Assistants to the Bride

Informant AM is a graduate student from San Jose California, whose family is originally from Ethiopia. There is a strong Ethiopian diasporic community in San Jose, where much of its traditions live on.


“It’s not necessarily the younger cousins, it’s the ones that they think are next to get married. For example, my cousin got married, she’s 8 years older than me, but they assume I’m the next cousin to get married so I have to be her right hand woman — well it was me and my cousin because we’re around the same age. We call it ‘Protocol,’ but it’s like an assistant to the bride.”


Informant AM witnessed this tradition in primarily Ethiopian Orthodox Christian weddings. Ethiopia is a country with 36 million Orthodox Christians as of 2017, according to the Pew Research Center (Diamant). Ethiopian Orthodox culture, like many others, places heavy emphasis on the marriage. In Orthodox Christinaity, the marriage reflects the original bond of Adam and Eve and subsequent bonds between husband and wife, such as that between the biblical figures Abraham and Sarah. In fact, Ethiopians will often give a new couple a blessing which translates roughly to “May your marriage be like Abraham and Sarah’s.”


This tradition resembles other wedding traditions that intensify the importance of marriage in a community, such as the tradition where the bride throws a bouquet of flowers behind her, and the person who catches the bouquet is likely the person to be married next. Both traditions serve to intensify and perpetuate the importance of marriage in a community by encouraging the next person in line to consider marriage, and reflects the importance of marriage in the American and Ethiopian communities which practice this tradition. This tradition also reflects the syncretism which takes place when traditional Ethiopian weddings mix with their American settings. Informant AM mentioned that the assistants are labeled ‘protocol,’ but the word “protocol” is meant to be used in a sentence spoken in Amharic, a language in Ethiopia. Effectively, this English word has been adopted into the Amharic language as a result of its prolonged exposure. From my own observation, another word that fits this description is the word “program,” which Amharic speakers in the United States and Ethiopia slip effortlessly into their otherwise Amharic sentences.