Broomstick ceremonies in this country began on pre-Civil War
plantations whose owners prohibited Christian or civil weddings among slaves.
The desire of couples to bond for life in a sanctified ceremony won out, however,
as slaves created their own ceremonies, which included an eclectic mix of
rituals from different African tribes.
"Tradition says that whoever jumps the highest will make the decisions in the family," says Hunter. "If one doesn't jump, the other wears the pants." The entire ceremony, often accompanied by the music of African drums and other percussion instruments, lasts about 20 minutes.
Dark an' stormy may come de wedder
I jines dis he-male an' dis she'male togedder.
Let none, but Him dat makes de thunder,
Put dis he-male and dis she-male asunder.
I darefor 'nounce you bofe de same.
Be good, go 'long, an' keep up yo' name.
De broomstick's jumped, de world not wide.
She's now yo' own. Salute yo' bride!
Song found in the sheet music of "At an Ole Virginia Wedding" and is dated Sept. 9, 1900\
Slavery stripped the Africans of everything that made them uniquely human: their names, their language, their heritage, and their freedom.
With that loss of freedom, slaves were stripped even of the basic freedom to pick a mate and marry.
Slaveholders reasoned that if allowed to formally marry and live together, the disenfranchised Africans might gather their numbers and revolt, according to Harriette Cole, former fashion editor of Essence magazine and author of "Jumping the Broom Wedding Workbook" (Henry Holt, $18.95).
"Yet the slaves were spiritual people who had been taught rituals that began as early as childhood to prepare them for that big step into family life," Cole wrote in a published report. "They became inventive and developed the tradition of 'jumping the broom'."
Seen as a quaint amusement by slaveholders, the ritual and the broom itself held spiritual significance for many Africans. The broom represented the birth of a household for a couple, the sweeping away of the old and welcoming the new.
For the Kgatia of southern Africa, it was customary, for example, on the day after the nuptials for the bride to join the other women in the family in sweeping clean the courtyard. This signaled her desire and obligation to help with chores at her in-law's home until the couple found their own abode.
During slavery, against a backbeat of booming drums, the lovers bounded over a broom to symbolize their leap into wedlock.
Research of slave narratives and other early-19th-century documentation have unearthed the methods in which slave couples did their jumping, writes Cole. "With the master's permission, a couple was allowed to stand before witnesses, pledge their devotion to each other and finally jump over a broom, which would indicate their step into married life."
The most widely known African American wedding tradition is "jumping the broom". According to Thony Anyiams, a Nigerian wedding fashion designer, the tradition is an African one, used by enslaved Africans in America as a way to maintain their ties to their culture and their homeland. They jumped the broom because that is the way weddings were ritualized in their African homeland.
What is jumping the broom? Simply, it is a ceremony in which the bride and groom, either at the ceremony or reception, signify their entrance into a new life and their creation of a new family by symbolically “sweeping away” their former single lives, former problems and concerns, and stepping over the broom to enter upon a new adventure as husband and wife.