What is black history without understanding the lost rituals of our past? This February I am not here to discuss the legacies of Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, or Rosa Parks but instead spinning the cultural uploading of historical icons into the lost teachings of our ancestors in relation to love, life, and the traditions that were systematically altered during the middle passage.
With that being said, one of the many customs that I often questioned growing up was that of “jumping the broom” during African-American weddings. I remember first seeing this afro-ceremony performed during my cousin Jamie’s wedding back in ’99 and I was stuck on the majestic woodwork that signified the joining of two souls, but where did this sacrament originate?
After much research and time-consuming debate, jumping the broom holds more significance in the black experience than what I thought.
Interestingly enough, the significance of the broom to African American heritage 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.
The Asante’s urban areas and roads were kept conspicuously clean with the use of locally made brooms, not ones that your nearest Cosco have in stock. These same brooms were used by wives to clean the courtyards of homes. The broom in Asante cultures was believed to have spiritual value and symbolized sweeping away past wrongs or removing evil spirits (which may or may not be a real concern within the black culture).
Out with the Old, in with the New
Jumping over the broom not only symbolized the clearing of evil spirits but for black women, it was a wife’s commitment or willingness to clean the barriers of the new home she had joined once married. It also expressed her overall commitment to the household and her husband.
During the slave trade we were not allowed to practice many of the traditional rituals of our past, therefore, much of our heritage was lost during this time. However, jumping the broom did survive in the Americas, especially in the United States, among slaves brought from the Asante area.
This particular Akan practice of jumping the broom was picked up by other African ethnic groups in the Americas and used to strengthen marriages during slavery among their communities.
Today, many African and African American couples include jumping the broom at the end of their wedding ceremonies as a tribute to tradition. And even couples who do not actually jump a broom when they get married, often refer to or at least recognize, the phrase to be synonymous with getting married in the same way most Americans associate “tying the knot” with getting married.
Jumping the broom for African-Americans is far more than just a spiritual showcase of black love, but it is a chance for us to connect with our past in an effort to hold onto what was thought to have been lost forever.