Monday, January 13, 2014

Observations from a Congolese Wedding

As is very often the case, I found myself in a setting that was way out of the ordinary for me.  If I start at the beginning of the story, I can say that I met a young man who worked as a guard for one of my neighbors.  I helped him to improve his English while he helped me to improve my French over the period of several months.  Before long, I was discipling him and our conversations always turned toward spiritual things.  He would often talk about his desire to get married, to one girl in particular, but her family wouldn't accept their union because of the tribe that he comes from.  Finally, the family accepted and they began to make preparations for their wedding.  After four months time, the first of three stages of marriage took place and here is what I observed (with my American brain).
  • As a true testimony to the love of ceremony, Congolese weddings take many months to complete.  A marriage is not considered complete until it is completed on the following three levels; ancestral, civil, religious.  
  • The ancestral marriage is when the two families come together and the family of the bride formally accepts the bride price and makes a public symbol of their daughter going to join the family of the groom.
  • Men sit inside the house while women and children stay outside.  Married men sit around an inner circle with the bride and groom.
  • The bride enters the room with much cheering and singing.  All though she is very well dressed in a new outfit, she doesn't smile or make eye contact with her future husband.  He is also sitting looking at the floor.  She chooses a place beside him and they don't all.
  • To start the ceremony, someone from the bride's family will introduce everyone from their side starting with the most important.  The groom's family will do the same.
  • The bride price (in this case a goat, a bicycle, and a considerably large sum of money) is passed from the head of the groom's family to the groom.  The groom then hands them to his bride, who then takes them and places them in the hands of her father.  Her father carefully inspects the goat to see that it is of agreed upon quality and checks the bicycle to be sure that it is new and not previously used.  The money is then counted slowly and out loud as everyone peers over his shoulder.  Many photographs of this event are taken, more than just as a keep sake, but rather as evidence of payment received.
  • When this has taken place, the men from the bride's family leave the house to make room for the women of the groom's family.  A good meal is served of sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice, ugali (corn meal mush), chicken, goat, caterpillars, and some green, leafy vegetable.  Although the bride's family prepares the meal, they do not eat.
  • The formality of it all seems to fade away, after all they are family now.  However, the bride and groom still don't look at or talk to one another, although they are still seated right next to each other. 
  • When the meal is over, family members from both sides of the wedding wander in and out of the house while dozens of photos are taken.
  • Finally, when it is all over, the more than twenty members of the groom's friends and family pile into three vehicles and are gone.  Nobody on either side seems to say goodbye.
Weddings seem to say a lot about the culture of a people.  Some of the things that seem funny to us about this ceremony, won't seem funny to you unless you live here.  In either case, I was happy to be considered a close enough friend to be included in the groom's "delegation" and I was also happy to see a new cultural setting from the inside. 

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