Nigeria is a potpourri of languages, religions, cultures, and traditions. The country is estimated to have 371 tribes—the main three being Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba—with a large Muslim community in the north and Christians in the south. Even though Nigeria is a melting pot of culture and rich history, their magnificent wedding celebrations serve as a custom that unites everyone together. Specifically, there are multiple layers commonly associated with Nigerian nuptials, including several days of celebrations based on one's tribe. For Igbo and Yoruba people, the traditional wedding comes first, followed by a church ceremony that is often referred to as the “white wedding” due to the color of the bride’s gown. Nigerian nuptials are also community celebrations where extended family, distant relatives, neighbors, and well-wishers of any variety are expected to attend—often garnering a guest list of 250 guests or more.
To further highlight the various customs that "Naija" couples can incorporate into their own special days, we asked two experts to break down 10 common Nigerian wedding traditions and what they signify for couples today.
Meet the Expert
- Feyisola Ogunfemi is a wedding planner and owner of Statuesque Events. She has over 10 years of experience and specializes in multicultural weddings on the East Coast and abroad.
- Jewel Odeyemi is the founder of Touch of Jewel Events and Designs, an event and wedding planning company based in Dallas, Texas. She has planned countless multicultural weddings over the past seven years and racked up multiple awards in the process.
The Bride Price
It's universal across most Nigerian tribes for men to offer an agreed set of items to the bride’s family before the marriage may take place. This is known as eru iyawo in Yoruba, rubu dinar in Hausa, or simply as the bride price. This does not indicate that a woman is being sold, but it is rather a symbolic gesture to prove that the male is financially capable of taking care of the bride and their new family.
“This is also to compensate the bride’s family for the loss of income or labor he is extracting from the family by marrying her and taking her away,” says Feyisola Ogunfemi, a Nigerian wedding planner and owner of Statuesque Events. “This can sometimes be quite exorbitant and the price increases if the woman has a university degree. The groom's family brings the requested items and once it's determined that they've met the requirements, the event can proceed.” The bride price is usually a combination of cash and gifts ranging from clothes, household goods, food, and sometimes animals.
When an Igbo man wishes to marry a woman, he goes with his father and other male relatives to knock on the bride's family’s door in a process called Ikuaka or “knocking.” It is normally the man’s father (or uncle, elder brother, or older living male relative) who announces his intentions to marry the woman. Within this tradition, the men also come bearing gifts such as kola nuts and alcoholic beverages, which Nigerians sometimes refer to as “hot drinks.”
The second stage of an Igbo wedding is Ime Ego, the payment of the dowry or bride price, which is then followed by the Igba Nkwu or “wine carrying”. At the Igba Nkwu, the bride must search for her future husband who is hiding amongst a crowd of men. She will dance joyfully while scanning the room for her fiancé, and must correctly identify him by offering him a cup of wine, which he must then drink to denote he is indeed her groom. The couple is then declared married, there’s another outfit change, and jubilant dancing erupts.
Traditional Yoruba weddings are large and lively with anywhere between 200 to 1,000 guests in attendance. These ceremonies are hosted by two MCs, known as alagas, who are usually older women from each side of the family. The alagas are boisterous, charismatic characters that add humor to the day. They are accompanied by a talking drummer for the entirety of the event, who pumps in additional vigor and excitement with each beat.
Additionally, Yorubas have a greeting custom known as Ìdobálè whereby males prostrate, placing their full bodies on the ground as a sign of respect. The groom and his groomsmen must prostrate before the bride’s family and the chest must touch the ground completely for the greeting to be complete. Ogunfemi, who is Yoruba herself, notes that “once the men prostrate on the ground, the bride’s family asks a few questions, the groom is seated, and then the bride enters with her ladies who are all wearing matching aso-ebi (traditional attire). After this, she places a hat on the groom's head and then he carries her. This is known as Igbeyawo. He then places a ring on her finger and they are pronounced married.”
Matrimony among Hausa people begins with the payment of the bride price which is called Kayan Zander. A lower bride price is incidentally said to result in greater blessings for the couple, and once this has been paid to the bride’s family, the wedding or Fatihah can take place. During the Fatihah (the actual wedding day), representatives from both families exchange vows before the religious priest and not the couple themselves.
Event number three, Wuni, is ladies-only. Here, the bride enjoys time with her female friends adorning their hands with henna. During Kamun Amariya, the groom’s relatives then playfully negotiate with the ladies for the “release” of the bride for the reception. Finally, the bride is escorted to her matrimonial home in a process called Kai Amariya.
Kola Nut Ceremony
The breaking of the kola nut—the bitter fruit of the kola tree—signifies the start of any traditional event for many tribes, and is a way for elders to welcome guests. The nuts must first be blessed before they are broken and the more parts the kola nut breaks into, the more prosperity the hosts and visitors will receive.
For the church wedding, the bride wears a white wedding gown and the groom wears a suit. The couple may then choose to change into traditional attire later on during the reception. For traditional weddings, clothing varies according to the tribe.
Jewel Odeyemi, wedding planner and founder of Touch of Jewel Events and Designs, notes that in traditional Yoruba weddings, the women usually wear an iro and buba, a vibrant wrapper and top outfit that is usually heavily beaded, along with a veil and an ipele shoulder scarf. They also carry a fan and tie a gele (an ornate head wrap). The men wear an agbada, which is an oversized kaftan made from asa-oke fabric, and the color always complements the bride’s fabric. These ensembles can also vary since couples typically have several looks throughout the event.
At the Igbo traditional wedding (Igba Nkwu), women wear various outfits throughout the evening with a coral crown and necklace, while the men wear the isi agwu (lion head) fabric that’s usually black, red, white, or blue, bedecked with gold lions all over. Another outfit change usually happens once the couple is pronounced husband and wife, resulting in the pair re-entering their wedding in matching attire.
Aso-ebi means “the family clothes” and this is one of the most striking aspects of Nigerian weddings. The couple decides on a uniform color scheme that each side of the family shall follow. “It’s a way to differentiate the bride’s family from the groom’s based on the fabrics and colors they’re wearing. It’s also common to see the couple’s friends wearing their own separate aso-ebi”, says Odeyemi. Aso-ebi was primarily an element of Yoruba weddings but this elaborate, harmonious attire has since spread to other Nigerian tribes and African countries.
“Spraying” is the highlight of a Nigerian wedding reception, and involves guests spraying the couple with cash as a way to shower them with blessings. During this portion, there’s usually a live band and a DJ playing afrobeat, hip-hop, traditional, and contemporary music while the couple dances together for as long as possible. Couples typically receive a lot of cash with this tradition, as they generally receive more money the longer they dance.
Nigerian wedding etiquette dictates that no guest may leave hungry. Generous helpings of party staples, like jollof rice—which is so synonymous with weddings that it’s sometimes called “party rice” or “wedding rice"—are almost always served. Jollof is a celebrated Nigerian dish and its provenance is hotly contested—there is a long-standing rivalry with neighboring Ghana regarding whom does it better.
“For the cocktail hour or appetizers, we typically serve what we call ‘small chops’—things like meat pie, sausage rolls, samosas, puff puff, chin chin, and spicy meat skewers called suya”, explains Odeyemi. Additionally, it's common to have both a buffet and plated service with an array of options. Particularly at traditional weddings, the main menu will consist of “swallow” (foods that you don’t chew but can swallow) like fufu, which is then paired with a thick and spicy soup.
Most Nigerian couples gift their guests with branded party favors incorporating a photo and wedding date. These range from fans and kitchenware to clocks and even power banks. Once the celebration is over, these gifts are a way to help guests depart with great memories and perhaps a monogrammed clock (or two).