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Wedding Photos of the Fula People of Senegal, West Africa

Fula bride in The Gambia

The bride uncovered (in white in the middle)

Alex Silvester spent some time in The Gambia, West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, working on tree-planting and vegetable-planting projects. During that time he traveled extensively in West Africa. In November 2009 he attended a wedding of the Fula people in Gambia. The Fula, also known as Fulani, are a nomadic or semi-nomadic people scattered all across the desert areas of Africa. They were among the first African peoples to accept Islam and today are 99% Muslim, though their actual practice of Islam varies widely.

The bride was Alex’s “host sister.”

Here is Alex’s story. Make sure to click on the photos, as they are quite large and interesting:

A Fula Wedding

I had been waiting all day for this moment. I watched as the women filed into the compound. I asked the man next to me where the bride was. He pointed to a brightly clothed woman. I was confused. My host sister was getting married, but the woman he pointed to was not my host sister. I asked again and this time he said look behind. Then I saw her, my host sister. She stood huddled behind the women wrapped from head to toe in fula fabric (Fula fabric is traditional fabric made by hand by the Fulas). She reminded me of a mummy because I could not see any skin. I do not know how she breathed. It was a hot day and the fabric covered her face. A man picked her up and laid her down on a prayer mat and the official tying of the knot started.

The bride, completely covered in white

The bride, completely covered in white

The wedding began the day before in the bride’s father’s compound (where I lived). It started with a big lunch for all the guests. My compound killed two goats. I never saw my host sister the whole day. She stayed in the house, while everyone else was dancing, cooking, talking, and having a good time. Right before dark, the gifts were brought out and a crier started to count all the presents. My host sister had over 40 buckets, 250 meters of fabric, and 70 bowls not to mention the other household items she received. Each guest brought a present. To me, it seemed such a waste to have some items of the same kind because these people do not have enough money to replace their own broken bowls and buckets, but one woman gets more buckets, meters of fabric and bowls than she could use in her entire life. Later I learned the presents are actually shared with the family and friends.

Around 1 am, a gele (bush taxi) showed up with the groom contingent. After a couple of hours the groom left taking the bride to his village. Women, the bride’s family and friends, go in the car to the groom’s village. The bride’s parents do not go. The women were all crying (extremely uncommon in Gambian culture) because my host sister was leaving her village for good and may be visiting only rarely. Men usually do not go, but my family encouraged me to go to the groom’s village to see what happens next.

Fula groom in traditional wedding costume

The Fula groom in a traditional wedding costume (the fellow on the left, obviously)

The bride contingent stayed the entire morning in a different compound while people arrived in the groom’s compound. The women cooked. The men chatted. The kids chased each other around. Around two, the bride’s contingent showed up in the compound to look at the cow to be slaughtered for the meal. They approved and the dancing began. I helped a man from my village kill the cow and cut up the meat. In the evening the bride and her contingent showed up in the compound as the sun was going down.

I sat in the back watching as a family friend picked my host sister up to lay her down on the prayer mat. All the men were sitting around her. The groom was sitting a couple of rows back. Many men spoke and blessed the two. Then everyone got up and I could not see where my host sister went. Luckily a woman explained to me what was going to happen. I quickly followed a bunch of people as they headed to the open well.

My host sister went through the ritual of what she must do before she can enter in her “married” house. She knelt on each side of the well. She washed her husband’s clothes splashing everyone when she finished. She then went to the cattle field where a kid milked a cow. She finally was able to take off the fabric around her head and put it on the cow. Now she was ready to enter her house. As she approached the door, the groom’s friends would not let her in. The women’s friends must pay the fee to enter which is not more than 2 or 3 dollars but there was a lot of negotiating the price down. Then the women ran in trying to smear cream on the groom’s friends as they tried to escape. The women then took over the house. The bride was in her house and the women stayed there all night talking, eating, and congratulating the bride. The party continued the next day. Fula weddings are always three days, with much eating, dancing and celebrating.

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