Tag Archives: bridal

Ethiopian Wedding Traditions

Context & Analysis

The subject and I exchanged stories of our family’s traditions while sitting in a class discussion. She mentioned that she and her family were from Ethiopia, so I asked her if she knew of any unique Ethiopian traditions that westerners might not be familiar with. She provided me with an overview of traditional Ethiopian weddings gathered from the ones she and her family attend on a (mostly) yearly basis. She emphasized how many of the ritualistic parts of the wedding preparation are altered or substituted depending on each family’s preferences or personal ties to the country. The transcription is a little disjointed at times because the subject attempted to recount a variety of wedding traditions encapsulated in the ceremony. It was quite interesting to hear a younger woman’s take on these traditional ceremonies.

Main Piece

“So…for Ethiopian weddings…it’s like a, um, a couple days long process—actually it can take up to a month usually. I have 8 aunts on my mom’s side so—and I’ve been alive and I’ve missed three weddings—so every single summer someone is getting married. So like the whole summer we go back to Ethiopia or we travel back to where they are and so actually…there’s a process you do when you have your weddings. So first there’s the, uh, bride’s family celebration and they wash the bride’s feet in honey and milk and, um, they do all her makeup and beauty and stuff and they’ll like play this game there where the groom tries to break in [to the room the bride is in] and they’ll be like “No you can’t be in there!” [laughs], and that’s pretty cool. And these things are mostly ritualistic, like you’re not actually pouring milk on the bride’s feet but some people do. I’ve been to a couple of weddings where people have, um, and that is traditionally the night before the wedding. And the day of the wedding it’s—with my family it’s a lot of pictures and posing. I know with traditions they have the husband—the groom—has to kill a bull, or like a goat, and they cook it for dinner, like the wedding dinner. Like in most American ideas of [a traditional Ethiopian] wedding this happens but it’s like miming, which is like kind of a new tradition, um, but yea. There’s a huge selection of Ethiopian foods and a huge section of raw meat, that’s a thing that people eat a lot, and afterward you have a big dinner the day after which is the bride and groom’s first big party together, hosting like their friends and family. And it’s basically everyone goes over during the day—it’s not like a nighttime celebration—um, and then after that (I cannot remember the name of it). It’s just the bride and groom’s parents and they serve them dinner for the first time, like as a couple, um, in their own house. There’s a lot of ritual of, like, respecting your elders and stuff.”

Chinese Bridal Dowry

Informant: “I have little brother, and my mother always used to tell me that it’d be perfect if I married a Chinese man, because then he’d [his side of the family] would have to pay for the wedding. And if my little brother married an American women, she’d [her side of the family] have to pay for the dowry. So that way we’d be saving money, haha (laughs).”

Me: “Did your husband have to pay for the wedding?”

Informant: “Well, we didn’t have a wedding. (laughs.) So I guess he got off free. He didn’t have to provide Jia Zhuang for me.”

Me: “Do people still do this?”

Informant: “Well, people who are more modern won’t care. After all, most people in China wear white wedding dresses instead of red now that China’s becoming more globalized and what not. Many families share the load of the wedding fee.”

Analysis: 嫁妆, (jia zhuang) literally means “Wedding Decoration”. In the traditional sense, this could include gold jewelry, embellishments, red shoes and bedding, etc. Now, it has expanded to include modern things like appliances.

Through my research I discovered that in China, the bride’s family does pay a dowry but gives it to the bride. Instead, when asking for the bride’s hand, the groom has to give gifts to the family. These gifts, “jia zhuang”, are similar to what typical American couples register for. Bedding, curtains, simple household appliances may all be included. Some of these the family will let the bride keep. It symbolizes respect for the family. What was most important was that it proved that the groom was capable of providing a good life style for the bride.

This goes down to cultural roots and practices such as filial piety, and having respect for one’s elders. When the bride marries the groom, she essentially becomes part of the groom’s family and leaves her own family.

My informant is 53, and currently works as a manager for Dow chemicals. She was born in QingDao China and currently resides in Beijing.