I just recently went to a wedding where a friend of the family jumped over a broom with her new husband. Me being one of a black-American family, this isn’t anything new to me, but it still got me curious. How does such a mundane thing carry so much symbolism?
This Year. One Way or Another…
Now Fall already, it’s the time of the year where people the world over get bombarded with more symbolism. What’s a Halloween without at least a few brooms and a rake? The phrase Jumping the Broom carries very old history and often comes up with Black-American culture. Apparently this tradition originates from Ghana and during a time when the Asante of the Ashanti Confederacy ruled this part of West Africa. This practice fell out of favor with Blacks in the States by the time emancipation got underway. After being a newly freed peoples from slavery, a majority of Blacks thought the tradition of jumping the broom reminded them too much of where their ancestry lead; thus dregging up memories of once being slaves. Plus, most of the traditions that African slaves brought with them, their slave-owners banned, forcing them to adopt western and White practices instead. It was just all too soon and not quite a good time to save the tradition yet. Nevertheless it did survive, along with voudou (or voodoo) and the Ewe traditions of Middle-America.
Symbols of Twigs and Figs
The practice of jumping the broom at weddings isn’t about symbolizing a leap of faith. I never knew this connotation existed, honestly, but people of varying ethnicities worldwide have since adopted this African tradition and put their own cultural spin on it anyways. However, the original integrity and origin of this practice is still very well kept and respected. Traditionally, when the custom began twigs were laid on the ground for a newly-wedded couple to jump over; a physical symbol of stepping into a new household of their union. Whichever of the two jumped the highest, that individual would be appointed leader of the household. I wasn’t at all surprised at the fact that most of the time, the husband jumped the highest. Never found a particular reason for it, but I don’t think it gets any more traditional than that. Some ceremonies involved waving the broom over the couple to ward off evil spirits. Sometimes jumping over the broom embodied the bride’s commitment to the household. I found it interesting that couples didn’t always jump over the broom in this case.
The matter at hand though, concerns the actual makeup of the medium itself. Nowadays the broom shows up more often rather than a mere bundle of sticks in this practice and like with most traditions, nothing is put to waste. Although the meaning slightly varies among families, the general idea is this: the bundles of sticks, or the wide end of the broom, represent the two households or families that each partner comes from; through the handle, both parties unite as one.
More Than Enough Brooms Abound
Another interesting thing I’ve found is how brooms are not only used similarly around the world in a practical sense, but also have the same symbolic uses despite diversified cultures. Take India, for example. Just like how the African tradition originally stresses the wife’s role, Jainism associates the broom to Lakshmi, or wealth, the Goddess associated with it and thus is often the tool for the woman of the household. There’s also another Goddess of Prosperity, Sheetala, who presides over the transitions of the seasons. The broom in this case can symbolize warding off evil, cleansing, as well as divine blessings, also like that of the broom from the African tradition. Not only do women utilize the broom in these fashions but also Buddhist monks. Additionally, this means that this symbolism is also acknowledged in other countries that practice Buddhism, which I find very interesting. Other popular branches of similar meanings are the olive tree branches and the fig tree, which comes up in Israeli and monotheistic traditions as yet another sign of prosperity.
I actually expected a lot of what I found out about how the broom, a simple household tool, has been used over the centuries. It was mostly all speculation before. The details, though, were what surprised me. I found it fascinating how much the broom is associated with harvest seasons worldwide despite it being used all-year round, even if just in a symbolic sense.
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