ADDIS ABABA (AA) – Kiflu Abebe first met his new bride, Selamawit Gashaw, in capital Addis Ababa three years ago.
“We were dating for three years and agreed to live together before marriage,” Abebe, 30, told The Anadolu Agency.
Abebe and his 24-year-old bride are among the many urban Ethiopians who are increasingly shunning traditional notions of arranged marriage.
Abebe said that he and his wife had engaged in pre-marital sex during their three-year relationship.
“We have found ourselves capable of leading a satisfying and healthy life,” he said.
Solomon Tessema, a researcher at Addis Ababa University, says that many urban Ethiopians pursue modern lifestyles that deviate from Ethiopia’s conservative marriage traditions.
“Urban or quasi-modern marriage in Ethiopia combines cultural conformity with deviation from tradition,” he told AA.
“Every bride and groom – along with families, friends and communities – accedes to the rules and performs the rituals, knowing that many of the traditional rules have been breached,” he added.
According to Ethiopian tradition, the groom selects three or four elders to solicit the family of his bride-to-be.
A meeting is then set for the elders to visit the bride’s family to ask for her hand on behalf of the would-be groom.
Following the meeting, the groom’s family receives an answer from the bride’s family after a set period of time.
In most cases, the process can take months or even a year, Solomon said.
“The role of urban families has been reduced to voicing approval and performing the ritual,” he told AA.
Every Ethiopian groom must pay a dowry for his new bride.
“Traditionally, in urban centers, every item of the dowry had to be brand new and the groom had to pay for it,” Kassahun Terfassa, 68, who has mediated numerous marriage arrangements, told AA.
“The new generation does not invest too much money. They just rent some of the items from shops and collect the rest from the bride and friends,” said Terfassa.
Nevertheless, the ritual has been maintained to the present day.
In Addis Ababa, the groom sends his men to hand the dowry over to the bride’s family on the eve of the wedding.
The dowry – which often includes jewelry, a bridal gown and an assortment of clothes and footwear – is received by the bride’s family and her bridesmaids, who judge its quality.
The bride never appears at the dowry handover ceremony, but she can watch the drama unfold from a corner.
Asmamaw Ali, 39, who is often contracted to present dowries at weddings, said the handover ritual was the “funniest” part of urban weddings.
“When the best man feels he cannot perform his responsibilities, they hire me,” he said. “This makes it a make-believe.”
While handing over the dowry package, Asmamaw and the men describe every item as the “best in the world.”
The recipients of the gifts, according to Asmamaw, also play their part, rejecting those they deem “low quality.”
Christian and Muslim weddings in Ethiopia are colorful affairs, with a lot of music and dancing.
When the groom and his entourage arrive at the bride’s home, lunch is served to everyone in attendance.
“Some 70 or 80 years ago, [the bride’s] virginity was a condition for continuing with a marriage – or ending it immediately,” Solomon said.
“If the bride was found to have had pre-marital sex, it was considered a mortal sin and the marriage would be declared void,” he added.
The morning after the wedding, the groom sends his men to the bride’s family to inform them that their daughter was a virgin.
Breakfast is then served at the home of the bride’s family, where everyone dances and wishes the newlyweds a long and successful marriage.
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