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The Cultural Symbolism Of The African Bride’s Attire 

By Chinelo Eze 
23 January 2022   |   7:31 am
“Something new, something old, something borrowed”, this phrase is a mythic traditional rhyme. The rhyme details what brides should wear for good luck. This philosophy has been adopted by other cultures. But for the African bride this precept does not take precedence, as she gets all the luck needed when she pays tribute to her…

An Efik bride. Photo Xposurebystevedavid

“Something new, something old, something borrowed”, this phrase is a mythic traditional rhyme.

The rhyme details what brides should wear for good luck. This philosophy has been adopted by other cultures. But for the African bride this precept does not take precedence, as she gets all the luck needed when she pays tribute to her cultural heritage through the grand exhibition of symbolic cultural attire.

The cultural importance of an African bride’s attire emanates from her roots-the language they speak, their manner of life and living, and the way they dress. The African continent has diverse cultures that persistently gain  recognition across the globe. Each traditional group makes attires from specific fabrics that have unique colors with customary significance.

A fulani bride. Photo Brookmatrix

African traditional wedding dresses have distinctive entities that make the experience stand out. The way an African bride is presented on the day of her wedding is of utmost importance, not just to the bride but all. An African bride at her wedding, through her attire, becomes a personified representation of her culture, her heritage, and her community.

Like most brides, the African bride looks forward to the “D-day” her African Prince to the awe of many, proclaims his undying love. Perhaps this makes an interesting Romeo and Juliet tale, but the key thing here is, how does the African bride get dressed for her wedding? How does she adorn herself culturally and why? With that in mind, an African,  bride is on a mission to represent her community truly in culture through her native attire.

The dynamism of culture leads to an array of gorgeous African brides with distinct styles, colours, patterns, and ways of wearing their cultural attire. This entire embrace of cultural wear is a subtle mash-up of other cultures near and far.

Nigeria – a country in West Africa is made up of several ethnic groups making up 371 tribes, so is the nation rich in culture.

As brides are expected to be elegantly dressed, an Efik bride does so wearing the native Ofod Ukod Anwang and Onyonyo. These native wears worn by Efik brides in their vibrant colours mirror the culture of the people and are very peculiar to those worn by other tribes in Nigeria. The latter is a two-piece clothing of a skirt and a top. This choice of dress is to show off the bride’s waist; the feminine qualities of the bride. The Onyonyo cultural attire is a modified Victorian fit. This graceful native attire shows off the bride’s elegance. Both cultural wears worn by the Efik bride are beautified further by the latest traditional hairstyles and glamorous hair combs. To top it, an Efik bride is not complete without an elaborately decorated staff dripping with royalty.

Yoruba traditional wedding outfits are made from Aso-Oke fabric that appear in three primary colours of rich maroon, navy blue, and very light brown with streaks of cream. You can also choose the embroidery lace. The bride can also customise the colour and design to fit the desired wedding theme.

Igba-nkwu marks the nuptial traditions of the Igbo people. The brides are beautifully dressed wearing the native attire of a blouse and a wrapper with modifications of a dress worn by some brides. Igbo brides use a broad range of materials; damask, lace, George, silk, and the now-popular “isiagu” (lion head) print that speaks of the bravery of the Igbo tribe. Similar to other brides, Igbo brides richly give oomph to their cultural attire using coral beads and even now are beginning to bead up as Edo brides do.

In Ghana, another part of West Africa, a rich display of the customary “kente” which is tribe specific, is important to brides from the gold coast. It is a traditional attire that she and her groom wear to the fulfilment of traditional rites. This fabric is then tailored to suit the individual bride.

Southern Africa

South Africa has a variety of cultures and tribes like other countries in Africa. The country is rich with diverse tribes confidently embracing their roots. The Xhosa, Sepedi, Zulu, Tsonga, Pedi, Ndebele, women of love showcasing their native cultural attire.

Sepedi native wedding attire in many ways is very popular with gay symbolic colours of yellow, blue, orange, red, and turquoise signifying happiness. Worn best with hele, the Pedi bride’s attire has been merged to form the identity of the community. The hele is the inner fabric that is tied around the waist, and the Metsheka is the top. To finish up the look is the piece of head jewellery called Moruka that raises the bride to her throne.

A Xhosa bride’s traditional wedding attire is a heavy sophisticated look of black and white. This print, beautifully paired together by the partners, is an identity that speaks volumes of the Xhosa tribe. Her attire is an ankle-length dress called isishweshwe or Ijeremani. This attire indicates the bride is no longer a girl. The Umatoki (bride) is then shielded by a tartan blanket worn on the shoulder. The blanket represents the elements of protective and nurturing traits that a bride adds to the family. The scarf tied around her waist guards her fertility.

East Africa

Brides in other parts of Africa like Rwanda, the brides wear a traditional outfit called imishanana. This same attire is applicable to brides in Burundi and Uganda. The country’s conventional nuptial celebrations are some of the most stunning in East Africa.

In Kenya, the traditional garments of Kikuyu brides from central Kenya are golden or brown lessos. The clothing is adorned with beads. However, in modern traditional Kikuyu marriages, the bridal apparel can be made from kitenge or Ankara, making the outfit more dapper. 

In purview of these, culture rises in the decision to conduct the affairs that dictate every significant milestone in the lives of their people. The way an African bride is presented on the day of her nuptial rites is of utmost importance, not just to the bride but all. An African bride at her wedding, through her attire, becomes a personified representation of her culture, her heritage, and her community. 

Another traditional wear from Kenya is the Maasai traditional attire. This culture is most in Kenya and Tanzania too. The proper Maasai apparel is often bright-coloured with red as the primary colour of the traditional wear. In contemporary traditional weddings, brides usually modify the outfit and accessorise with the culture’s colourful beaded necklace.

Regardless of the foundations laid in the past, many brides work with in preparation for the big day, their cultural attire passes through modifications to suit contemporary but having the origin of the cultural appearance takes primacy over the fusion with other adopted customs. 

Our actions and decisions are not void of the traditional footprint, by taking steps and moves laid down by humanity. 

The 21st-century wedding cultural attire of African brides is a union of cultures. Hence African brides like nature spring forth in grand poise to exhibit their cultural identity through their cultural wedding attires.