Big Fat Ethiopian Weddings

It is almost that time of the year again. The fasting season of the religion with the most significant share of the Ethiopian population will soon wrap up. Perhaps more importantly, the sun is shining bright, patronage of the sunny season. Thus, wedding vibes are running high.

A wedding day is an essential rite of passage for the majority of Ethiopians. One is not only encouraged to get married but is mandated to it as a prerequisite for living in the Ethiopian community.

Everyone has that relative or two who is at every family gathering and is talked about in whispers about their marital status. And if one would decide to cross over the realm and choose that marriage is for them, the wedding is another mandatory step, not only for the happy couple but also the parents.

Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, second cousins, and more, are all included in the wedding activities and not just to attend. While the invites are inclusive starting from close family members to those of whom only tales are heard, there are rare couples who choose smaller, more intimate weddings, be it for personal or financial reasons. The latter is not a typical practice.

As the Ethiopian culture has always been about communities and socialising, friends or families that are not invited to the weddings take it more personally and consider it disrespectful. Also, a wedding is more about the parents of the bride and groom than about the couple who are to get hitched.

Ethiopians are known for their extravagant weddings with a 600-plus guest list of family and friends that would swarm the wedding in both traditional and modern attire. The proceedings of a wedding are most tedious for the bride and the bridesmaids.

Especially on the wedding day, when they are made to wake up before the break of dawn, usually around 3am, to make their way to a hair salon where they are ‘pampered’ head to toe with different makeup and hairstyles. The groom for his part is often than not asleep and relaxed at this point.

Then, the wedding proceedings will be underway. Close family members and friends are made to accompany the couple throughout the day. The guests would be around for the intimate photo sessions that take place in green areas to the farewell ceremony of the newlyweds with the chant ‘Hayloga Ye Ho”.

Here, there will be a few remnants of the old and grotesque tradition of women getting taken to the husband by force. The modern version has been the groomsmen pretending to steal the bride.

As fun as it may seem to some, why this practice still exists, whether for play or otherwise, is beyond me?

Anyways,occasion, the attire is one of the most critical aspects of the wedding. Family members and friends that accompany the bride and the groom form small groups amongst each other to have similarly made traditional clothing, which adds to the festivities of the day.

Although there are a lot of aspects of the wedding that remain very traditional, for instance, the music and some of the attire, nowadays, there is a lot of modernity added to the festivities. Many in the creative industry have not only benefitted but have flourished in this lavish undertaking.

The married couple, the bridesmaids and the groomsmen at times take it upon themselves to entertain the guests. They all practice a dance choreography weeks ahead and perform it for their guests. The dance routine is usually performed at the entrance and then again right before the first dance of the bride and the groom. This new trend has become infused within the tradition and is now expected at most weddings.

Another new trend that is fast emerging is a lip-sync performance of the groom for his bride or vice versa. They either sing together, or each picks a song they believe best embodies their affection for their significant other as their guests stare in awe. It is corny but sweet to look at in the end.

Setting aside all the sweat and tears that accompany a large wedding, along with the culture and tradition infused with modernisation, it is evident that it is one of the most significant milestones in someone’s life. Being able to keep the treasured family traditions, starting a life with a partner of our choice and having pictures and videos that we could show to our grandchildren, years ahead of the “magical day” with all our family and friends enjoying the wedding ceremony, is a joy that transcends generations.

That said, there is a culture of overspending for weddings. This usually leads to debt that cannot be paid off – a lot of stress for newlyweds. Even though I believe celebrating matrimony is admirable, it should never be at the expense of one’s marriage or sanity.

By Hanna Haile
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer, researcher and social worker who uses her writing to promote social and gender equality, identity and women’s rights. She is one of the organisers of Poetic Saturday at Fendika Cultural Centre where she performs spoken word poetry every first Saturday of the month.

Published on Dec 23,2017 [ Vol 18 ,No 921]



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