Nona Gay is not what you would call afrocentric. The 28-year-old from Miami, Fla. rocks a bone-straight bob and dresses conservatively. Still, when she gets married this spring, she and her groom will jump the broom - a slave-era custom symbolizing the start of a new life together.
"My future husband and I want to incorporate a bit of our heritage into our wedding," says Nona.
Be it a full-blown African ceremony with head wrap or a drum-inspired wedding march or simply patronizing Black-owned caterers and other suppliers, African-American couples want their big day to reflect their heritage. But, unless you know where to go, it's not always easy to bring the elements together. So we've done the homework to save you some legwork. The ESSENCE.com Ultimate Web Guide to planning an African-inspired wedding has all the information you need to usher in your union with a touch of culture.
Bride ideas: The most memorable weddings begin with an unforgettable bridal gown. It should fit your style and personality and make you look like the goddess you are. Check out the Therez Fleetwood collection, which is featured on The Knot. This is the place for the African-inspired bride-from modern interpretations of ancient garb from Egypt and Africa to contemporary designs with understated African references (Note: you must be a registered user to view the wedding gowns, but membership is free). If Afrocentric is not your style, sister designer Amsale Aberra offers up-to-the-minute fashion with a hint of tradition. Amsale has outfitted stars such as Vanessa Williams and Vivica A. Fox. Manale's couture wedding gowns is another great Black-owned resource for high-style.
Tux with a twist: We can't forget the brothers, after all it's their day too. A dramatic outfit for men is the agbada, a tunic or robe created from asoke fabric from Nigeria that features elaborate embroidery on cotton. When it comes to selection, you can't beat Nigerian Fabrics & Fashions; they offer custom fashion looks fit for a king.
The rite touches
RSVP: Add some personal and cultural style to your wedding invitations. A kente motif along the border or an African mask or fertility symbols can set the tone for your special day. RoyalCelebrations.com has a wide selection and you can design your own custom look.
Great blooms: Pure white flowers, which signify ceremonial rites in Africa or deep colored flowers - rather than pastels - set the tone for the Afrocentric wedding. Try velvety burgundy roses or black calla lilies, says Saundra Parks, owner of New York-based Daily Blossom. She also suggests binding your bouquet with wired cowrie shells or a textured African fabric.
Table manners: Add some ethnic flair to a ho-hum table with mudcloth table runners or decorative bowls, both of which can be found at Ashanti Origins.
Take the cake: Custom baker Charmaine "Cake Diva" Jones specializes in Afrocentric designs. Check out her large selection of drum and mask shapes.
With this ring: Traditional wedding bands take on historical flavor with African carvings. Five Talents Trading Co. specializes in gold, silver and platinum bands featuring cowrie shells, pyramids and other symbols.
Rituals and roots
Try these Afrocentric rituals to add meaning to your ceremony.
Crossing sticks: During slave times, the bride and groom crossed tall sticks or tree branches as symbolic of the power and the life force within trees and to represent their wish for a strong and grounded beginning.
Exchanging kola nuts: In Africa, the kola nut is used for several medicinal purposes as well as a symbol of hospitality. In a wedding ceremony, kola nuts are exchanged between family members and the bride and groom before the vows are exchanged to represent the couple's ability to heal their differences.
Tasting the elements: Adapted from a Yoruba tradition, the bride and groom taste flavors that represent the different emotions within a relationship: sour (lemon), bitter (vinegar), hot (cayenne), and sweet (honey), for example. This symbolizes the couple's ability to get through the hard times in life to enjoy the sweetness of marriage.
For more information on planning an Afrocentric wedding, check out the following books and Web sites.
The Nubian Wedding Book: Words and Rituals to Celebrate and Plan an African American Wedding by Ingrid Sturgis
Jumping the Broom: The African-American Wedding Planner by Harriette Cole