Ethiopian weddings follow both traditional and modern rituals. The families of both the bride and the groom have important roles in the preparations, as well as on the day of the ceremony. Men don either tuxedos or suits, while the bride wears a white wedding gown. Rituals vary slightly between subcultures.
Traditionally, arranged marriages were the norm. The tradition is become less and less practiced, though, particularly in urban area. In Ethiopia, it is common for the male’s family to present the female’s family with a dowry. The amount of the dowry depends on the wealth of both families. The dowry can include livestock or other valued items apart from money.
The elders of both families decide where the wedding will take place. Christian ceremonies usually take place in an Orthodox church. They also prepare the food and drink for the ceremony; the families will brew wine and beer, and cook the wedding food.
Ethiopian wedding foods are spicy and largely made up of meats and vegetables. Beef, chicken and lamb is eaten along with injera on special occasions. Traditionally, the beef was eaten raw, however modern Ethiopians prefer to have their meats cooked. Pork is not typically seen at an Ethiopian wedding.
The coffee ceremony is a traditional ritual performed at special occasions. Green coffee beans are roasted over a fire and then ground with a mortar and pestle. The powder is then placed in a black pot called a jebena, and water is added. After brewing, the coffee is served with kolo, or whole-grain barley. Tej, or honey wine, may also be served during a wedding. Tej is flavored with gesho plant leaves and twigs and poured from a tube-shaped flask.
Oromo people make preparations for the wedding for a month before the occasion. On the couple’s wedding day, relatives and guests will assemble at the bride’s and groom’s houses. The groom dresses for the wedding and is blessed by his relatives. He then picks up the bride from her house. The bride and her party meet the groom at the entrance of her home amongst beating drums and bar him from entering until he has paid the dowry.
Amongst the Amhara people, the bride and groom’s families are responsible for arranging marriages. A civil ceremony solidifies the contract and a priest may or may not be present. An oral contract or “temporary marriage” is made before witnesses. The woman will be paid housekeeper’s wages during the marriage. While the wife is not eligible for inheritance, the couple’s children are. While divorce is allowed in Amhara marriages, it must be negotiated first.
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As a full-time writer in New York's Hudson Valley, Lindsay Pietroluongo's nightlife column and photos have appeared regularly in the "Poughkeepsie Journal" since 2007. Additional publications include "Chronogram," the "New Paltz Sojourn," "About Town" newspaper and "Outsider" magazine. Pietroluongo graduated from Marist College with a B.A. in English.