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  • Writer's pictureCassandra Vagher

Congolese American Wedding Traditions - Balubas Wedding Traditions

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

Before we dive too deep, I want to address the idea of "African American Wedding Traditions" as a blanket statement That's because Africa is an entire continent, with many different cultures that cannot be grouped into one. Therefore if you're looking for an all-encompassing blog post on African wedding traditions, it's guaranteed not to be accurate. This blog post refers explicitly to one culture, the Bulabas, people of the Democratic Republic of Congo. And to be more specific, we're talking about Bulabas wedding traditions in the United States.

So maybe you've been invited to a Congolese wedding! The beauty of different cultures is they all have other wedding traditions, so it's okay not to know what to expect! In the last four years, I've had the opportunity as a wedding photographer to join in a variety of diverse wedding traditions. I've learned about Mormon weddings, African American wedding traditions, Vietnamese American, Jewish, Native American, and how many other religions, and cultures celebrate. To share what I've learned and celebrate diversity, I've invited several guest bloggers to write about their specific traditions.

Today I have asked my friends, Janisse and Song, to share their family's Balubas wedding traditions. Janisse and Song are both from Congo and live in Denver, Colorado. In 2017 I had the opportunity to photograph their "Traditional American Wedding." Through our friendship, I learned tons about the Congolese people's dating, engagements, and wedding traditions.

Balubas Wedding Traditions

The Bulabas Engagement Tradtion:

Janisse and Song's formal Engagement

Dating in Bulabas culture isn't what you're probably used to. While there aren't arranged marriages, the couple's still aren't allowed to date. There is no "boyfriend-girlfriend" Facebook status. Instead, their relationship is kept secret. That's because marriage means many things for many people, but to the Balubas, it means everything. Marriage is sacred. It starts with admiring glances, far away from the community's optics, in secrecy, and under total discretion until it can no longer be kept secret.

When a woman accepts a marriage proposal, she invites the man to meet her parents. After her parents' blessings, families from both the bride and groom are invited on an arranged date.

Janisse's parents had never heard of or met Song until his proposal to her. The couples then invited both families to meet formally and dressed up for the occasion (photo to the right supplied by Janisse).

Luba Traditional Wedding:

Before a traditional wedding ceremony, in the Balubas culture, there's a Luba Traditional wedding. In its purest form, Luba formal weddings involve family strictly. However, because of changing times and trying circumstances, such as living in America far away from families. For example, Luba weddings in the US may include distant relatives and friends, especially those who share cultural similarities with the bride and groom to play different roles from parents to guests.

The wedding is when the two families convene at the bride's family's host to discuss the dowry. It holds so much importance and meaning; that is, marriage is considered not just the union of two loving individuals but also their families. The woman is asked to confirm consent, and the two families discuss the dowry that can be paid in full then or by a future date.

In the olden days, dowry was paid in kind. Still, today, it consists of a sum of money, clothing and footwear items for the bride's parents, small cattle animal of choice (goats) or a substitute, traditional alcoholic beverage or a substitute, African print materials, a large cooking pot, or a substitute, and other accessories.

The dowry negotiations between the two families, through their designated representatives, is a serious matter but customarily carried out comically to maintain a cordial atmosphere. The designated representatives are by custom, not the bride or groom's direct parents except in force majeure.

Janisse and Song's Luba

Traditional Balubas Wedding Attire:

In honor of the bride and groom, members of and on both family's sides agree on a color theme attire. African prints and styles are the material of choice, and since this is a very recent practice, techniques are borrowed from different African cultures and beyond.

The bride and groom can choose their own color, styles since it is their special day but usually go along with the families' color theme.

Jannise and Song wore a traditional pattern with their families selected color scheme for their Luba wedding (photo to the right supplied by Janisse).

The "Traditional American" Wedding

After the Luba wedding, it's not uncommon for Congolese American's to have a traditional white wedding. Janisse and Song did, which I had the fantastic opportunity to photograph. While most of it was what I was accustomed to, some cultural differences stood out, like dancing down the aisle, multiple outfits for guests and the bride (the traditional Congolese attire and then formal wear), and some other small details spread throughout the day.

Thank you, Janisse and Song for educating us on your cultural wedding traditions! Also thank you for having me photograph your engagement photos, wedding, maternity, and another maternity shoot soon!

Want to learn about other wedding traditions? Check out my diversity series on weddings for Vietnamese wedding traditions, Morman wedding traditions, Indian wedding traditions, and more to come!


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