Igwe Performs Africa’s First Humanist Wedding

Nigerian humanist leader Leo Igwe, for whom I have booked a two week speaking tour of the United States in July, has performed what he says is the first humanist wedding on the entire continent of Africa. It took place in Ghana, where he has set up refugee camps for the victims of Pentecostal witch-hunting. He explains some of the difficulties:

My field work in Ghana would end on April 30. The marriage was slated for April 12 in the town of Elimina in Ghana’s Central region near Cape Coast. The timing was perfect! It was convenient, very convenient for me. Only one small problem I had never before conducted a marriage ceremony! So, it was going to be a first for me too. That made me nervous. Yes it did. It was a mixture of excitement and anxiety. As I say, I had no previous experience of officiating at a Humanist wedding. I was never trained as a Humanist celebrant. I have written articles on the need for such ceremonies in Africa so that Humanists who want to wed can do so in a way that reflects their own beliefs. But this was no longer theoretical. I had now been invited to officiate at one and the last thing I would would want to do is to let my friends down. My only ceremonial experience was as an altar boy and then as a seminarian. I had assisted priests during marriage ceremonies. But that was over 20 years ago. And those ceremonies were religious wedding rites conducted in churches with texts that the couples were not allowed to change. This time I would be conducting a non-religious Humanist ceremony, outdoors on a beach, with a text specially written to reflect the beliefs of the couple.

I contacted the ceremonies unit of the British Humanist Association and they sent me a sample outline text of a Humanist wedding ceremony. I also sent a message to the American Atheist Alliance and Herb Silverman sent me another text which I could adapt. Now there was the issue of legality. I am not a licensed celebrant. And, anyway Humanist marriages per se are not legal in Ghana. So we were confronted with a problem ‘How do we have it legal and have it Humanist at the same time?’.

I contacted the Marriage Registry in Tamale then at Cape Coast. And they agreed to issue Becca and Charles with a marriage certificate. Once they had the certificate they could then go and celebrate the marriage however they wanted. It was great that the officials at the Registry were cooperating and making possible a legal, Humanist wedding.

So on Saturday April 12, 2014, history was made. The friends and families of Becca and Charles joined us for a Humanist wedding ceremony at Ko-Sa Beach Resort, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Officials from the Registry arrived and issued the marriage certificate for the couple and then we could hold the ceremony.

Awesome! I can’t wait to meet Leo and travel with him. There is so much to learn from him.

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About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • http://theophontes.deviantart.com/ theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物)

    Igwe Performs Africa’s First Humanist Wedding

    Meh, I regard my marriage as humanist. Many years ago. Do I thereby get to claim it as the “first in Africa”?

    It was great that the officials at the Registry were cooperating and making possible a legal, Humanist wedding.

    There is no religious component required for weddings in South Africa (inter alia).

  • dingojack

    theophontes (恶六六六缓步动物) – Nor here in Australia either. A friend of mine was married by a celebrant, in a distinctly non religious ceremony, in park right by the shore of the ocean.



    * hehehe – I like the ‘Evil 666 tardigrade’. Those little buggers are tough!

  • Pen

    Myeah. Africa’s a big place. Really cool story though. The system of getting the state to recognise the marriage then going off to celebrate it however you want is the default and only procedure in France. They don’t need all that stuff with ‘licensed celebrants’ because the state’s declared itself the only one as far as the state is concerned. The UK does the licensed celebrants thing. Mostly, I like the French method better.

  • Suido

    @Dingo: No matter how secular their wedding was, if it was conducted in the last ~20 years, the celebrant was required by law (and with respect for the amount they paid to become a licensed celebrant) to say the following words:

    I am duly authorized by law to solemnize marriages according to law.

    “Before you are joined in marriage in my presence and in the presence of these witnesses, I am to remind you of the solemn and binding nature of the relationship into which you are now about to enter.

    “Marriage, according to law in Australia, is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.”;

    So despite the pretty relaxed secularity of our society, an Australian wedding ceremony does reference religious ideas.

  • dingojack

    Suido – do you five times a day whilst turned toward the High Court in Canberra?