Eritrean Wedding Traditions

Eritrean weddings allow for the inner beauties of the Eritrean culture to shine through. An Eritrean wedding is a time for families to embark on traditions that are centuries old and core fundamentals to the culture. Although the traditions are very much similar to Ethiopian traditions, they are very unique to the people and only slightly vary within the nine Eritrean tribes (Bilen, Hedareb, Nara, Saho, Kunama, Afar, Tigre, Rashaida).

Starting from the beginning…

In Eritrean traditions, when a couple is ready to get married, the man must send his father and other immediate family to the woman’s parents house to ask her father for her hand in marriage. If the woman’s family is going to give her hand away in marriage, they will greet the mans family with traditional Eritrean food (injera, doro wot, etc) and drink to be a good host and show that their daughter is valued.

The woman’s family can ask for the mans family to pick a wedding date that day or they can give the mans family time but they have to make sure the man’s family does not take too much time as to not have their daughter be a fiancé for an extended time.

Once the wedding date is decided…

Once the wedding date is decided the families work jointly to prepare for the big day. The families start making sewa and mese one month before the wedding. During the making of the sewa and mese, the women from both families gather daily to do all necessary tasks. After cooking all day, the women sing and dance while having shots of Areke, a traditional Eritrean non-alcoholic drink.

The days leading up to the wedding…

Usually the Thursday or Friday before the wedding day, there is usually a ceremony called the “Helefot.” The Helefot is a traditional ceremony where the bride and groom embark on with both families and is the equivalent to the Ethiopian “Telosh.” This ceremony is at the brides family house. The groom and his family come to the brides family house to present the bride and her family with presents and offerings for her hand in marriage. The gifts can range from jewelry, gold, cloth and other material objects of value and is watched by all family members. After this ceremony, the families enjoy dinner together and part ways to prepare for the big day.

The Wedding…

Typically, in a traditional Eritrean wedding, the wedding is separated into two ceremonial days – the first day filled with church and a reception and the second day a celebration of the traditional customs – melse.

On the morning of the wedding day, the groom spends the morning getting ready with his groomsmen. He later goes with his groomsmen and his family to the brides family house to get his bride. The bride will have spent all day getting ready with her bridesmaids while her family prepares the house for all the coming guest. When the groom arrives, the brides family will be waiting at the door singing and dancing and the groom and his groomsmen will dance and sing their way back at the family and enter the house.

After the groom gets his bride, they go with all their wedding party to the church for the official church ceremony. The bride and grooms family will follow in their separate cars with the family dressed in traditional Habesha clothes. After the priest officiates the ceremony and the bride and groom are declared husband and wife, they leave the church and head to a nearby park or other location with immediate family and bridal party to be photographed.

After the photos have been taken, the bride and groom get ready to go to the reception. All guests should have gathered at this time and are waiting for the bride and groom. Before the bride and groom enter the reception, there is a group of men who will walk in singing and jumping with swords – this is called the Medebale. After the men have finished their song and dance, the bride, groom and bridal party walk into the reception with a specific song playing called the Mesihaley Doe. After the bridal party walks into the song, they do not sit but they are moved to the dance floor with everyone else.

After dinner is served, there are two traditional songs that must be sung before everyone can dance. The first traditional song is called the Awelo. The song is sang in respect to both the bride and grooms family and the singer is to call out each family members name. The following song is a traditional song about the food, mese and sawa. This is done in order to thank and show appreciation for all those who cooked and made the sewa for the reception. Then comes a night filled with dancing.

One the second day, known as the Melse, the bride and groom celebrate with close family and friends their marriage. The bride and groom get ready for the melse in the morning. The bride spends the morning having her hair braided and being decorated with henna and gold. The groom spends the time with his groomsmen and waiting for his beautiful new bride. Once the bride is ready, the bride and groom get ready to make their grand entrance into the melse. They enter with their bridal party and immediately start dancing. The family and friends greet them and starts dancing with them also.  The day is filled with dancing, drinking and merriment all in celebration of the two families joining and the bride and groom starting their life together as man and wife.