Arewa Voices

These Northern Wedding rights nurture female friendships

By Aisha Kabiru Mohammed | Oct 27, 2022

Weddings are an integral part of Nigerian culture. Our largely conservative society has made it so that women are expected to aspire to marriage, and the culmination of a woman’s life’s achievements is inconsequential if she’s not a wife or a mother – and there’s a ticking clock for women to achieve this goal too. 

For the Northern region of the country, where Islam is widely practised, marriage is an essential part of a person’s life based on the Islamic belief that marriage is half of a Muslim’s deen. Document Women had earlier discussed the concept of bride price in Islam, where the dowry is paid to the bride or her parents, an amount she determines herself. However, these rites are not limited to Muslims.

For women in the region, weddings are a way to commune with members of the community and the family. Certain traditions and events at these weddings create a bond and sisterhood among the bride, her friends, her relatives, the relatives of the groom and the rest of the community. 

The most exciting part of a wedding is when the bride is trying on her wedding gown for the first time, surrounded by her mother, sisters and friends, and the realisation of what is about to happen hits everyone. 

Men are barely involved in these customs, and they are considered female-only events. 

The most common of these traditions, Sa lalle Hausa, the henna ceremony, is practised by Hausa, Fulani, Nupe, Igala and Egbira. Other traditions include Walima for Muslim brides and budan kai in Hausa and Fulani weddings. 

DW spoke with one Nupe woman and two Hausa women about these traditions, their significance and the community it creates for the bride and the women participating in them. 

Samira (36) believes that the events are significant in the support it brings to the bride, especially when gifts are presented. 

For 46-year-old Hauwa, these traditions permit women who are not relatives to come and give advice on marital issues. 

Asmau, 30, says that customs like Budan Kai make the bride feel respected by the groom’s family. It also prepares her mind for marriage, and it creates a bond of sisterhood in the community.   She describes the traditions as fun, light-hearted gatherings where people beat up turned calabashes (Duban kwarriya) and the bride and her friends dance.

Sa lalle is typically done either as a series of traditional spa days before the Nikkah (Dauren aure) or a ceremony where the bride and her friends and female relatives dance and receive prayers from the older female relatives. 

Asmau says Sa Lalle is a way for parents to prepare her for marriage. It's an initiation process for the bride, and often, a sisterhood bond is formed during the custom.

"It creates a bond of sisterhood; there are a lot of happy tears during the prayers, and it's emotional.  It's a critical point in the wedding. It makes you feel like you're going into marriage; it's magical when you watch it. If it's not done, the wedding doesn't feel complete," she told Document Women. 

Hauwa said the henna ceremony happens a day before the wedding and initially started with just the bride’s female friends and relatives dancing.

"But now, even the groom and his friends sometimes attend Sa Lalle; they meet the bride’s friends, dance with them and celebrate together," Hauwa said. 

In Nupe traditions, Sa lalle is called Tiaworo fadan, and Asmau describes the Nupe version of the custom. 

"At the dawn of the wedding Fatiha, the bride comes out wearing an old piece of cloth, and an older female family relative comes and bathes her, usually pouring water on her body. A clay pot or stove is placed beside her after the bath, and it is broken afterwards. The woman prays for the bride, and she goes back in to prepare for the Wedding Fatiha," Asmau said. "She gives the woman the piece of cloth she was wearing when she was bathed. It can also be done because of the cold, at that time of the day, by placing the bride in a room and having  an older woman coming in to pray for her and spray her perfume." 

Budan Kai is an even more elaborate custom, and its significance is usually creating a support system for the bride amongst her female in-laws. Budan Kai translates to revealing head in English and is an elaborate unveiling of the bride to her in-laws.

Before the wedding, it is believed that she is not meant to be seen by the groom's family regularly, so this custom introduces her to them officially. The bride is veiled when she is brought to her husband's family house a day after the Wedding Fatiha. 

She is veiled throughout the time she stays in the place till the next day when she is brought to a central part of the family house flanked by her female relatives and friends. An older female relative meets them and unveils the bride in the way a groom would reveal his bride at a church wedding, but men are rarely around when this happens. 

"During Budan Kai,  female relatives of both the bride’s and the groom’s family familiarise themselves. If the husband lives with his parents, the bride would be taken to their room or their part of the house—as the case may be—and she’d be handed over to them as Amanah. The groom’s relatives would accept her into the family and even gather money for her to celebrate. If the parents do not live in the house, the bride’s relative will take her to the groom's house." Hauwa said.

Asmau believes Budan Kai makes the bride feel accepted and respected by the groom's female relatives. 

"The bride has a huge significance in our society, and events like Budan Kai make that.  There's a charisma that the bride has. When the veil is opened, there's yodelling and shouts of "Allahu Akbar '' a bond is formed with the groom's family. I believe it's excellent support for the bride. It makes you feel like you have a family. They won't take you to your husband's house and dump you. Your face won't even be opened till the next day. That's how significant you are. You're treated like a special package to the groom and his family. So you feel exceptional. It makes you value yourself. It supports you in the sense that you feel like you have dignity in the eyes of these people. It won't lessen that fear of a new life, but it will support you on how to live it."