What Does a Typical Liberian Wedding Look Like
I’ve been asked many times about what a typical Liberian wedding looks like, and to tell you the truth, many Liberians don’t know what a typical Liberian wedding is. I’ve done a little bit of searching from my cultural background as well as from what I’ve witnessed, and I’m here to discuss what a typical Liberian wedding is to me.
In Liberia, there are two types of weddings: the traditional wedding and the statutory (white/church) wedding. These two weddings are recognized by a court of law in Liberia. A person may contract multiple marriages according to traditions and customs under the traditional marital law, however that is not the case for statutory marriage. Most brides choose to have both traditional and statutory weddings; they allow for them to honor their cultural traditions in addition to having a church wedding. And, of course, with the church wedding, a bride gets to wear a white wedding dress.
The traditional wedding ceremony starts with the singing of songs and the performing of dances by both the bride’s and groom’s ethnic groups. During the ceremony, the groom’s family must present a dowry to the bride’s family. The dowry may include money, lappas (traditional cloths), foodstuff, and drinks, well as other goods; and the families share in breaking and eating of the kola nut. Many Westerners consider this to be a payment for the bride, which makes her seem like property to the groom, but, this is a serious misconception. The fact is that, this is the groom’s way of showing appreciation to the bride's family as well as giving them assurance that he is certainly capable of taking care of their daughter. The dowry is given to an older male member of the bride’s family—either the father, the grandfather, or an uncle. It is also the responsibility of the older male family member to give away the bride.
During the traditional wedding ceremony, the bride must wear clothing and jewelry distinct to her tribe. The traditional ceremony can either last for few hours or an entire day; and ends with a lot of singing and dancing to traditional songs. The traditional marriage agreement lasts until divorce or death, and requirements for divorce must follow traditional procedure.
The statutory (white/church) wedding usually takes place at a church. The day typically begins with both the bride’s and groom’s families gathering at the home of the bride’s parents along with some good friends. The wedding party is kept at a different location so that they may be well rested and ready on time. Most statutory wedding ceremonies start around noon to give guests enough time to prepare for the wedding.
The ceremony follows the same order as some Westernized ceremonies, including the bridal party wearing matching attire; the bride being escorted into the church by her father or a father figure; a pastor’s sermon; the exchanging of vows; lighting of the candle; kissing of the bride; and finally, pronouncing the two as husband and wife. The bridal party exits the church either to take pictures directly outside or to climb into a limousine and drive elsewhere if there’s a specific location for pictures.
After the wedding ceremony is the reception. The format is very structured. First is the entrance of the bridal party dancing to their favorite music, usually a list of hot, trendy afrobeats. Second is the spreading of lappas for the bride and groom to walk on. This is an indication that these two are the most important people of the day, and their feet must not touch the bare ground. After spreading the lappas, family and friends rush to receive the bride and groom, escorting them into the reception hall through dancing. This is their way of celebrating the newlyweds, and the celebration leads into the first dance.
Once the bridal party is seated at the “high table,” the event continues with opening prayers, speeches and toasts, eating of traditional and continental dishes, throwing of the bouquet and the removal of garter, gifts presentations, and performances (if any). The dancing starts with the “Grand March,” where everyone lines up then dances in a circle. The Grand March opens up the dance floor for family and friends to dance the night away. The statutory marriage agreement lasts until divorce or death, and divorce must take place in the court of law.
The next day, the bride’s family may host a “thank you” gathering to show appreciation to everyone who came to celebrate the bride and groom. The gathering is usually a barbecue at the park.
What one might consider a typical Liberian wedding ceremony varies depending on the bride’s and groom’s preference. However, these are the flow of things from what I’ve witnessed at many traditional and statutory Liberian weddings over the years.