There was murmur of approval from the bride's family. He was then asked if he had any children. He said he had a boy and a girl that were legally in his custody and care. The chief asked the bride if she knew of the children. She said yes. He then asked her if she were willing to take those children as her own and help raise them. She said yes. The chief then asked the bride if she had any children. She said yes, she had one. He then asked the groom if he knew about this child and if he was willing to take this child as his own and help raise him. He said yes.
The groom was then asked for the names of a male and a female god parent from his family. He gave those names, they were called forward and stood by the bride and groom. The bride was then asked for the names of a male and a female god parent from her family. She gave those names, they were called forward and stood by the bride and groom. The chief then asked the god parents if they accepted their role as protectors of the marriage. The chief then counseled with the couple, that when there was trouble in the marriage that they would turn to these 4 people for help and advice and not to others. These 4 people would be there for strength and help to solve their problems. They would do everything they could to keep the marriage from failing. They would be their best friends.
The chief then asked the two god fathers to clasp hands. He then took the veil from the bride and wrapped it around their joined hands. The chief then indicated that this couple were now married for this life and the next in the eyes of the tribe. The groom's family brought the ring and Solomon placed it on the bride's left hand.
A member of the Bo North LDS district presidency gave a closing prayer.
Here we see a picture of the bride and groom after the traditional ceremony.
A large plate of food was brought out for everyone. There was music and dancing and lots of visiting. Most of the guests outside were already being fed when the two families came out.