Short story about marital ceremony of Berta people

Short story about marital ceremony of Berta people
Berta people are found in Benshangul Gumuz Regional State. It is
one of the nine regional states of Ethiopia. In Benshangule Gumuz
there are five ethnic groups with their own culture, religion and norms,
and still live in harmony with each other. They are the Berta, Gumuz,
Shinasha, Mao and Komo people. Among them, the Berta ethnic
group has the largest population. They are Muslim and very
conservative in their religion and culture. Most of them speak
Bertigna/Rutanigna the indigenous language as well as Arabic,
Amharic and Oromifa
Berta people greatly respect marriage and it is highly recognized
through cultural traditions. When the Berta young man becomes
mature and decides to marry a woman, he chooses the best woman
from local communities depending on his own criteria. Then he opens
discussion with the woman he loves. He frequently visits her home.
After long discussions, she agrees to marry him. Then he consults
with his family. Family discussions are critically important on both his
side and the woman’s side, and if they both agree, they approve his
request with full confidence.
He buys kilos of sugar and coffee to give to his future wife’s mother.
The mother may suspect marriage because of his unusual arrival to
her home. If the mother takes gifts from him, it is obvious she agrees
to the question to be asked. If she is not happy with him, she refuses
the gifts. Then, during the night, she opens discussion with her family
about their daughter’s marriage proposal by a man from the
community. She briefs them about him and his family, too. Then, they
decide to give her for marriage.
The young man selects two elders from the community and sends
them to the girl’s family. The two elders go to the woman’s family and
say “Give your daughter to our son for marriage.” The family asks
who the man is. The elders give full information about the man who
will marry their daughter. If the family believes the elders and agrees
to their request, they invite elders to sit and have coffee. If they
disagree, they do not invite the elders for coffee. During coffee
invitation they schedule an appointment to make the final decision for
a wedding date. In the next meeting, the families will decide the
wedding date and declare they are to be married.
The woman’s family gives land to the young man to construct a
house near their home in their home compound. This is very unique
culture in Berta ethnic group. The newly wed husband and wife live
there for at least one year, or until they have their first baby. Then he
may leave the family compound and construct his own permanent
house at his father’s compound. The main reason why he builds his
first house in his father-in-law’s compound is so they can give care for
their daughter while she gives birth. As soon as the house is
constructed, the marriage process continues. The young man gives
the bride price 2000-5000 Eth. Birr to his father-in-law to prepare the
wedding ceremony, and he gives a rolled cloth 30-40 meters long to
his mother-in-law. This cloth is used to dress the new born child, or
used to cover the body when someone from the family dies.
In the wedding ceremony, the role of women is very significant.
During the wedding day, the bride waits for the groom in the newly
constructed house with her bridesmaids while the groom sits on the
back of a donkey with his friends, dancing and blowing traditional
instruments called Agu Awazu (in Bertigna language). They are thee
types of instruments: Wazalu is short and makes a top/high sound,
Awaza gunde is medium and makes medium sounds and Awaza
shinir is big and used for distant sound. Once he arrives and enters
the newly constructed house to meet his bride, all of the invited
people will return to their home, and the festival is over. Until seven
days the bride and groom are not to leave the house. The mother-inlaw is responsible to feed and care for them. At seventh day, the
bride and groom kill a sheep or goat and then go to his family’s home
to get some advice. The married couple receives full support from
woman’s family at least for one year. The bride after married will not
go elsewhere even to the market for any business up to the minimum
for one year. The following pictures were taken during the marriage
ceremony undertaken between Mr. Alami Jimaa & Ms. Mekesiya
Salid on 25 March, 2010 at Abramoo community, 15 Km to West of
Assosa Town.
The bride with her bridesmaids waiting for the groom in the newly
constructed house at father-in-law’s compound
On the wedding occasion, women carrying all necessary materials for
bride and groom and going to the newly built house with traditional
During the wedding occasion people accompany the groom playing
traditional instruments [give the names also here for the different
The groom joyfully sitting on the back of donkey and coming to the
newly constructed house where the bride is waiting for him.
May 20 2010
:Cultural Biodiversity Project Officer