This wedding was originally featured in our Spring/Summer 2010 issue. We love so much about this wedding...the culture, the tradition, the gorgeous photos thanks to Christopher Duggan. He did an amazing job with this wedding...and Nigerian weddings (especially those in Nigeria)can be very difficult to shoot:)
Azie Akhigbe (bride) and Wale Akinde (groom) were both born and raised in Nigeria but met by chance while pursuing undergraduate degrees in the States. It was at a conference organized by the African Student Organizations of their alma maters: Yale University and Norwich University respectively that they first crossed paths. Azie recalls, "We met on the day of the conference and stayed in contact afterwards." In fact, they both ended up attending Columbia University to complete their graduate degrees…and the relationship continued…
Staying true to their heritage, they opted for a traditional Nigerian wedding on November 26 and 28, 2009. Not an easy task especially since most of the planning took place in the US. The wedding comprised of four events: The family introductions, the traditional Nigerian engagement, the church wedding ceremony and the reception with each event hosting a combined total of over 3000 guests. Yes, 3000. Read more of their love story and Azie's explanation of Nigerian culture below.
Advice from the bride:
“A wedding planner is invaluable when doing a destination wedding. Just make sure it is a planner that knows the resources available at your chosen location. Also, stuff is going to go wrong, there is no such thing as a perfect wedding. However, there is usually a solution, so it will all turn out okay. Additionally, make sure to know if there are any local customs that might affect your wedding day. Finally, enjoy your day – it only happens once! (Thankfully)” – Azie (Bride)
Wanting to stay true to their heritage, the couple opted for a traditional Nigerian wedding. Not only was this decision an appropriate way to showcase the couple’s rich Nigerian culture but it also allowed them luxuries that a wedding in the States would not have; like having all family, friends and well wishers celebrate their love and union. The couple’s nuptial events were scheduled for November 26 and 28, 2009. This grand event took place in four parts: The family introduction, the traditional Nigerian engagement, the church wedding ceremony and the reception. With four events to plan, (the introduction hosting 200 guests, the engagement hosting 1000 and the church wedding and reception hosting 2000) and a bride stationed in New York, the couple relied on the planning expertise of Michelle Mays-New York, Franicole’s from Lagos, Nigeria and Eventful-Lagos, Nigeria. The trio set out to transform the couple’s matrimonial dream into reality. The couple’s mothers and family members were also very instrumental in this transformation. In the Nigerian culture, marriage is considered not just the joining of man and woman but also the union of families as such the presence and participation of family members is a very important aspect of the celebration. Azie recount the details of the couple’s grand Nigerian wedding:
The Family Introduction (Traditional Proposal)
”A Nigerian wedding is considered a joining of two families, and the introduction is where the two extended families meet for the first time. It is also when the groom’s family formally asks for the bride’s family’s hand in marriage, on behalf of the groom. Walé’s family arrived en masse heralded by singing, dancing, and drumming. They were stopped several times by an Alaga Ijoko, a gatekeeper of sorts hired by the bride’s family who tests the resolve of the groom’s family to gain entrance to the bride’s family. An Alaga Iduro, a speaker for the groom’s family, responds to each challenge issued by the Alaga Ijoko, and states the purpose for which the groom’s family is present. The language used is highly stylized, and proverbial. Walé’s family eventually gained entrance and the Alaga Iduro again stated to my extended family, who were congregated in the living room of my family home, that they were there to seek my hand in marriage. Through the Alaga Ijoko, my family challenged Walé and Walé’s family, asking why they believed they were worthy to seek my hand in marriage. In issuing this challenge, the Alaga Ijoko praised me for my intelligence, beauty, accomplishments, and extolled my family’s accomplishments, closeness, standing in the community. Walé’s family, responding through the Alaga Iduro, similarly extolled Walé and his family, speaking of their accomplishments, their strengths, and their prospects. Additionally, throughout the event, Walé gave token amounts of money to the Alaga Ijoko, a sign of his financial preparedness for marriage. His family too did this, to show their willingness to support his marital union now and in the future. Walé also had to prostrate before my family, to show his respect for the family, and dance for extended periods to show his physical fitness and healthy. All the while, I was sequestered in another location in the house. After challenges had been issued and responded to, and MY family was convinced of the sincerity of Walé and his family’s desire to seek my hand in marriage, I was then called down to the living room. After I greeted the heads of both families and both parents by kneeling in the traditional way, the head of my extended family asked me if I knew Walé, and in what capacity. He also asked if I was aware of why Walé and his family were present, and how I felt about it. I answered that I was happily aware of the fact that Walé and his family were there to ask my family for my hand in marriage. The head of my family then asked both Wale and me why we wanted to be married to each other, and we both responded highlighting the personal characteristics that they admired in each other. Once it was ascertained that we freely sought to marry each other, Walé’s family presented a letter to my parents’ asking for my hand in marriage. My parents and head of the family then discussed for a short period, and then presented to Walé’s parent’s a response letter granting consent. After the letters were exchanged, gifts were exchanged between the families, introductions were formally made, and prayers were said to officially bless the union. After that there was a mini reception with food, drink, music, and dancing. Wale and I made sure to go round to greet each person who attended the introduction.”
Traditional Nigerian Engagement Ceremony
“At the Traditional Nigerian Engagement Ceremony the marital contract between the two families is concluded. It is also similar in form to the Introduction, but here the wider community of friends and colleagues are involved. At the beginning of the ceremony, our families were seated in the marquee facing each other, while Walé and his friends were waiting outside. As at the Introduction, there was an Alaga Iduro representing Walé’s family, and an Alaga Ijoko representing my family. And in a similar manner, the Alaga Ijoko challenged Walé as he sought to gain entrance into the marquee where the marital negotiations would take place. The emphasis at the Engagement was not on the support of Walé’s family as he sought to marry me, but on that of his wider community, represented by the friends who accompanied him into the marquee. Walé and his friends led by drums, danced in, and prostrated to both our parents. He was asked again why he wanted to marry me. Some light teasing also went on. Playing on the fact that we are not from the same culture, (Walé is an Awori, from the Yoruba ethnicity while Azie is an Afenmai from the Edo ethnicity) and thus don’t speak the same language, Walé was tasked with the proper pronunciation of my full name, each time he got the intonation wrong, he would have to pay a fine. He played along for a while, but then even when he pronounced Azie’s name properly, he was told he got it wrong and had to pay more in fines. After the teasing, he was ushered to his seat. As at the Introduction, I had been sequestered away at home, and was driven to the Traditional Engagement Ceremony reception after Walé had completed his entrance and prostration. I also congregated with female members of my family and some female friends. I was covered with Aso-Oke fabric, in a manner similar to being veiled in a traditional American wedding. The women surrounded me, and amidst singing and dancing, I was led into the marquee. After I was unveiled I went to greet both sets of parents and other elders, kneeling in the traditional way. Prayers were said over me by both families. I was also subjected to some light teasing. In my case, I was asked to identify Walé. I was presented with a slate of men of all ages. In one funny moment, the Alaga Ijoko presented my own uncle! I was finally brought in front of Walé, and I identified him as my prospective husband. I was then asked, in front of friends and family, to say why 1 wanted to marry Walé, and to indicate that I was doing so freely. After doing so, I was led to sit with my family, while the negotiations over the bride price began. The parents and the heads of the extended families withdrew to a private room to negotiate over the bride price. After a short while, they returned to the main room to announce that the negotiations were complete and that my family had accepted the bride price. Walé jokes that he paid the hefty sum of $3.00 for me, but is yet to receive his receipt! While a bride price was negotiated and accepted by my family, the family head returned it at the time that he announced that the negotiations were completed. The reasons for this are firstly to dispel any idea that my family was selling me; instead they are joyfully celebrating the union between me and Walé. Secondly, the two families see the marriage as a union between the wider families, not just between us the couple, and so the exchange of money is inappropriate. At this point, I was led to sit by Walé’s side, indicating that we were now traditionally engaged. After some prayers, we graced the dance floor as a couple for the first time, where we were “sprayed” by the guests. (This means that people pressed money onto our heads to indicate their joy at our union). We later on greeted guests of honor, and cut the wedding cake. After that was more dancing, some eating and drinking, and mingling with families and friends.”
For Azie, it really meant a lot to her to be able to share their Nigeria culture with friends and well wishers who traveled from the United States to celebrate the couple’s wonderful day with them. Cherished memories included the moment she walked into the living room during the Introduction and she saw Wale. "I was pretty much shaking when walking into the living room, but then I saw Wale standing there, I became really calm." recalls Azie. At that point she realized she could not wait to be Mrs. Wale Akinde. Of course another cherished moment for Azie was having her guests take part in the electric slide. "Many or our friends had flown in from the United States, and we all got up in our traditional Nigerian attire, and did the electric slide to some traditional Nigerian music." Azie prides herself of introducing the ‘electric side’ to her Nigerian family!