Marriage Rituals in Ethiopia

In a country where tradition runs most of the day-to-day activities, it is no surprise that Ethiopia is #3 on the list of countries with the highest marriage rates. Marriage in Ethiopia is governed primarily by religion. Since most of the country is either Orthodox-Christian or Muslim, the wedding ceremonies relate to those two religions. However, both the religions share a similar structure

Orthodox – Christian Wedding 

62% of the nation of Ethiopia is Orthodox – Christian. This makes this wedding ritual the most common throughout the entire nation. The process to wed a man and a woman together begins at the parents level. The grooms parents meet with the potential wife’s parents. They discuss a dowry between one another. A dowry is then made. Dowries often consist of either money or livestock (often cattle) and acts as a security measure that the girl is taken and also acts as a wedding proposal. After the proposal stage, the parents discuss methods of paying for the wedding.  After everything is discussed, the engagement is celebrated and the wedding is allowed to happen. It is important to know that up until the wedding, the bride and groom have not seen each other. It is only on the day of the wedding that they actually see each other. The wedding ceremony itself may take place in the home of the groom or in a church. After the wedding, the groom will take his new bride to his home. Within the first three days of their marriage, the man must take his new wife’s virginity.

***Virginity is an important part of the wedding ceremony. A family whose daughter is not a virgin when she is married is shunned by the rest of society. In many areas is not uncommon to see young girls getting married around their early teenage years. This is done in order to protect their virginity. UNICEF reports that the percentage of girls married by age 15 is 16% while the percent of girls married by age 18 is 41%. They also estimate that nearly 19% of adolescent females have already been married. This is all in order to protect the virginity of the girl as well as the integrity of the family. 

To see the UNICEF report on Ethiopia, please visit

For more information about Orthodox Ethiopian wedding ceremonies, please visit:


Muslim Weddings

Seeing as the country is nearly 30% Muslim, these wedding ceremonies are the second most practiced ceremonies in Ethiopia. Muslim weddings are very similar to the Orthodox-Christian weddings. Unlike the Orthodox ceremony, a dowry is looked down upon in Islamic culture. Instead they offer what is known as a Mahr which is essentially a dowry. After a man has chosen to marry a woman, he offers the Mahr to her. It usually money, goods, or services that the woman has the choice to accept or reject or share with her future husband. Unlike a dowry, the Mahr is a gift and does not estimate her worth in any way. Another important fact is that the permission of the bride and her father are quite necessary. However, if there is no father figure or if the woman is not a virgin or is remarrying, the decision to marry is solely hers. Following the engagement and presentation of the Mahr, the Nikha Ceremony takes place. Following a set script, the bride and groom exchange vows and are married. An important factor of the Muslim wedding is that it can only occur on certain days. Days of mourning for the religion as well as days when the constellations appear in the Scorpio formation are often seen as unholy days to be married on. After the marriage of the two people, there is often a Valima, or a traditional celebratory dinner held in their honor. For the valima it is advised that the bride and groom not spend so much money lavishly so that they can save it for themselves when they really need it. 


To learn more about the Muslim Ethiopian wedding ceremony, please visit:





Posted on December 2, 2013, in Marriage. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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