Ethiopian Traditional Weddings (Oromo, Amhara, Tigre, etc.)
A wedding is almost always a huge affair, but when it comes to Ethiopian weddings, the magnitude of importance increases exponentially.
A wedding is a moment of a lifetime that should be treasured forever hence it should go as smoothly as is practically possible.
Ethiopian wedding tradition and culture is one of the richest in the African continent and has mostly remained unblemished over the years.
As such, the Ethiopian wedding ceremony is a beautiful sight to see.
Ethiopian weddings are a vibrant affair, thanks to the rich Ethiopia wedding traditions. Even though some couples are choosing to have modern weddings, most still incorporate traditional customs in their Ethiopian wedding ceremonies.
The following are 50 of the most important things you should know about Ethiopian weddings.
The Basic Procedures of a Traditionally Cultural Ethiopian Wedding
1. TeloshTelosh is a formal procedure which is undertaken 2 days before the main wedding.
This ceremony is held at the bride’s parents’ home (or her house) and is characteristically celebrated by the bride and groom and their families.
The groom and his family offer presents to the bride, these gifts usually include a wedding gown and jewelry. The presenting of gifts comes with a round of applause from the guests seated close by.
After this is done, the rest of the guests present their gifts to the bride.
2. Groom's ArrivalThe arrival of the groom is an integral part of the Ethiopian wedding ceremony. On the morning of the wedding, the groom prepares himself at home in the company of his groomsmen.
In the meantime, the bridesmaids get together at the bride’s family home, whereupon the bride starts to ready herself.
Upon the arrival of the groom and his entourage to the bride’s home, they find everyone, including the bride, ready and waiting.
Those inside the bride's house go outside singing a traditional song that says they will not let anyone in the house.
The mood is joyous and fun, as the groom begs the people to let him in to his bride to be.
After a short back and forth with song, the groom is let into the house, where he presents his bride to be with flowers.
She accepts this gift with a hug and a kiss and then everyone leaves to their awaiting vehicles and heads to the next Ethiopian wedding ceremony.
3. Joy Ride and ParksWhile en route to the next ceremonial point, the wedding photographers take videos and photos of the vehicular procession, which is also joyous and celebratory.
With the bridal car at the head of the procession, all vehicles have customary flowers hanging out of the windows with the passengers all singing traditional Ethiopian wedding songs.
They all head to a beautiful garden park, where photo and video shoots continue for about an hour.
4. Kissing of the KneeFollowing the photo shoot at the park, the kissing of the knee ceremony follows. All guests await the vehicular procession at the main hall where the wedding is held.
At the entrance to the hall, seated and waiting are the great grandparents and grandparents dressed in traditional clothes.
The groom and bride proceed to thank them and bow low to kiss their feet, upon which they are given blessings for prosperity and health. The parents may also be a part of this ceremony if so desired.
The groom and bride then continue by entering the hall or venue.
5. Wedding LunchThe next step is to have the main Ethiopian wedding lunch. As they enter the hall, the flower girls, candle girls, groomsmen and bridesmaids lead them in while singing traditional Ethiopian wedding songs.
The flower girls are at the head of the procession dropping beautifully colorful flower petals for the couple to walk on.
After a meet and greet with the guests, the couple proceeds to be seated at their place of honor.
Cultural music of merriment fills the hall as everyone rejoices. At this point the priest prays for the lunch to be eaten as the couple goes to the buffet area and is the first to be served. They are followed by the bridal party and then the guests.
6. Official EngagementThe official engagement and eating of the cake follows next. Oddly enough, the real engagement takes place on the actual day of the Ethiopian wedding.
After everyone has had enough to eat from the wedding lunch, the couple goes on to section of the hall allocated for the cutting of the cake and engagement ceremony.
The ceremony begins by the couple exchanging rings and cutting the cake, upon which time the champagne is opened.
The guests are all served a piece of cake and a glass of champagne, while the bride throws gift parcels filled with sweets to the guests.
The bride and groom then return to their seats of honor.
7. Reading of NamesNext up in the traditional Ethiopian wedding ceremony is the reading of the names.
The couple proceeds to take pictures with each one of their guests and then is led to the stage for their first dance as a married couple.
Upon dancing for a short while amidst cameras flashing, the couple is joined by family and guests.
At this juncture, the band receives appreciatory messages from family and friends not in attendance from all over the world.
The band calls out the names of the people unable to attend and passes on their well wishes to the couple.
8. Dinner at GroomsThe dinner at the groom’s family’s home follows next in the celebration. After the merriment at the hall comes to an end, the newlyweds head to the groom’s family’s home.
The groom’s parents host this dinner for close family and friends to relax after a long day.
The evening is spent discussing the many aspects of the wedding that took place amidst laughter and joy.
9. MelseThe Ethiopian wedding continues even on to the next day, in the form of Melse. On this day, the newlyweds are clothed in traditional Ethiopian clothes known as Kaba.
The parents of the couple have allocated a place for the Melse or post wedding party.
This evening event is once again only for close family and friends and involves giving the bride a nickname and the cutting of bread.
As the bread is being cut, the bride’s mother presents her daughter a nickname that everyone in attendance will use in remembrance of the wedding.
10. KelekelBy the third day, a Kelekel (mixing together) is held for all those extended family members that were unable to be in attendance for the wedding.
The parents of the newlyweds agree on the location where this will be held. Towards the end of this ceremony, the parents bless and congratulate their kids and bid them adieu.
This event is also considered important for those family members to meet and mingle for the last time till the next wedding.
Some Concepts to be Aware of for Ethiopian Marriages
11. Arranged Marriages
In many parts of Ethiopia, including the capital, arranged marriages are still very common. According to this tradition, the parents of the groom and bride are accountable for arranging the marriages of their offspring.
Upon the discovery of a suitable girl by the man’s family, the father approaches the girl’s father to initiate the courtship process.
Some families opt to use a Shemagele (old man/wise man/close friend) as a mediator to help with the negotiations.
12. Preparation of the Bride
As the wedding day approaches, the bridal preparations are of utmost importance.
The bride begins to prepare herself for a week of wedding celebrations by having beauty experts decorate her palms, fingernails, and feet with henna.
13. Incest and MarriageThe matter of incest is a subject that is taken very seriously in Ethiopia. According to legends and marriage traditions, marriage with incest brings on a curse upon the families.
Parents of the bride and groom take to investigating their families as far back as up to 5 generations to ensure no blood connection.
14. Symbol of VirginityThe purity of the bride to be is also considered to be a blessing upon the whole family. Virginity, according to Ethiopian tradition signifies strength, endurance, and patience.
15. Consumating the MarriageUpon the completion of the wedding, the groom must take his new wife to his parent’s house, where he is obligated to take away her virginity within 3 days, as a way of consummating the marriage.
16. Ethiopian HoneymoonFollowing Ethiopian cultural marriage procedures, the couple is to spend their honeymoon at the groom’s parent’s home for a period of 1 to 3 weeks. During this time the bride is not to leave the house during the daytime.
17. Staying at the Bride's HomeBy the end of the honeymoon, the couple returns to the bride’s house for a certain amount of time in the company of the groom’s best man.
18. Ethiopian Marriage AgeOften the marriage age of women in Ethiopia is begins at 18 or 19, while for men it is between the ages of 28 and 29.
19. Wedding LogisticsThe organizing of the transport vehicles for the wedding procession is considered to be just as important as the bride's hairstyle.
The responsibility of this is left largely to the groom who must handle the logistics which calls for planning in regards to the nature of the wedding and where the venues are.
20. Wedding FoodFood serves as an essential and primary part in any Ethiopian wedding. It is the vital of the entire setting.
Those preparing for this buffet feast must always ensure the best and finest culinary services familiar with the traditional Ethiopian delicacies are hired to make memorable each and every bite partaken.
21. Types of FoodMost foods enjoyed at Ethiopian weddings are usually spicy and largely consists of meats and vegetables. Chicken, lamb, beef, and the main course are eaten with enjera, Ethiopia’s sourdough flatbread.
22. Raw MeatEthiopians enjoy raw meat at most weddings, while pork is almost never seen.
23. ShemmaIn cultural Ethiopian weddings, the bride and groom are adorned in a shemma: a hand woven cloth with beautiful shinny threaded embroidery, woven for an elegant effect with sashes flowing over their shoulders.
Hand embroidered gold encrusted crowns are worn to signify the meaning of marriage and how extraordinary and exceptional the covenant is before God.
Various Ethnicities/Religions and their Ethiopian Wedding Traditions
24. Ethiopian Jewish WeddingAs a boy reaches the tender age of eighteen, his parents begin to actively seek out a wife.
Both parents of the boy and girl take care of all matters of courtship. If the union is promising, then the boy’s family gives jewelry to the girl’s family.
At this point, a Cahenet or Rabbi blesses the boy and girl’s union, while the girl’s family responds by giving cattle to the groom.
The Jewish Ethiopian wedding ceremony lasts for 7 whole days, with the groom and his family building a hut blessed by the Cahenet just prior to the wedding celebration.
On the wedding day, the Kesherah or the purity ceremony is performed. The Kesherah is 1 or 2 cords that are painted white for the groom’s purity and red for the bride’s virginity.
This Kesherah is put at the groom’s feet by the Cahenet, at which point he pulls it up from the boy’s feet all the way up to his head and then proceeds to tie it around his forehead.
By the closing of the wedding ceremony, the newlywed bride stays in her new home while all her family leaves.
25. Amhara Ethiopian Traditional MarriageThe Amhara marriage is negotiated by both families with a ceremony attended by a priest sealing the deal. Divorces are allowed but must be thoroughly negotiated.
Temporary marriages are also a unique aspect of some Amhara traditions, it is an oral contract before witnesses, in which the woman is paid maid wages and is not eligible for inheritance, while her children are legally recognized and qualified for inheritance.
Priests may take part in the marriage but it is not possible to divorce or remarry.
26. Ethiopian Marriages in the Karo Tribe TraditionThe Karo or Kara tribe with a population of about 1500 live on the eastern banks of the Omo River in the southern part of Ethiopia.
The Karo bride to be has her abdomen tattooed with different attractive symbols to bring out her beauty.
The Karo groom is allowed to have as many wives as he can afford, usually about 2 or 3.
27. Christian Ethiopian Traditional MarriagesThese marriages are often arranged with the virginity of the bride being of the utmost importance.
Incest is forbidden with the families researching their past as far back as 5 generations to ensure no blood ties.
Both families take part in the preparation of the feast for the wedding, with the ceremony containing the following aspects: dances and music, dowry given to groom from brides parents in the form of money or cattle, honeymoon lasting from 1 week to 3 months depending on the wealth of the newlyweds, bride not allowed to leave home during day while on her honeymoon and only allowed to leave at night with brides woman, all celebrations after the wedding are held at the groom’s home, and after the honeymoon the newlyweds stay at brides home accompanied by the groom’s best man.
28. Ethiopian Muslim WeddingsMuslim weddings in Ethiopia base it all on the theme of generosity. Upon the acknowledgement of engagement, the boy will send a milking cow to the home of the bride to be.
The milk is collected by the mother of the bride upon which she makes butter that will be given to the groom on the night of the wedding.
After the boy and girl declare their intent and are initially approved they appear before the tribal leaders and Sheiks for further scrutiny and final approval.
As a sign of satisfaction and approval, the mother of the bride gives the groom buttermilk to drink. During this engagement period, the boy will be given to the service of the girl’s father.
The groom proceeds to assist the man in any which way he can.
On the other hand, the mother of the bride begins to store wheat, honey, and various other items for her daughter.
The father of the bride on the wedding day gives cows, honey, wheat, sheep and other goodies proving to the crowds that he prepared all this for his daughter.
The tribal elders and important people show their acceptance in the process.
After this, the bride walks to her home, where food is being served. The groom is required to eat only from a special plate prepared by the mother of the bride. She also gives buttermilk to the groom and all his closest friends.
As she offers him the buttermilk, the groom takes this and hands her coffee seeds.
The groom then proceeds to give a certain amount of money to the cousin and the aunt of his bride.
By the end of the ceremony, the guests line up in 2 lines and the procession leads the bride to her new home amongst singing, chanting and merriment.
29. Culturally Traditional Ethiopian MarriagesCulturally traditional marriage customs are different according to the ethnic group, but most customs are trans-ethnic.
While arranged marriages are the norm, this practice is becoming less common, particularly in urban areas.
Dowry is often presented from the family of the groom, although the precise amount is not fixed and can vary according to the wealth and status of the families involved.
It could include money, livestock, and/or other socially accepted items of value.
The proposal for marriage usually involves Shemageles or elders, who take it upon themselves to travel from the groom’s house to the parents of the bride to ask for her hand in marriage.
These same elders are usually responsible for deciding where and when the wedding ceremony will take place.
Meanwhile, both the families are held accountable for preparing the food and drink, with the brewing of honey wine and mead holding importance.
30. Ethiopian Marriage Traditions According to the Gamo TribeHolding utmost importance is the Katsara or the circumcision process.
Both the bride and groom are expected to go through this ritual to indicate their entering adulthood.
After the completion of this essential process and perquisite for Gamo marriage, the woman can accept prospective suitors.
31. The Importance of Donkeys in Ethiopian Traditional MarriagesAccording to some traditions in Ethiopia, the donkey is considered to be a deity and one cannot get married without one.
A groom that does not own a donkey would not be allowed to marry. As for the bride, the family will give her a donkey or two as dowry.
In fact, in some places the woman will be expected to do the work of a donkey if she does not own one.
32. Traditional Ethiopian Surma Tribal Marriage CustomsSurma or Suri (as they call themselves) are sedentary pastoral people living in the south west of Ethiopia, on the western bank of the Omo River.
Cows are extremely crucial to the Suri culture and they view cattle not simply as a material asset but as a life supporting and significant companion.
Men are only allowed to get married once they own sixty cows, upon which after the wedding ceremony, some cows are presented as gifts to the bride’s family.
33. Ethiopian Sodo Gurages Traditional Wedding CustomsThe parents of both girls and boys play an integral part in their lives, and this includes arranging their marriages.
It is on the Meskel Festival that the boy may choose the girl that he wishes to take as his bride.
At this point, the parents of the man will send the Shemagele or elder to the house of the girl for the marriage proposal, which often lasts about 15 days.
After this, a small party will be held in which traditional foods and drinks are served. By the end of the feast, the elderly will bless the leftover food and offer it to the girl along with some butter.
When she has finished eating, she will take the butter and smear her body with it.
With the elderly on looking, the groom’s father will give her 60 Ethiopian birr as dowry along with promises for earrings and necklaces in the future.
Furthermore, the girl’s fingers will be trimmed upon which she will be given a further 20 Ethiopian birr by the boys family.
15 days prior to the wedding, the girl will be invited to dine at the groom’s family home.
A day before the wedding, usually a Saturday, the girl will drink Kosso (Anthelmintic medicine) to ensure she is free from tapeworms and will abstain from food till Monday.
Ethiopian Oromo Wedding Traditions and Marriage Culture
34. Naqataa or BetrothalThis type of marriage is arranged by the parents of both families. The boy’s family finds a suitable bride for their son and move on to conduct research to ensure no blood ties.
Upon the completion of this, they initiate first contact with the girl’s family through a middleman.
Once the middleman has said what he needs to say, the girl’s parents give him a set of conditions that the groom and his family have to meet before the next meeting.
At this point, both families gather at a venue agreed upon by both for further negotiations.
Once all agree on the conditions, the couple gets engaged, and the parents set the date as well as pay for all the wedding expenses.
This is the most common wedding ceremony among the Ethiopian Oromo ethnicity.
35. Sabbat MariiThe second most common form of Oromo wedding tradition and culture is the Sabbat Marii, which can be considered as a forceful marriage.
It all takes place in a rush, the girl is asked for her hand in marriage, but the appointment arrangements are broken or bypassed completely.
In one instance, the wedding day ceremony is set but the boy’s parents secretly decide to hold the event on an earlier day. The second instance has the family of the girl with no knowledge of the coming wedding preparations or marriage.
36. HawwiiThis form of marriage is common for Oromo families that are considered to be low on social and financial status ladder and in some instances if the boy is found to be unattractive.
It interesting in that the marriage does not require the consent of the girl or her family.
Everything is controlled by the boy’s family.
37. ButiiThe Butii form of Oromo marriage tradition, often takes place when the boy is unaccepted by the girl or her parents.
In this instance, the boy decides to kidnap the girl in either of two ways.
The boy could get the girl to agree with him and arrange the time and place for the kidnapping. The second way is for the boy and his friends arranging to kidnap the girl without her knowledge or consent.
This often happens with poor families who are unable to afford high bride prices.
38. AseennaaThe Aseennaa form of Oromo marriage is not very common today.
In this instance an unmarried girl in her twenties who is under pressure to marry or just does not like her betrothed will run off to an unmarried young man of her choice.
Often without the boy’s knowledge and when his family members are not at home.
The boy cannot reject this marriage for fear of being ostracized, the next day the girl’s parents are told about the marriage that has taken place.
39. DhaalaThe Dhaala type of Oromo wedding tradition is also referred to as inheritance.
It often takes place between a woman and the brother of her deceased husband or a form of levirate marriage.
The reason for this type of marriage is to keep the deceased’s children within the family and to protect them from a step father’s mistreatment.
It usually takes place after a year of the man’s death and depends on the number of children born and how close she is to the parents of her dead husband.
If there are no children involved in the marriage, then the girl is free to return to her family’s home and get remarried.
40. Overall Oromo Wedding TraditionAlthough, all these forms of marriage are considered an important part of the Oromo wedding tradition, only the Naqataa or betrothal are con Naqataa siderd a formal form of marriage.
The rest are to be seen as informal, aside from the Dhaala which is due to unfortunate circumstances.
Tigre Weddings, Marriages and their Traditions
41. Tigre Marriage ContractsThe Tigre place importance on the marriage contract, with most marriages being contractual and monogamous. Most Tigre marriage contracts allow for the possibility of divorce as tradition does not prohibit it.
42. Marriage ArrangementsArranged marriages play an integral part in Tigre wedding traditions. In many cases, the parents of the groom and bride undertake the whole planning of the wedding.
Once the parents of the girl identify a potential groom to be for their daughter, they initiate negotiations with the parents of the boy.
With the completion of the negotiations, the parents proceed to plan the wedding ceremony, as well as the guest list, wedding venue, and food/drinks.
43. Virginity and ConservativeBeing mostly Christian and conservative the Tigre place a high importance on the purity of the girl. Virginity is treasured and has a high value.
Therefore, the girl who plans to be married should be ideally a virgin, or the groom and his family won’t accept her.
44. Tigre Dowry TraditionAccording to the traditional wedding practice of the Tigre tribe, the first marriage must have a dowry included.
Mostly animals are given to the couple as dowry by the family of the bride to be.
Second marriages; on the other hand require an equal contribution from both families.
45. DivorceWhen divorce is on the table, the person selected during the wedding to act as a marriage guardian will be called. The man or woman may ask for a divorce.
The marriage guardian will attempt all he can to make the couple stay together and forgo the divorce.
If no solution is in sight, the guardian along with elders in the community will usually oversee he division of property and the whole process.
46. Property and MarriageWhen the Tigre peoples of Ethiopia marry, they usually bring their own property into the marriage.
Upon divorce they each leave with the property they brought with them.
47. Church WeddingsAn interesting aspect of the Tigrean wedding ceremony is that despite the fact that most Tigrays are Orthodox Christians; weddings are not often held in churches.
As a matter of fact, older couples and deacons are the only ones who are often allowed to marry in churches.
48. 3 Day WeddingsThe Tigre weddings in Ethiopia last for a whole 3 days, with the 1st day being the day of the main wedding.
This is when the bride wears her white gown, while on the 2nd day she and her groom wear traditional Ethiopian clothing for a traditional ceremony.
The 3rd day of the Tigrean wedding is held a week later and is called Hamaweti, or the day of the in-laws.
49. Ferrying of the NewlywedsFor those who are being married for their first time, there is a bride service ceremony that must be undertaken.
This entails that for a period of time after the wedding, the newlyweds will go back and forth between both parents’ homes.
50. Inheritance and Tigre MarriageWhen it comes to inheritance the Tigre of Ethiopia have strict rules that apply.
The inheritance is allowed for both family lines and is determined a full year after the funeral of the deceased.