I have just found out the my little, litle sister has just got engaged. I remember when the little rugrats use to come over after school and run around the house in their little school uniforms and now they are big women, about to get married and have little rugrats of their own. Time flies, I wish her all the best. Also, now, little, little sister can get some of the pressure that smother has to give one of her classmates just had a baby, another one getting engaged, she’s not going to hear the last of it when smother gets back, she should enjoy these last three weeks while she can.
Today I want to touch on the whole marriage thing. Not the why though, but the how.
In the west it is quite common for a couple to elope to Gretna Green or Las Vegas, get married in front of an Elvis Impersonator and that’s it. Or go to the local courthouse, sign papers, have a few drinks down the pub and go start life. The majority of those end up at that same courthouse to get divorced a while later but the thought is at the time is that they don’t need to stand up in front of a bus load of people, half of whom you don’t know, just to prove that you love each other, as it’s just about the two parties. In Africa, if you have eloped, well there is no point bragging, nobody was there to witness it so you are more or less living in sin.
In Africa, marriage is a big deal, the wedding itself is just as big. Even the most intimate affairs are usually about 50 of your closest relatives and friends. But it doesn’t start with “the big day”, that day is just the icing on the cake so to speak. There are a lot of traditions on the way to the alter. Traditions which I used to think was a waste of time but as time has gone on have come to appreciate the meaning and the richness behind it all. In a time where divorce is quite rampant, our traditions bind a marriage much more than from just saying a few vows in front of a priest. Whether you have entered into that marriage with your eyes wide open and true love aside. It is a set of promises which not only ties the two people but the families also which I think makes these two people give more effort into making things work in times of trouble rather than saying “oh well, it didn’t work out, let’s get a divorce then”.
The first major step to the path of marriage is the knocking. This is when the parents and the boy of the couple go and visit the girl and her parents. The family of the boy will then say that the guy has seen their daughter and this is the intention of the boy. In times gone by this would have been the traditional engagement but nowadays it is more symbolic. It is not a grand affair, just the guy and his parents, the girl and her parents. I like this tradition, as when dating and having fun, it is easy for you to forget that, that person has a family and he/she comes from somewhere. Yes it’s very nice for the guy to go down on bended knee and say “will you marry me”, but I just find this more serious and I know it’s not going to be one drawn out engagement.
The second step is the engagement or the traditional marriage. In my parents time, the guy gives the girls father a bottle of schnapps and a bit of cash and she’s all yours. Nowadays with the higher purchasing power it can be anything from a small affair to something bigger than a wedding. It starts of with the meeting of the families. The boys family on one side and the girls on the other. Normally there will be uncle’s, aunt’s and a whole lot of extended family. Everybody where’s white for this ceremony for the same reason a bride will wear white on her wedding day. During the beginning of the ceremony the girl is in a room somewhere out of sight.
The guy (normally a representative at that point)will come with a trunk full of goodies for the girl’s parents, the tradition of the schnapps and the cash is still in there, cloth for the mother, cloth for the father and depending on the families’ wealth depends on the loot. At my cousin’s engagement there was a laptop for my uncle and something for my auntie. There are also some goods for the bride to be, could be anything, cloth, shoes, underwear, all depends on the wealth of the guy. Normally, the family of the girl would give the guy their list (this is serious business).
The brothers of the girl don’t go empty handed, the guy will present an envelope to the brothers the aim is that they don’t throw him out and say he can’t have their sister. The tradition is still a bit sexist though, nothing for the sisters. Although the Akans do this kind of role play. The guy will come in and say that he has met a lady from the house and he would like to marry her. Then maybe a sister will come out and the family will ask if this is the girl. The guy (should) says no. The sister will say “oh you mean my sister, she is not here and I will have to get a car and go get her), the eager boy would then give the sister money to go fetch her.
So after a lot of talking from the linguist, advising the boy on what he is entering into, the lady would be called out. They will ask the guy once again if this is the girl he would say yes. The father of the girl would then say to the lady that this guy has come in and says he wants to marry you and has given us all these things, shall we take it? The point here is that although it looks like the guys and his family are paying for the girl it is not like that. She is entering of her own free will. However the guy needs to know, they are not selling their daughter but at the same time, she is not cheap.
When the girl tells them to take it. They stand in front of a pastor, the guy presents the girl with the engagement ring and a bible and there’s lots of prayers and advice from family members. After that, its time for the guests to go eat, drink and boogie, for the couple they have entered into a union. If you have ever attended one, its long (it can start from as early as 6 but normally about 10 and goes on for hours), but it is beautiful. For me, I would rather have this as my main ceremony and have the white wedding a small thing with just a few close relatives (although I can’t see that happening with all the eyes on me waiting for my time to come.) But what this day symbolises, well no words can describe.
So the icing on the cake is the white wedding. I didn’t know that there were wedding colours until I arrived in Ghana. It’s a real pain when you have to go find a dress in Fuscia because the wedding colours are something like Fuscia and lavender or something like that. Apart from the wedding colours it’s the same old same old, church service followed by a dinner and drinks after. The one good thing is that Ghanaians always do an open bar, there is no such thing as paying for your drinks. If a Ghanaian invites you to a function he has budgeted for you. This is the same for Nigerians as well, and you know they do everything 3x the size of a Ghanaian. What do we African’s do in return. Not even a blender will they buy you as a wedding gift, they come with their two empty hands and belly fill their boots and then give a runningcommentary on how it went the following day. You really know who your real friends and family are on such days.
The Sunday after the wedding, it is usually church and then a luncheon normally hosted by the guys family. That one is usually very close relatives and a few friends, the vibe you get though is that it really is a union of the two families and not just the guy and his girl.
So that in short is an African wedding, a lot of people usually do the traditional on a weekday (when most are at work) an the wedding on a weekend or vice versa, some space the two over some months or even a year while others do it all on the same day, but it has to be done. I’m knocking the elopement idea, the courthouse or the small wedding, they don’t end in divorce and they are all beautiful days but I am a traditional girl and I know the way it’s going to go, so I am prepared for those days and I know that my father’s side of the family alone will be a small village so I expect there to be at least half a village there.
So why a wedding though? There’s the finding true love aspect, but why not just live together? Very simple, you settle down, there are bills, kids, school fees, being a general dogsbody that will surely come out of it. I want that special moment in time when I am the princess. That’s why!