The groom-to-be told us, “Once you’ve experienced a Nigerian wedding, you’ll never be the same!”. We gladly report that he was correct.
The wedding of Jumoke and Gbolahan was a two-day extravaganza. On Thursday there was the traditional wedding/engagement ceremony for 600. On Saturday, the celebration continued with a church wedding (aka “the white wedding”) and a reception for over 1,000, complete with gifts for the guests! We were so lucky to be able to experience this series of events. Apparently, the size and scope of this wedding celebration was not out of the norm for Nigeria, even though in our narrow experience, this was a spectacular sequence of events, as recorded by Ed in this gallery.
Traditional Wedding (or Engagement Ceremony)
The traditional wedding was held at Lagos City Hall. Our invitation said 12:00 pm. So, we rushed to arrive at 11:55 (in a rainstorm) only to find that the main hall was just getting set up. The beefy, armed bouncers looked at us warily. We didn’t look like typical invitees. They asked to see the invitation. We mentioned the groom’s first name, but they stared at us blankly. When we finally entered the room, we encountered a table full of ladies in blue headdresses (called “gele”) and gold gowns. I showed them the groom’s name on my iPhone, and asked if we were in the right place. They beamed…. “YES, YOU’RE WELCOME!” So, we entered and took a seat at a table near them in the back of the room.
The traditional wedding simulates the engagement ceremony held in the village. Most guests dressed “asho ebi” in the appropriate colors to signify that they are friends of the family of the bride or the groom. By 1:30 pm, our side was filled with people in gold dresses or tunics with blue headpieces. This signified the village of the groom.
The other side of the room was decked in white and orange. This was the village of the bride.
In the traditional ceremony, the groom’s family (and village) visits the bride’s village with a dowry for the bride, plus an official engagement letter. This was reenacted during the service in twelve scenes. Luckily the people sitting next to us gave us a play-by-play, so we sort of understood what was happening. Each side had two professional singers/narrators to lead their side.
In our naive view, we called the sides “the blue team” and “the orange team”, which elicited smiles and chuckles from the locals.
The bride and groom arrived separately in the fourth and fifth scenes and then were joined together in the seventh. They sat side-by-side the stage on a regal throne for the last few scenes.
In some sense the bride and groom were an afterthought in this ceremony, which mostly showed the families checking each other out. The bride’s family received the gifts from the groom’s family and everyone ended up very happy. At one point, part of the dowry--a frightened goat--arrived near the illuminated presents and almost jumped down from the stage, but he was quickly rescued.
There was lots of singing and many tributes and the official program outlined the different segments of the event.
On Saturday, the church was decked out with white bows and colorful flowers. But, the audience added the most color. The color “du jour” was pink with bright purple geles. The ladies arrived in full splendor and loved getting their picture taken.
Jan emerged in her Nigerian party dress, complete with mini-gele. Even the maid and the security guards at the hotel took notice, “Madam…very nice!” She asked a local to tie the scarf for her.
The bride and groom arrived with much pomp and circumstance and the service followed a traditional order, with Christian hymns (How Great Thou Art) and prayers. After the sermon, the pastor announced that it was time for dancing in the aisles. The drums started booming, complete with gospel choir and trumpets. But, before everyone stood up, he stated, “Ladies and Gentlemen … please take your cell phones and purses with you…because… this is Lagos!” (After our experience earlier this week, we took note.)
The final event was a reception for more than 1,000. The hall was decked out with white jewels and ribbons. Again the bride and groom had an elegant throne.
Even the children were decked out in their traditional garb!
The men displayed a rich range of traditional hat styles, often using the color and fabric de jour.
And the women wore their geles with flair and style
We enjoyed chatting with Ed’s client, who looked like royalty.
And then there was the fun photo booth, where everyone let loose.
The wedding extravaganza was a wonderful experience – with memories we will always cherish. At our next Nigerian wedding, Jan can wear her dress and scarf, but we will have to get Ed a traditional outfit to match! His suit and tie were much too boring.