South African Wedding Traditions and Symbols

The marriage of two people is something to be celebrated regardless of the culture, and in South Africa it is no different. There are many wonderful wedding traditions and symbols that are part of the charm and interesting to those experiencing another’s cultural differences. Tradition forms a part of most wedding ceremonies and is as important to the two people getting married as it is to the guests who witness their union.

There are 12 symbols that are traditionally part of the wedding ceremony and are representative of what the couple should expect to both enjoy and endure during their married years together. The symbols are referred to as the 12 symbols of life and are as follows:

  • Salt – represents healing and preservation of marriage
  • Pepper – represents heated times the family will face
  • Wheat – represents fertility and the giving of life and land
  • Wine – represents the mixing of the blood of two families
  • Bitter Herbs – represents growing pains of married life
  • Holy Book – represents God’s truth and power
  • Broom – represents cleanliness of health and well-being, sweeping away the old to make room for the new
  • Honey – represents the sweet love between the couple
  • Spoon and Pot – represents healthy food to build span class="styor" families
  • Spear – represents protection of the home and community
  • Shield – represents honor and pride of the home
  • Water – purity and dissolution of bad feelings and bitterness

Some traditions of a South African wedding are very similar in nature to those honored in the Western world. The following are some of the more commonly practiced:

Tying the Knot – While tying the knot is a colloquial term for getting married it originates from the tying of the couple’s hands together to represent their union. The binding of the hands was to signify that the two were bound to each other for the rest of their lives.

Tiered Wedding Cake – The wedding cake is linked to fertility and having a large family and is representative of good fortune in having many healthy children. Traditionally the wedding cake was crumbled over the couple’s heads but today the tradition is that the bride and groom feed the cake to each other.

Carrying the Bride Over the Threshold – This is a tradition that on the surface seems loving and caring of the groom to ensure his bride enters the marriage home without tripping but the purpose is really to ensure that any evil spirits that may be lurking inside the home are unable to harm the bride.

Lighting the Fire – Both the bride’s family and the family of the groom are to bring fire from their homes to light a new fire in the home of the newly married couple in an effort to ensure good luck befalls both the newlyweds and their families.

Wedding Feast – The Karamu, as the wedding feast is called, is not enjoyed until it is blessed by the oldest male present at the reception and a blessing given to the newly married couple. Once the blessings have been spoken the reception can then begin.

Feeding Others – The bride is required to feed her husband to show those present how well she will take care of him, and the couple will feed each other’s families beginning with the oldest members, to show the union between the two families.

Presenting the Husband – Once the bride has fed her husband she will then present him to her parents as her husband. The parents will question her as to whether she has entered into this marriage of her own volition and she will affirm in front of all of the guests.

Money Dance – A tradition in South African culture is that the bride and groom dance together for as long as they can while the guests shower them with money. The money is then gathered up and depending upon the culture may be kept by the newlyweds or in some cultures it is given to the mother of the bride.

Jumping the Broom – An old tradition, the jumping of the broom is still often done today to signify the couple’s marriage. Drums will beat loudly as the couple undertakes the actual jumping of the broom. Brooms range from the simplest to ornate brooms encrusted with precious stones, flowers and ribbons.

Insults – Not practiced in all wedding ceremonies this interesting and somewhat charming tradition involves the bride’s side of the family chanting insults at the groom’s side of the family and vice versa. The insults will typically worsen with each one chanted.

Libation Rites – Before the ceremony the couple honors their ancestors by praying to them in a chant and sprinkling alcohol or water on the ground.

Passing Responsibility – A shoe is traditionally tied to the back of the groom’s car to signify that the father of the bride has officially released his daughter into the care of her new husband.

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