Traditional Jamaican Weddings
Picture courtesy the Gleaner:
Weddings are traditionally grand celebrations in Jamaica which involve large feasts and lots of festivities. The practice seemed to have been derived from the Europeans, especially the English, during the time of slavery. Though the enslaved Africans had their own customs relating to marriage, the actual wedding ceremony had many English influences.
Weddings in recent times are still grand affairs, not necessarily in size, but certainly in the production. However, there has been a noticeable shift in trend from the old-time Jamaican Country wedding which has particular significance in the Jamaican culture. This type of wedding generally required a lot of planning by the bride, the groom and their families, with additional support given by the community.
In the past, women tended to marry young; eighteen years being the average age, while the average age for men was twenty-two. A long courting period was not generally encouraged, therefore, the wedding day closely followed the promise of marriage or proposal.
The first part of the planning stage of the wedding involved the selection of a godmother and godfather whose sole responsibilities were to plan the wedding. The persons selected were usually knowledgeable of traditional wedding practices and were highly respected in the community. After the selection of the wedding godparents, preparations began and included the preparation of large quantities of food, the making of the wedding cakes, the selection of the bridal party, the building of a booth out of coconut boughs at the proposed wedding site and most importantly, the selection of the bride’s dress.
Set-ups were another vital part of wedding planning; one was held each night for several nights leading up to the wedding day. The main feature of these set-ups was the playing of ring games by participants.
The wedding day is usually a very busy one, especially for the godmother. She has to see to it that everything goes as was planned. First, she tends to the veiling of the cakes after which, she oversees and also participates in the decoration of the church and the wedding booth. She later organizes the cake procession, another significant feature of traditional country weddings. The procession usually consists of approximately twelve young, unmarried women dressed in white apparel and veils, carrying the cakes. The three cakes that will form the tiers for the centre cake are usually carried on the head while the other side cakes are carried in the hands. The procession goes from the place where the cakes were made to the wedding booth.
After having set off the cake procession, the godmother goes to the home of the bride and assists the bride in getting dressed. She then accompanies the bride to the church where the groom is waiting, dressed in a new suit.
After the ceremony, the couple is taken for a drive around the village in a carriage. This purpose of this activity is two-fold. First, it gives those persons who were not invited to the wedding the chance to see the newlyweds and second, it gives the wedding party and guests the chance to go to the wedding booth and be ready to receive the couple on their arrival. The couple’s arrival is usually met with much singing and chanting and the proceedings which follow include long speeches, more singing and the bidding on and subsequent unveiling of the cakes. The feast comes next usually consisting of all or some of the following: Mannish Water, Curry Goat, Roast Pig, Chicken, Rice and Peas, Roast Breadfruit, Roast yam and Boiled Bananas. All this is topped off with cake, wine and rum.
The wedding day is completed with the playing of games, more singing, and dancing. The quadrille dance was a popular choice at traditional weddings in which the set consisted of the bridal couple, their parents, the maid of honour and the best man. After the festivities, the couple is escorted to their new home by their godparents.
The final activity in the wedding is carried out the first Sunday after seven days of marriage. On this Sunday, referred to as Tun T’anks Sunday, the couple, their godparents and the wedding party return to the church where the wedding ceremony had taken place to give thanks to God for a successful event and for their union.
Baxter, Ivy. The Arts of an Island. New Jersey: The Scarecrow Press, Inc, 1970.
Beckwith, Martha Warren. Black Roadways: A Study of Jamaican Folk Life. New York: Negro Universities Press.
Bennett, Louise. “Old-Time Jamaican Country “Wedden”. In SkyWritings: Air Jamaica’s In Flight Magazine. Kingston: Creative Communications Inc., 1981.
Senior, Olive. Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage.