When two people want to marry, here in Tanzania there’s a long road in front of them before they actually get to the “I DO” part! It all starts with the man getting on one knee. Well, actually, I don’t know if it’s custom here for a man to literally drop down on one knee but he pops the question. Then he needs to write an inspiring letter declaring his intentions to a respected elder man of his fiancé’s clan or village. This messenger will discuss the matter with her parents, who will give him a written answer. Assuming the parents give their blessing, the young couple can move on to the next stage: the dowry.
This stage is completely (or almost completely) out of their hands. It’s up to their parents. They meet, her parents make their requests clear, his parents bargain and try to get the dowry down till they reach a consensus. The dowry can vary a lot. While some parents are content with a cow and a khanga as a thank you for bringing up a lovely daughter, others might ask for a few million shillings. The dowry is usually paid by his parents but if the young man has the means he can also settle the bill. Saving for this can however take several months.
When that’s over all there is left to do is partying! Following tradition there are three party’s: the kitchen party, the send-off party and the actual wedding. All three party’s will be paid for by the invitees, however those can choose the amount they pay. When I asked how one would know how much to donate, the answer was “it depends on how deep your pockets are” :-). According to ones donation they may get invitation tickets for one or more party’s and for yourself only or with partner.
The first party is the kitchen party: women only. Both sides of the family are invited as well as close friends. The bride-to-be gets lots of advice about what to expect of married life, what she should do and what she definitely shouldn’t do. The invitees come baring gifts and as you might already have figured out, they are mainly kitchen utilities.
When this is done, it’s time for the parents to wave their daughter goodbye at the send-off party. This party can be as big as the wedding or smaller. Last but not least there is the actual wedding party mostly organised by the grooms family.
Last week, we were invited to the wedding party of my husband’s colleague. Off course I was nervous, not knowing very well what to expect but we had a blast! If there is one thing they know how to do in Tanzania it’s partying and even more dancing! We could enjoy the whole ceremony from the front row, as they had reserved the best table for us (which was really nice but I also found it a little uncomfortable to be seated in front of close friends and family…)
Right in front of us was the throne for the bride and groom, on the left there was a table for his parents, her family sat on the right side. The entrance of the family immediately set tone for the evening: bridesmaids, family, bride and groom came in dancing. There would be no walking during the whole evening. If one had to move, it would be done whilst dancing!
Speeches were alternated by different dances: one for each tribe, one for friends and so on. It was wonderful to watch, people have such a great sense of rhythm! And then off course there was the dreaded moment where one would ask me to join the dance floor. Me, probably one of the most rigid sticks walking around on earth! On top of that I noticed I appeared on the huge projecting screen so everyone could have a good look! At that moment I think I would have done anything for some magic “vanishing powder”. Still they seemed to appreciate the effort I took to put some movement in my sticky body. By the sight of my red blushing face, they must have seen it took me all the effort in the world ;-)
Time to eat: the bride and groom opened the buffet. They brought in the whole goat, which is a sign of unity of two families. The sight of the whole goat, which looked like it was smiling was kind of weird for me at first but the taste was really good (I still find it weird-looking at the picture…), then they also cut the cake. As you can only go by the buffet once it’s custom to stack the food as high as you can. There were people coming back from the buffet with true Kilimanjaro mountains on their plates! Mine was really modest against theirs. The food was delicious and it was a great opportunity for us to taste some local dishes.
After dinner it was time for the gifts. Anything you can more of less carry you should bring to the party. The guests are divided into groups (family of the groom, family of the bride, close friends, colleagues,…) who can then come forward to hand over their gifts. It’s turned into a big show, with a lot of dancing and clapping. This is followed by the opening dance of the bride and groom to open the real dance party. At 12PM however, the lights are shut and everyone leaves together. It was a true privilege and a great experience to participate at this wedding!
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