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Weddings in Cameroon. #3 of the series

In Cameroon, there are around 250 tribes that display almost 250 specific traditions, so it is not possible to speak about a typical Cameroonian wedding as such a thing does not exist, ceremonies are different from North to South and from East to West.

A couple posed during their traditional marriage. Credit photo: CC

Learn about wedding traditions in Cameroon, specifically of the Betis from the Centre region of the country. With Regine.

When it come to weddings, all regions of Cameroon have at least one thing in common, it is the saying that a man never finishes paying the bride price.

A man who expresses the wish to marry a Beti girl must first of all do what is called “knocking at the door”. The man, accompanied by an elder member of his family, pays a visit to the girl’s parents. For the occasion, he brings a small gift that can be anything from a kola nut, a bottle of wine or whisky.

The two heads of families get to know each other for the occasion and highlight the qualities of their respective children.

At some point, the girl is asked by her father if she wants to get married and upon her positive reply, the meeting will come to an end until the next one during which the bride ‘s father will gather all the family to announce the intention of their daughter to get married. Note that I have said “their daughter”. Because at once, the girl becomes really everyone’s daughter. That is the tradition.

This part of the process is the most important because it gives a sense of what is a marriage for the Beti. It is not between two persons, rather between two families, and even more accurate, between two villages.

As soon as the father breaks the news to the large family, he is out of the picture and the matters are taken over by the head of the clan who will start consultations for the dowry with each close family of the clan.

A list of items needed as a bride price will be handed to the father’s girl tasked to pass it to the man.

Items on the list are usually goats, porc, dozens of kilos of fish, many sacks of rice, numerous bottles of wine, a lot of crates of beer, a lot of furniture and house items, suits, clothes, materials, money, even a car.

The more the family values their daughter, the longer the list. It is not wise for the father to reject a list even if he finds it exaggerated. He would rather negotiate privately with the head of the clan in order to reduce it, especially if the couple is still young and just starting in life. The father will make all efforts to not alienate the head of the clan, to avoid being accused of siding with the man’s family in a bid to “eat alone”. Such an accusation can lead to ostracism.

The list is passed to the family’s man by the girl’s family. It is good practice not to argue whatever expensive the list can be. Rather, the man will gather what he can afford from the list and bring it at a set date. This part is another important moment of the ritual.

In fact, for every item missing in the list, the girl’s family will ask for a fine. The groom will have prepared beforehand bank notes into envelopes that he will hand over as soon as he is given a fine for a missing item.

The ceremony which is actually a traditional wedding can last from 10am to 7pm, based on how many items are missing in the list as well as the ability of the man's family to defend their good will and financial capacity.

Once the girl’s family is eventually satisfied, the girl who was out of sight all the time is called out with another group of women, all dressed in the same way and fully covered. The last test for the man will be to recognise and pick his wife among the group. Of course, he will be fined every time he picks the wrong woman.

Voila, the two lovebirds are now officially married according to tradition and the civil wedding can take place anytime after the delivery of the dowry.

Listen from min. 24

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