Cultural Learning: Weddings

December is wedding season here in Rwanda.

One of the Rwandan staff members, Amiss, got married last Saturday!  We were really excited to go to his wedding, since he was someone we spent a lot of time with last year.  As well, he and his new wife (Marieth) will be taking part in the discipleship program Mike & I will be staffing starting in January.

A few weeks ago, another staff member, Odeth, asked me if I wanted to go to the meeting for Amiss’ wedding.  Um… I don’t know?  So I asked her, “Do I want to go to this meeting? What is it?  Will I be the goofy mzungu who doesn’t know what is going on?”  (I always try to find/identify a couple people who are trustworthy with these questions!  Otherwise, we end up going to church with someone, and after 8 hours of sitting in front of the way-too-loud blasting speaker, in the front seats, with a screaming preacher, and getting invited to join the choir for their missions trip to Congo next weekend, we finally have to say, “enough!  We have to go!” So Odeth is someone who is good at giving this kind of advice.)  She told me I should go, and she would translate for me.  So I went.  It was kind of fun – it was in a kind of restaurant/bar, and there were 5 or 6 other similar meetings going on.  Basically, the bride and groom have about 4 meetings each with their friends and family (there were 20 at the meeting I was at) to plan the wedding.  Together, they figure out the budget, offer to pay for certain items, decide together how they can do things differently, and volunteer services for certain things (ie, I’ll borrow my friend’s car and drive you to the reception).  No bridezillas here.  Meetings include a chairman, a treasurer, and a secretary to record minutes.  The person actually getting married doesn’t say much.  This was SO different from how things are done at home, but reminded me of our wedding: we had many meetings leading up to the event: taking minutes and delegating tasks.

On Saturdays, you see vehicles like this all over the city.

On Saturdays, you see vehicles like this all over the city.

Weddings here are somewhat similar to weddings at home (ie, there is a wedding in a church, then photographs, then a reception usually including a meal).  However there are a few extra ceremonies that make for a very long day!  Traditionally, these ceremonies have taken place on different days, but now many young people are trying to do it all in one day.

First is the civil wedding, done in a government hall, often ahead of time.  I think this is the legal ceremony, but no one thinks the couple is married after this service.

Then comes the big day.  After getting up sometime around 4 am to get hair done, etc, the families and friends meet at the home of the bride’s parents/family for Introduction.  This is where the groom comes to “get” the bride, pay the dowry, things like that.  (We didn’t attend this part, but it took 3 hours, so I imagine that there were a lot of speeches, and play-bargaining about whether or not they could actually get married.)

After this ceremony, the couple goes to the Church Wedding.  (Unlike at home, everyone is not waiting for them to enter.  You show up whenever you want.  Our friend, for example, took us an hour after it had begun, so we missed the first half.)

exchanging rings

exchanging rings

Then photos – anyone who wants photos with the bride and groom goes with them.  When photos are finished, they come to the reception.

I felt uncomfortable running up/didn't recognize the appropriate time, so this was the best picture I got of the couple.

I felt uncomfortable running up/didn’t recognize the appropriate time, so this was the best picture I got of the couple.

Holding the glass of red “champagne” to the others mouth to drink made me nervous with all that white – but they didn’t spill!

To begin, someone opens “champagne” and they each hold it to the others’ mouth to drink.  (I was told that this happened about 8-10 times throughout the day!)

Speeches (different from our traditional speeches, though), soda for everyone, the guests presented gifts to the couple, (please understand I am abbreviating this a lot.  It was about 7pm by this time!), then the bride’s family asked permission to return home to spread the good news that their daughter is married.  Traditionally, the groom’s family makes excuses, says things like, “we have many beds, you can stay longer,” and the bride’s family is not allowed to leave until they are given permission.  Ha!  This family granted permission, though.

Traditionally, the bride would then spend several months with her in-laws, just sitting around the house, drinking tea, and generally being catered to.  I had several explanations for this, including: getting to know her place in the new family, being welcomed, having time to make a baby, and also waiting for her parents to save enough money to help the couple set up their own house (by selling maize they have grown, raising and selling a pig or cows, etc).  Then, her parents would come with all the things necessary for setting up a home: sugar, basins, soap, dishes, pots, etc, etc, and then they would have a ceremony where they would drink milk (representing prosperity) and then release their daughter to go out and work.  Relaxing at the in-laws’ is often skipped now, so, immediately after they went to a little side house (where they couple will be staying) and had this ceremony.  The couple then changed clothes and returned, and we all ate supper together.  There was more pouring of drinks, and the couple “feeding” them to each other, more speeches, and then, after a very long day for the couple, they were married!

Learning the traditions and participating in them is great for us to have more insight into the people and culture.

We are amazed again and again at how much time people take for everything; how tiring it can be!  However, we are learning to embrace it, and we are definitely looking forward to spending more time with this couple starting in January!

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3 thoughts on “Cultural Learning: Weddings

  1. Wow! Weddings are such a window into culture…..thanks for sharing with us. Would love to attend an African wedding sometime.

  2. Nothing is ordinary anymore right?! But Joan and I were talking about how you are already so entrenched in people’s lives, the culture part will just be opening up daily to you. I know that God is smiling as you witness, learn and get involved in all the parts of life there, When you live in a place where there is no real rush for time, every thing is just a bit more important and takes a bit more time, so sit back and enjoy the ‘ride’. Love you both… Dave and Joan

  3. Pingback: Next year | Tallons' Tales Online

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