Over the years covering Yoruba traditional wedding ceremonies, as a professional wedding photographer, I have noticed the accurate attention to detail in carrying out all the activities that sets it apart from other traditional weddings I have covered. The Yoruba traditional wedding ceremony has in its composition a sort of three square meal approach for it to be complete. Starting from introduction, to engagement, to the white wedding which is used to wrap everything up.
We know how Saturdays and weddings can be likened to Christians and Sundays, Muslims and Fridays, the fun lovers and Friday night clubbing. The religious day for weddings in Nigeria is the Saturday. Just like all other tribe and mixed tribe weddings that are billed to take place on that day, the Yoruba traditional wedding ceremony is no exception, Saturdays are super dotted with them everywhere especially in the south western part of Nigeria.
The place of white wedding
You are at liberty to strip everything away from a typical Nigerian wedding and make it lose it essence, rendering it ‘null and void.’ You however, are not allowed to remove the religious aspect of a Nigerian wedding. The belief that God is and should be the leader of marriages is well entrenched in the psyche every Nigerian at all levels. Having the author of the union between Adam and Eve (the first men) as the head of any holy union is not a bad idea after all.
Therefore, if we are going to single out a Yoruba wedding like the union of Deji and Ronke from the Nigerian wedding sphere, to talk about the chronology of events, we are definitely going to include the white wedding. This usually comes immediately after the yoruba traditional wedding ceremony.
By the way, one funny occurrence I have noticed with some guests to a wedding ceremony, is their religious affinity to the reception where they are already seated waiting for the ‘item 7’ ministrations while the church service is still in session at a different location. And they are sometimes the majority. Imagine not hosting a reception for your wedding ceremony.
Another thing of note is the way a one-day wedding can suck the life out of adequate preparation for the next line of event. From the bride’s preparation done haphazardly in order to meet up with time, to her and her friends realising they have used part of the time they were supposed to be at the venue, rushing up everything and running to the venue of engagement and white wedding, to the anchors from bride and groom side calling up the couple to hurry up, to the guests wondering if actually a wedding is going to hold because it looks like the bride and groom might have changed their mind… on and on. A rollercoaster of some sort. The time is just never enough.
Let the chronology begin
From introduction to traditional wedding (pseudo engagement) to white wedding (church wedding) to the reception; excluding the introduction, it seems a couple has got a lot on their hands to deal with in one Saturday. In some cases, a Nigerian wedding ceremony can last for two or three days depending on how financially disposed the couple is.
The Pre-Wedding shoot session
This days, the first event culminating to the wedding day is the pre-wedding shoot session. I see it as a special timeline leading to the wedding date proper. It is a time intending couples use to celebrate the love and trust they have shared plus the unpleasant times, and how they have been able to remain together even after experiencing times that would have separated them.
Deji and Ronke did not mince the romantic feelings pouring out of where they have the soft spots for each other, even as they posed for their pre-wedding shoot. Their readiness to see the wedding day come to pass further fuelled their excitement before my camera. And it was all like you are seeing two love birds that are not going to ever get tired of giving each other the attention. In my head it was sort of: have this guys not known each other for some time now. Why are they taking this lovey-dovey affair way out of my emotional grasp that I felt so inadequate. Love is beautiful indeed.
Ronke and her retinue of friends all clad in their shiny white, pink and red silky gown, making the night before the day of her wedding to her heartthrob, Deji, look like happiness has different beautiful colours to it. What better way to celebrate your last day as a single lady than having your single friends come around to show you love, by presentation of gifts and showers of heartfelt well wishes for the bride-to-be, Ronke, as she takes the next step of her life into the “married women” caucus.
The Engagement (Yoruba Traditional Wedding)
Two people you can’t do without at such an event as this are, the “Alaga Ijoko” (anchor from the bride’s side) and “Alaga iduro” (anchor from the groom’s side). They are the personalities armed with knowledge of the backgrounds of the two families, to coordinate the smooth inter-family relations and engagement throughout the whole time the tradition wedding will last.
The two families meet
It is customary in a Yoruba traditional wedding, that the brides family will wait for the arrival of the groom’s family and they share pleasantries as in-laws to-be.
At the venue, Ronke’s family are seated waiting to receive their in-laws (deji’s family). Prior to them meeting Ronke’s family where they are seated waiting, the Alaga Ijoko makes some monetary requirements of the groom’s family. And this is not as simple as it sounds though. This is like a gate pass.
Upon scaling ‘all the hurdles’ (one of which is stating their reason for coming to meet Ronke’s family to the Alaga Ijoko) and after gaining entrance to meet their amiable in-laws, the two families exchange pleasantries, and Deji’s family all kneeling and prostrate before Ronke’s family as it is required by tradition, to show they have come to, in all humility, respectfully ask for their daughter’s hand in marriage, and prayers made for the success of the day’s event. Then the Alaga Ijoko beckons to Deji’s family to seat directly opposite Ronke’s family.
Proposal and Acceptance letter exchange between the families
It is at this point that the Alaga iduro (representing Deji’s family) present a proposal letter to Ronke’s family, handing it over to the Alaga Ijoko (representing Ronke’s family). Then a young female from Ronke’s family is called forward to read aloud the content of the proposal letter from Deji’s family. In the same vein, an acceptance letter is presented to the Alaga iduro from Alaga Ijoko on behalf of Ronke’s family. This one is not read out by anyone.
Coming to officially ask the family of your Yoruba bride for their daughter’s hand in marriage, you know better not to do it casually. Deji understands this and he is not alone. With some women (Awon iyawo ati iya’le) in his family tree, he turns the trail to the entrance of the venue where his family and Ronke’s family are seated, into a dance floor.
And as he dances with the support of the women to the entrance, they are met once again by the Alaga Ijoko who makes sure she puts a little frustration into their advancing past the entrance. Some people have just made it their job to remind you that getting a good wife is not something that comes stress free or cheap.
Paying homage to his inlaws
Beyond the entrance (the Alaga Ijoko wahala), Deji and the women with him continue dancing as they approach Ronke’s kit and kin. And seeing that they have done their part accompanying Deji to his in-laws, all the women with him disperse.
Deji, joined by his friends, they begin to perform all the rites as it is with a man who must show that he is worthy to be the husband of Ronke in front of her family. A vital part of this ritual is him prostrating for a number of times, as directed by the Alaga Ijoko, and receive blessings through prayers from his bride family and his own family. After observing all the rites, as it is required at a yoruba traditional wedding ceremony, he takes his sit at a place dedicated for the bride and groom.
It is no news that one of the happiest days in the life of a bride, is the day she gets married to the love of her life. But everything about how Ronke and her friends handle their dance steps, moving forward and going in unison like lilies on a still river, only makes me to think this is some kind of breaking news. It is her own new joy, her own new happiness, her own new journey. You don’t want to deny a bride what rightfully belongs to her – her own definition of what makes her happy.
All veiled and looking like the perfect gift for Deji unwrap, Ronke and her group of friends and family members dance to the venue, where her family and in-laws are waiting to receive her. And she meets her family, kneels before her parents for prayers. Does the same with Deji’s parents and they pray for her.
Then she goes to where her husband is and there, she kneels before him as a sign of submission and he takes of the veil off to assess his cherished gift of a wife. Afterwards, Deji gifts Ronke lots of money as a sign that he is going to be a responsible husband and be devoted to her. Ronke proceeds to get Deji’s cap and comes back to where it on his head. This is symbolic as it signifies that she accepts his proposal to be her husband and head. I kind of look at this moment as, “who the cap fit wears it..”
Gift for the bride
Not to forget. As it is with all Yoruba traditional wedding ceremony, Deji’s family did not come empty handed asking for Ronke’s hand in marriage. Lots of gift came with them specifically for the bride. Included in the gifts is the religious book (Bible/Quran) of her faith, which the Alaga Ijoko ask Ronke to pick up. She picks the bible which has attached to it a ring, presents it to Deji, and he in turn wears the ring on her finger and he displays the ring worn on her finger, to the guests.
Lastly on the chronology of things, “youruba traditional wedding ceremony,” is the cutting of the engagement cake. This cake design is not your regular design. A look at it gives you an idea of how culturally symbolic it is this kind of wedding. They both cut the cake and share a morsel with each other.
After cutting the cake, Ronke’s family now officially hand her to Deji’s family as a sign they fully accept that Ronke can be part of her husband’s family.
Photos from the church service
Photos with family and friends
On a final note. As if to tell you they are not done yet making you spend a lot to host them at your wedding ceremony, families and friends begin to put you on notice; about coming very soon for your naming ceremony (ikomo), with all the gentle threats of coming solely to finish your food. This is what is expected of newly weds and it is a way of praying for them to be fruitful in their new home. Don’t we all need prayers?