Traditional Welcome Party + Luxury Outdoor Wedding in Ethiopia

Abaynesh Jembere and Tumaini Basaninyenzi

Photographed by: Amy Anaiz PhotographyLocation: Bahir Dar, Amhara, Ethiopia

When it came time for Abaynesh Jembere and Tumaini Basaninyenzi to plan their wedding, it was an easy decision to go back to their roots instead of saying “I do” where they met and fell in love in New York. “I’m from Ethiopia and Tuma is from Rwanda,” shares the bride. “We knew we wanted to get married in Africa.” Thus, they planned two celebrations in their home country to honor both of their cultures. 

Five months before the big day, a celebration in Rwanda with nearly 650 guests in attendance began the revelry. “In Rwandese culture, before the wedding is the Gusaba, a traditional ceremony where the families come together blessing the upcoming nuptials,” explains Abaynesh. Many friends and family traveled to Africa twice in one year to not only experience their December wedding day, but also the July festivities in Rwanda. “It was truly magical,” the bride marvels. 

The nuptials then took place in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, located in the northern region where the father of the bride is from. “It wasn’t a destination wedding, it was a dedication wedding,” urges Tuma of the faraway fête. “You had to be dedicated to attend… it was a real trek.” Since their friends and family had made a commitment to celebrate their love, the couple focused on the experience of their guests while planning. “They were traveling so far and it was important to us to give them the experience of a lifetime,” affirms Abaynesh. A multi-day celebration filled with sightseeing and cherished rituals was planned to show their loved ones the rich culture of Ethiopia. 

A welcome party for all 250 attendees to get to know one another started the merriment, followed by a buna ceremony the next morning. “Coffee in Ethiopia is not your basic cup… We wanted all of our guests to be able to experience this tradition,” confirms Abaynesh. Attendees then enjoyed a four-hour excursion on Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile, to visit ancient island monasteries. That evening, everyone celebrated a melse – customarily a post-wedding celebration that occurs after the big day. “We flipped it and had our melse the day before because of our guests’ travel itineraries,” says the bride, who donned customary Habesha clothing along with her groom. Friends and family also wore Ethiopian attire for the event. Abaynesh adds, “It was so amazing to see all of our loved ones dressed up and enjoying the culture!” 

Their official wedding day began with an incredible processional that the father of the bride provided as a surprise. “He organized traditionally draped horses ridden by a troupe of warriors to escort our own horse-drawn carriage,” remembers the groom of the moment. “Riding through the charming streets of Bahir Dar to our ceremony was unforgettably beautiful.” Abaynesh and Tuma exchanged vows beneath an arch of drapery accented with vanilla blooms and fresh greenery. “We felt like a king and queen!” muses Abaynesh, who was gorgeous in a long-sleeve gown with striking embellishments as she carried a bouquet of white peonies, ranunculuses, and orchids accented with dusty miller and eucalyptus leaves. 

Once pronounced husband and wife, the newlyweds joined their loved ones for a glamorous alfresco reception fit for royalty. The space was adorned with fresh greenery, lush vanilla flowers, gilt accents, and ambient candlelight. Soft cream-colored drapery around the perimeter provided an intimate, regal feel. Though the entire reception was stunning, the newlyweds’ sweetheart table was the pièce de résistance of the décor. A mirrored table decorated with ivory blooms was displayed in front of a geometric gold backdrop and beneath an impressive canopy of cascading ivory florals illuminated with crystal chandeliers. “Everything was beautiful!” exclaims the bride. 

As the sun went down, the party started and everyone flooded the large white-and-gold personalized dance floor. “The music was popping,” exclaims Tuma of the entertainment, which was “the right mix of hip-hop, R&B, and Afrobeats for our friends, and then Ethiopian and Rwandese music for our family.” 

Though the wedding day ended, the cultural celebrations continued with guests enjoying a hike to see the Blue Nile Falls the morning after and a second melse the following day. “Planning a wedding 7,000 miles away is no easy task, [but] it turned out amazing!” smiles the bride. “It was a lot of our friends’ first time in Africa, which meant so much to us to show them how beautiful and rich the culture is in Ethiopia.”