Jumping the broom

" depicts the tradition of jumping the broom. [Broyles, Tab & staff of the Department of African-American Interpretation. "The Old Plantation" information sheet". In [http://www.history.org/History/teaching/Dayseries/pdf_files/Episode_Four.pdf "A Day in the Life — Episode Four: Jill's Day" (teacher's guide)] . Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (2000).] ] Jumping the broom is an African American phrase and custom relating to wedding ceremonies. In some African-American communities, recently married couples will end their ceremony by jumping together or separately over a broom. This practice dates back at least to the 19th century and has enjoyed a 20th century revival largely due to the miniseries .


There is an ongoing debate as to the exact origin or origins of jumping the broom as a wedding ceremony. The commonly held belief is that the practice originates or at least has roots in West Africa. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 324. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] However, there are no recorded instances of West African or Central African weddings that involved jumping over the broom.

It is documented that brooms existed as spiritual symbols in regions where African Americans originated. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 326. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] The prime candidate for a geographic origin of the custom in West or Central Africa is Ghana where brooms were waved above the heads of newlyweds and their parents. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 326. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] But even the author who points to Ghana, Danita Green Roundtree, admits there is no recognized documentation suggesting that ethnic groups in Ghana, who were prominent in the Atlantic Slave Trade, ever jumped over the broom.

One particular scholar, Alan Dundes, claims that the practice originated among English Roma people better known as Gypsies. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 327. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] He further asserts that the practice was passed along, possibly by force, on slaves by their masters. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 328. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] This is given some weight by the fact that slave masters and their wives assisted in the ceremony at times. How or why an obscure Roma custom became so prevalent among African Americans is not explained.

Another author states that it is likely both blacks and whites in the antebellum south accepted jumping the broom as a quasi-marriage ceremony since the practice or symbols used in it (specifically the broom) had similar meanings in their respective cultures. [Jones, Leslie: "Happy is the Bride the Sun Shines On" page 64. McCraw-Hill Professional, 2003] She claims jumping over the broom was definitely a feature in both European and African wedding ceremonies, but the slave practice likely originated in Africa and not Europe. [Jones, Leslie: "Happy Is the Bride the sun Shines On" page 64. McGraw-Hill Professional, 2003]

The custom, fully formed though not necessarily uniform, diffused among the different ethnic groups and was used to solidify marriages during slavery among their communities. Jumping the broom therefore does owe part of its origin to slavery, but is also part of African culture that had survived in the United States like the Voodun religion of the Fon and Ewe ethnic groups or the ring-shout ceremony of the BaKongo and Mbundu ethnic groups.


"Jumping over the broom" symbolized various things depending on the culture. Among southern Africans, who were largely not a part of the Atlantic slave trade, it represented the wife's commitment or willingness to clean the courtyard of the new home she had joined. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 326. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] In England, jumping over the broom (or sometimes walking over a broom), became nominally synonymous (i.e. "Married over the besom") with irregular or non-church unions. [Dundes, Alan: ""Jumping the Broom": On the Origin and Meaning of an African American Wedding Custom" page 327. The Journal of American Folklore, 1996] But in the American south, the custom determined who ran the household. Whoever jumped highest over the broom was the decision maker of the household (usually the man). The jumping of the broom does not constitute taking a "leap of faith" because the practice of jumping the broom pre-dates the phrase coined by Søren Aabye Kierkegaard by one hundred years, if not more.


After the end of American slavery, jumping the broom was seldom practiced. It was not necessary once African Americans could have European-style marriages with rings and other identifiers. Jumping the broom was always done before witnesses in order for members of the slave community to know a couple was married. No form of marriage was recognized for blacks during slavery, therefore jumping the broom solidified this ceremony within the slave community. Once blacks could have European-style weddings with rings that were recognizable by anyone as a symbol of marriage, the broom ceremony wasn't required.


Jumping the broom also fell out of practice due to the stigma it carried, and in some cases still carries, among black Americans wishing to forget the horrors of slavery. Once slavery had ended, many blacks wanted nothing to do with anything associated with that era and discarded the broom jumping practice altogether. The practice did survive in some communities though and made a resurgence after the publication of Alex Haley's "".


Sometimes African American couples who do not actually jump a broom when they get married, may joke or recognize the phrase to be synonymous with getting married in the same way that "tying the knot" is associated with getting married. Brooms can be beautifully decorated and may be used as wall décor after the wedding ceremony. [" [http://www.anyiams.com/jumping_the_broom.htm Who Should Jump the Broom?] " By Designer Thony Anyiam]

Other Ethnic Groups

Jumping over a broom as part of a wedding ceremony was also common in pre-Christian European cultures. Broom jumping is also practiced by non-black groups and different religions around the world with some variation. Wiccans and Roma are among the groups who developed their own style of a broom jumping tradition. The Welsh also had a centuries-old custom called "priodas coes ysgub", or "broom-stick wedding" alluded to in Dundes' work.


The novel "Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens contains a reference in chapter 48 to a couple having been married "over the broomstick." The ceremony is not portrayed, but the reference indicates that the readers would have recognized this kind of folk ceremony.
The play "The Piano Lesson" by August Wilson contains a reference in Act One, Scene 2 where one character, Doaker, describing his family history during slavery says, "See that? That's when him and Mama Berniece got married. They called it jumping the broom. That's how you got married in them days."

External links

* [http://books.google.com/books?id=HzyEu9BnJ_EC&pg=PA64&dq=broom+jumping&sig=hrb3hDn1fyMgQA9rbajBMGnzFTA] Happy is the Bride the Sun Shines on at Googlebooks
* [http://www.thenuptialknot.com/articles.htm The Nuptial Knot]
* [http://www.africanweddingguide.com/history/jumping.html African Wedding Guide]
* [http://www.myonestopbridalshop.com/cat3.php Where to buy custom brooms online]
* [http://www.weddingbroomdesigns.com/ Beautiful Custom Wedding Brooms by Alicia Jones]

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