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Kikuyu and African American Wedding Traditions

Our wedding signifies the joining of two people, two families and two cultures. For those who are unfamiliar with Kikuyu or African American culture, we have included this guide to explain a few traditions and things you may see on our wedding day.

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Jumping The Broom

The significance of the broom to Black heritage and history originates in the West African country of Ghana during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The broom was used by married women to maintain the home, ward off or remove evil spirits and sweep away past wrongs. 
 

During the marriage ceremony, brooms were waved over the heads of marrying couples to ward off spirits. The couple would often jump over the broom at the end of the ceremony, symbolizing the wife's commitment and willingness to maintain the new home she had joined. It also represented the determination of who ran the household. Whoever jumped highest over the broom could be the decision-maker of the household (usually the man). 


The jumping of the broom was largely discarded after Emancipation in America which was consistent with the eventual fall of the Ashanti Confederacy in Ghana in 1897 and the coming of British customs. Jumping the Broom did survive in the Americas, especially in the United States, among slaves brought from the Asante area. This particular Akan practice of jumping the broom was picked up by other African ethnic groups in the Americas and used to strengthen marriages during slavery among their communities as slaves were not allowed to have “traditional” European ceremonies or certificates of marriage. 


Today, many African and African American couples include jumping the broom at the end of their wedding ceremonies as a tribute to tradition. 

Kikuyu Marriage Traditions

Kũhanda Ithĩgĩĩ (Engagement)

This is the Engagement process. It literally means planting the branch. The groom takes a few of his male friends, parents, a few close family members, and a goat, to the girls’ parent's home to announce that he is interested in marrying the girl. This is how he engages the girl and makes sure others are aware he will marry her. A date is set when they will bring the dowry.

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Kũraciaa (Dowry Process)

Kũraciaa is the process of paying the dowry by the groom’s parents to the bride’s parents. You begin by bringing a few goats (or money equivalent).
The dowry consists of goats, typically 20 goats (or the money equivalent), and potentially other livestock; and many gifts. The women bring other things like household goods. Cuka (mother’s dress) must be included.


After bringing a few goats, the groom’s parents are then told how many more goats they need to bring before the wedding is allowed to proceed. 

Kunĩrwo Mĩtĩ  Each goat has a purpose. They will tell you the purpose for the goat, break a small stick, and put it down in a pile. At the end they count the sticks and that is the total number of goats they need before the wedding. Kunĩrwo Mĩtĩ literally means breaking and counting the sticks. Typically they ask for half of the dowry. The rest is paid slowly through the entire life.

 

The dowry process acts as a marriage certification process which commits and binds the two families and the couple to a lifelong relationship.

Kũguraria (Traditional Marriage Ceremony)

Once the groom’s family has met all dowry requirements, then the bride’s family gives permission for the marriage ceremony to proceed.


Kũguraria is the traditional marriage ceremony. It is done at the girl’s home.


A goat brought by the groom’s parent is slaughtered and roasted. The groom cuts a piece of meat from the shoulder blade of the goat and feeds it to the bride.
The bride in turn makes the groom sip fermented porridge prepared by her mother. 

 

After this the couple is officially married. Family and friends can then eat the meat, drink the porridge and feast. 
The couple can proceed to a church wedding if they wish. Marriage certificate confirms the marriage.

Several utensils are used during the ceremony:
The fermented porridge is called Ũchũrũ. It is fermented in a big gourd/calabash called kĩnya. A smaller gourd called mbũthũ is used to pour porridge into a small drinking cup called kaihũri for the bride. The bride makes the groom sip the porridge from the kaihũri.

Some terminology used:
Gũtinia Kĩande (cutting the shoulder)
Mũrũmithie nyama (feed her the meat)
Mũkundie (make him sip) 
Gũgũkundia Ũchũrũ (making you sip porridge)
Nĩ akũhikia (he has married you)
Nĩ wahikio (you have been married)

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Gũikiaa Itaraa (House Warming)

In traditional Kikuyu kitchen there is a rack (called Itaraa) above the fire pit. They throw (gũikiaa) firewood and food (grains) up there to dry.
 
After the wedding, parents of the new wife come with their close friends to the man's home to bring firewood and other gifts (especially the women)for house warming. This is called Gũikiaa Itaraa.

Image by Disiana Caballero
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