Getting married in Cameroon involves a series of steps and processes, which generally are categorized into three. However, the primary step is what we refer to as “door knocking.” It is a process where the groom and his family go to the bride’s family to inform them about their intention to marry their daughter. Perhaps, it is safe to say that weddings in Cameroon cannot take place without the consent or involvement of the respective families.
Traditionally, marriage is perceived as a union of the two families; hence, the initial negotiation is always among the leaders of the clans of the bride and the groom family. Their parents are the secondary players; that is, they get involved after the leaders of the groups have provided the requirements for the bride’s “dotting” ceremony.
Most African countries (Cameroon inclusive), it is compulsory for the groom to perform the traditional marriage rites, which will end with a conventional wedding. In the Bamilekes (an ethnic group in western Cameroon), the man has to travel to the bride’s home to ‘‘dot” her. The dot is a symbol of mutual consent between the two lovers to engage each other and live together afterward.
Here are interesting facts you need to watch out for when you attend a wedding in Cameroon:
Step 1: Informing and Seeking Parental Consent
At this stage, the lady is the first person to tell her parents of a potential suitor who she likes and is coming to seek for her hand in marriage. Once her parents agree, a date would be fixed where the suitor is expected to introduce himself to his potential wife’s family.
It is an intimate engagement, which is commonly referred to as “Knocking at the door.” It involves just a few friends of the man together with his family and that of the prospective wife. Before this date, the man would prepare himself for some questions that the lady’s parents might ask him. These questions are usually tricky and are aimed at testing the ability of the man to handle their daughter in marriage. However, at this first meeting, if the man fails to answer the questions to the satisfaction of his lover’s parents, then there is a high possibility that subsequent meetings or engagement would not take place.
Step 2: Informing the Entire Family about the “Dot”
After a successful door knocking has occurred, the lovers will choose an appropriate date to fix the traditional wedding. Within this period, the man must ensure that he has the necessary financial requirements to “Dot” his would-be wife. In preparation towards that date, the woman will inform other wives within her clan, in her community meeting, and other organizations. She will seek their assistance for the necessary preparations for that day, which involves cooking, singing, and entertainment. This, hopefully, will bring life to the event. The lady’s father also does the same to his relevant groups.
Moreover, the lady’s parents will provide what we call a “List of items. “It contains the necessary things the man will present on the day of the traditional wedding/dotting. These items commonly include bags of rice, palm oil, salt, goat, sheep, tubers of yam, and some amount of money. However, the list is relative to individual families and clans. A man from an average background is likely to get a lower inventory of items compared to one from a wealthy background.
Step 3: The Dee Day (Traditional Wedding)
A day before the fixed date, the lady’s Family house is mostly in a state of frenzy. Different individuals engaged with various tasks. Commonly, the girls and women are seen sweeping, cleaning, and preparing the delicacies, while the men are the ones to arrange the venue and get the necessary drinks.
As we are getting ready for the main event, you need to note that the traditional wedding takes place at the prospective bride’s home. During this event, the groom has to travel with his parents, family, friends, and most importantly, an uncle who will act as the spokesman for him during the event. Although the lady does not need to travel as the event will take place in her home, she also needs to get one of her uncles that will also act as the spokesman for her family.
Now, join me as I give you a brief dialogue of the main event:
Groom’s Spokesman (GS) – “Hello everyone, my friends, family, and even enemies in the house. I am here today because I have seen a very ripe fruit, but as you all know, I am too old to pluck it, and that is why I have come to beg for it.”
Bride’s Spokesman (BS) – “And did anyone tell you that we grow fruits in this compound?”
Groom’s Spokesman – “Oh yes, my friend! I saw this beautiful ripe fruit in your compound yesterday while I was walking by it.”
Bride Spokesman (BS) – “But, my friend, I just told you that we are neither vegetarians nor fruit sellers here. But wait, did you say you saw it here?”
Groom’s Spokesman (GS) – “Yes. My eyes do not deceive me. I saw it at this very compound yesterday.”
Bride’s Spokesman (BS) – Wow! This is getting serious [he calls the mother of the bride to the venue to sit with them]. Ma, this man came here to look for ripe and beautiful fruit, and he said he saw one in this house while he was passing by yesterday. Is there any chance he may be correct?”
Bride’s Mother (BM) - Oh, I planted a fruit that recently got ripe and matured; perhaps, he might be talking about that one. Give me some minutes to get it.”
[The bride’s mother returns with a ripe pawpaw fruit in her hands and then asks the man]: “Is this the fruit you are referring to?”
Groom’s Spokesman: [In Amusement and surprise answers] “No. I need someone to help me with this fruit as it is the best cure for me right now.”
Bride’s mother retorts: You mean you no longer need the fruit, but the person!
GS: “Yes, ma, it’s a Woman I want. A beautiful woman that will help me to produce such fruits. There is news everywhere in the village that you harbor such a woman here. She is your daughter.”
BS: Resumes his position at the front and says, “In that case, my friend, you have to be specific because we harbor many daughters here. Which one are you referring to? Can you recognize her?”
A moment later, women covered with veils appear from the backstage. The spokesman of the groom will have to choose the specific woman the groom loves and want to marry. He has to be careful because if he chooses the wrong woman, it will signal deceit, and the groom will pay the penalty. Surprisingly, the bride is not included within the girls. It is a way to add more fun to the event by making the groom’s family pay more “Dot” each time he makes the wrong choice.
However, the moment the bride is unveiled, everywhere goes agog with joy and celebration as she is officially revealed to her new family. That is not all; the two lovers will profess their love and marital union in the presence of everyone. The families will provide kola and palm wine, which is served to them to declare their love. They will drink from the same cup and also share the kola with their families, relatives and friends present. It signifies bonding as it is believed that you cannot retrieve what you have drunk as it has automatically become a part of you, flesh to the flesh, body to body. An everlasting commitment that only death can bring apart.
The most scintillating part of the traditional marriage is the events that bring the two families together. Such activities include, but not limited to, bargains, entertainment, and a display of wealth. All these, along with other side attractions, are necessary to keep the environment lively and entertain the guests. The kom people, for example, will invite a gwedeng (clown) whose duty is to crack-up everyone with his hilarious jokes and unimaginable stunts.
Fun, musical entertainment, dancing, and games come up immediately after the declaration of the union.
After the merriment, the two spokesmen from each group will come together to write a marriage act, which will be signed by the families of the bride and groom inclusive. To finalize the rites, another set of kola and palm wine is given to the bride and groom, but this time, the groom takes more kola nuts to signify his authority in the new home.
After a while, it becomes the responsibility of selected women from the groom to cover the bride so that no one from her family will set their eyes on her at the moment she will leave her family. In some cases, the bride’s aunts or relatives follow her to her new home (face still covered though), where the women from her husband’s family host them in another round of merriment and jubilation. At this stage, the party goes on and on even without the presence of the newly wedded couples.
Traditional attires and colors
The traditional outfit depends on the tribe and social status of the families involved. For instance, some couples can dress in five different attires during the event. Some of the traditional attires common to the tribes in the western Cameroon incident the traditional grassland attire of the atoghu clan. Others include dresses made from Camwood, brown powder from the African sandalwood tree, and in some places, they cover the bride wholly with these dresses.
Both families share the duties during the ceremony. Often times, the bride’s family will take care of the general cooking while the groom family provides the drinks and a single dish. Afterward, the bride is expected to migrate to a new home where she becomes a part of a new family.
In these areas in Africa, the traditional marriage is held with high esteem, and these marriages must have a symbol of tradition in the presence of witnesses before it can be generally accepted by the household of both lovers, their extended families, and the members of their clan. This has been the culture for many, and as such, will be transferred to future generations.
The celebration of the traditional wedding in Cameroon and other parts of Africa is indeed an opportunity to admire the sociocultural heritage and the dynamism of the African culture.
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