Four African & Caribbean Wedding Experts Talk Tradition, Culture, and COVID-19

We’ve all been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or another—especially when it comes to the wedding industry. So many people grow up with this dream in their mind of having a massive ornate wedding day with all of their friends, family, and loved ones in attendance but given social distancing requirements, public concerns, and limits on indoor gatherings that type of fairytale wedding is not really possible in 2020. One particular community that is feeling the effects of these restrictions quite keenly is the African and Caribbean wedding industry.

According to Bilen Zeremariam of Queen of Hearts Floral Design, “No Eritrean wedding is intimate and I think that goes for any African or Caribbean wedding, to be honest, it’s in our DNA to just have big weddings.”

Zeremariam is a member of the Elite Vendors Network in the UK, a planning and vendor system for African and Caribbean events—particularly weddings! Weddings are a pretty big deal no matter what culture you’re talking about, but listening to Zeremariam and her fellow EVN members talk may get you thinking that no one does weddings like Africans and Carribeans do weddings! And you’d probably be right. Check out this heartwarming documentary to see for yourself.

The documentary features Zeremariam as well as three other African or Caribbean wedding vendors: Kashi Isaac-Salawu of Eden Event Design, Tessa Williams of A Touch of Neveah, and Shola Adedayo of Designer Wedding Planner reflecting on their heritage, history, and the future of their industry.

This new mini-documentary, Then & Now - Weddings From Different Cultures, is a bright light in the tumultuous time we’re all currently living through. The video features all four of these wedding experts discussing their own cultures and how they have inspired them to work towards creating beautiful, memorable, and culturally relevant weddings for each and every one of their clients. Each of them spends time reminiscing on certain aspects of their own (or even their parents) weddings, and how those experiences shaped them into the experts they are today.

Weddings and traditions basically go hand in hand, but what traditions you incorporate into your wedding completely depends on who you are—your background, your family, your heritage, etc. Regardless of what traditions you would like to honor in your own wedding, the comfort and pride in wearing your culture (sometimes literally!) on your sleeve for your wedding day is a strength that connects people throughout the generations. In the words of Isaac-Salawu, “Having that traditional [wedding]—not just for you, not just for your parents—you’re doing that to carry on that [tradition]. [...] This is the day that you’ll feel yourself as who you are because your culture is your identity.”

Isaac-Salawu, who is Nigerian, shared spirited retellings of her own wedding memories from the first wedding she attended as a child to her own wedding! Her first memory of a wedding was actually participating in her Aunt’s wedding! In Nigeria—she explains—it’s traditional for the youngest family member to read a proposal letter sent from the groom’s family to the bride’s family out for everyone to hear—and as a child, Isaac-Salawu got to do just that! Decades later it was her own niece who had the honor of reading her proposal letter.

She reflects, “this is the story that you’ll tell your children. I think that aspect that element of your wedding should not be taken for granted. I advise everyone with a culture, everyone with a tradition to sort of [imbue] their tradition [into their wedding].”

On a similar note, Zeremariam encourages people to “Embrace your culture as much as possible. We need to be the generation of young people getting married that must not forget where we have come from.” With everything that’s going on in the world right now, it’s easy to get lost in the sheer unfamiliarity of life as we know it, however, these women and their cultural traditions are staying strong and holding out for more.

Given the importance of tradition in many of the cultures featured in this documentary (Isaac-Salawu and Adedayo are both Nigerian, Zeremariam is Eritrean, and Williams is Caribbean) it’s no wonder that so many African and/or Caribbean nearlyweds are forgoing small weddings in favor of waiting to have their big big day!

That said, hope is not lost. Adedayo encourages the brides of 2020 and 2021 to “Have faith—this thing will blow over, and you will still get married. And not only that but I’ll be there to support you through it because that’s what we do and as a wedding planner that’s what we’ve all done: be resourceful, be engaging, be encouraging, be supportive, but not only that... showing the love that’s needed at this time.”

We could all use a little extra love these days, but thankfully these women aren’t afraid to show it.