Jump the Broom..or Nah?

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was able to watch the A&E/History Channel’s remake of Roots. It was an intense watch, and like the original series, I enjoyed it. As a wedding planner and African-American woman, what resonated with me was the scene in which Kunta Kinte was hesitant to jump the broom. Now, alls my life, I thought this was a wide-spread tradition in African culture, and that we were honoring our ancestors by doing this in our ‘traditional’ ceremonies. But, after the look on Kinte’s face, I guess not.

SPOILER ALERT: As the scene opens, Kunta Kinte (Malachi Kirby) expresses his love, with Fiddler (Forest Whitaker) setting the mood in the background, for the beautiful Belle (Emayatzy Corinealdi). The scene jumps to the wedding ceremony. At the end of the wedding ceremony, Kunta Kinte and his bride, Belle were at the close of the wedding ceremony. To seal the deal, Fiddler instructs the couple to jump a broom. Kinte steps back in confusion of this so-called tradition and almost cussed Fiddler out because he felt he and his new bride were being mocked. Reluctant to start his marriage on the wrong foot (no pun) by going against tradition as he knew it, he agrees to jump to appease Belle and Fiddler. So after seeing this, I instantly wanted to know more about the tradition.

A map of West Africa showing Mandinka peoples, languages and influence, 1906.

Kirby’s character, Kunta Kinte, was of the Mandinka (Mandingo/Malinke) tribe. The Mandinka people of Gambia have practiced the Islamic faith centuries before European arrival, which played a major part in marital affairs. Polygamy was-and still is a practice, and the first marriage was traditionally arranged. The ceremony does not just happen in one day, but rather over a period of time which requires the suitor to give gifts, or a sufficient dowry to the bride’s family.

So, if not in Gambia, then where did we get the ritual from? According to the African American Registry, the significance of the broom to African-Americans heritage and history originates in the West African country of Ghana. During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, most of Ghana in the 18th century was ruled by the Asante of Ashanti Confederacy. In Asante culture, the broom held spiritual value and symbolized sweeping away past wrongs or removing evil spirits. They were waved over the heads of marrying couples to ward off spirits. It was not mandatory to jump over the broom.  It symbolized the wife’s commitment or willingness to clean the courtyard of the new home she had joined. Furthermore, it expressed her commitment to the house, and the determination of who ran the household. Whoever jumped highest over the broom was the decision maker of the household.

While jumping the broom is not required, it is still a tradition that has become a staple in African-American wedding ritual for many centuries. So, when deciding whether to incorporate the ritual into your wedding, brothers and sisters, consider these things:

  1. The true blessing is that this, and many other traditions, have brought solace to our people for many years. It is one that links you to a time which required great sacrifice and bravery from our people, in dismal periods of our country’s past.
  2. It is totally optional, but…
  3.  Big Momma said so!