Nigeria is a potpourri of languages, religions, cultures, and traditions. Nigeria has an estimated 370 tribes, the main three being Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. The country is largely partitioned with Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. Weddings from all corners are commonly all-out, multi-day, colorful affairs with numerous cultural intricacies. Oftentimes, everyone’s invited, your outfit may depend on which side of the family you’re from, and quite literally, it rains money.
If invited to a “Naija” wedding, prepare for serious merrymaking, dancing, and eating to your heart’s content. We turned to experts Feyisola Ogunfemi and Jewel Odeyemi to answer some FAQs about Nigerian weddings.
Meet the Expert
- Feyisola Ogunfemi is a Nigerian wedding planner with over 10 years of experience, and the owner of Statuesque Events, which specializes in multicultural weddings on the East Coast and abroad. She grew up around weddings as her family designs custom traditional attire (aso-ebi) worn at Nigerian wedding ceremonies.
- Jewel Odeyemi is the founder of Touch of Jewel Events and Designs, an event and wedding planning company based in Dallas. She has planned countless ethnic and multicultural weddings over the past seven years and racked up multiple awards in the process.
- What should I wear to a Nigerian wedding? “Most guests wear eveningwear unless aso-ebi (color-coordinated traditional attire) is specified,” explains Ogunfemi. “Elders usually choose to wear aso-ebi and this is the case both in Nigeria and abroad.” Additionally, non-Nigerians who wish to wear traditional attire to weddings are welcome to do so.
- How long is a Nigerian wedding ceremony? Nigerian nuptial ceremonies are typically between 30 minutes to one hour long while the reception generally lasts anywhere from four to six hours so there’s enough time for outfit changes and sufficient dancing.
- Will the newlyweds kiss? At traditional Christian and church ceremonies, the couple may indeed kiss but this does not happen at Islamic weddings.
- Will there be alcohol? “The presence or absence of alcohol will largely depend on the beliefs and religion of the couple,” says Ogunfemi. You’ll typically find white and red wine, soft drinks, palm wine (tapped from a palm tree), and Guinness. Nigeria is the second-largest market for Guinness-consumption after Great Britain. Favored champagne and spirits brands include Moët & Chandon, Hennessy, and Remy Martin.
There are multiple layers to weddings from every tribe right from the proposal. 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. Both ceremonies could be days, weeks, or months apart. The white wedding customarily takes place in a church, but modern couples are opting for non-denominational venues.
The more the merrier is the motto at Nigerian weddings, which regularly exceed 250 guests. RSVPs are often futile and wedding crashing is de rigueur so additional guests are preemptively catered for. Nigerian weddings are community celebrations where extended family, distant relatives, neighbors, and well-wishers of any variety are expected. Getting married is a celebrated milestone for the couple as well as their parents who will proudly invite as many people as possible to partake in their children’s achievement.
Ahead, learn all about Nigerian wedding traditions and what they signify straight from the experts.
The Bride Price
It's universal across most Nigerian tribes for the man to provide an agreed set of items for 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 man is capable of taking care of her and their new family financially.
“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 Ogunfemi. “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. The men 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, which is the payment of the dowry or bride price. The final traditional ceremony is called Igba Nkwu or “wine carrying”. At this lively event, the bride must search for her future husband who is hiding among the crowd of men. She dances joyfully while scanning the room for him. She must correctly identify her fiancé and then offer him a cup of wine, which he must then drink from 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. They are usually older women and there’s one 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.
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. 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. Once this has been paid to the bride’s family, the wedding can take place. The Fatihah is the actual wedding day where 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
Kola nut is the bitter fruit of the kola tree. The breaking of the kola nut 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, a bride wears a white bridal gown and the groom wears a suit. They may choose to change into traditional attire later on during the reception. For traditional weddings, clothing varies according to the tribe.
Odeyemi 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. 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 and bedecked with gold lions all over. Another outfit change is on the cards once the couple is pronounced man and wife. This time the couple re-enter 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 indeed, other African countries.
“Spraying” is the highlight of the Nigerian wedding reception. Guests spray the couple with cash on the dance floor as a way of showering them with blessings and to keep them dancing on. There’s usually a live band and a DJ playing afrobeat, hip-hop, traditional, and contemporary music.
Couples can receive a lot of money this way to start married life and the bridesmaids help to pick up all the cash from the floor. The longer the couple dances, the more money they receive and they’ll be sprayed any time they’re on the dance floor. Whether or not there’s a registry, you’d always give a monetary gift to the couple and sometimes to their parents, too. Fill your wallet with singles and get ready to party. Fret not if you only have large bills; many weddings have a “change table.”
Nigerian wedding etiquette dictates that no guest may leave hungry. Expect generous helpings of party staples like jollof rice, which is so synonymous with weddings that it’s sometimes called “party rice” or “wedding rice.” 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. It is common to have both buffet and plated service with an array of options to appease all palates since there is fierce excitement around the food. 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.
You’ll know you’ve attended a Nigerian wedding when you depart with branded party favors with the couple’s photo, names, and wedding date. These range from fans and kitchenware to clocks and even power banks. Attending a wedding is one of the best ways to experience the richness of Nigeria. Come for the food, flying cash, and festivity, and leave with great memories and perhaps a monogrammed clock (or two).