Thursday, December 9, 2010

First Shona Wedding

One amazing Sunday we visited a different church and discovered that we'd chosen a wedding Sunday. We had met the pastor's wife and had come to connect with her; were we in for a treat!

In 19 years in Mozambique, we could count the church weddings we'd witnessed on one hand. Honestly, it isn't that people weren't making families; simply, culture dictates that church weddings be outrageously expensive, so people opt out. Zimbabwe, despite its economic hard times does not have the same attitude.

Before the wedding was Sunday School as usual, taught beautifully by the pastor's wife. Then after the appropriate arranging of musical instruments, lighting a few candles (turning off the fans so the candles would stay lit), and much anticipation--it happened.

First we heard the wedding party arrive in their cars, horns blaring and people cheering. Shortly, five little girls in white dresses paraded down the aisle strewing flower petals in their path. The one with the veil was carrying the pillow with rings. After them, the four couples standing up with the bride and groom came, one at a time, in a sedate Shona two-step. Each couple took two steps forward and two back (feet synchronized), but the steps back were slightly shorter than the ones forward, so progress was made. The rhythmic music was easily followed and we had plenty of time to admire each couple. Once they were seated in the front row, the groom and his best man came in, just as slowly. It was easy to spot the groom. The best man was having a ball and the groom looked very apprehensive. We discovered later that he had good reason--Shona culture encourages quite a bit of good-natured razzing.

Once the two men reached the front, they turned and awaited the bride flanked by her parents. Halfway up the aisle, they stopped and the wedding was put on hold. The MC turned things over to the pastor, who gave various announcements and then introduced US, in the middle of the wedding! (I felt sorry for this girl, but she didn't seem to have the attitude that it was "her" day alone.)

Then came my most favorite part. This is where the groom thanks the parents for the wonderful job they did raising this girl.

Brief cultural interlude: We have learned in our Shona lessons that clapping is one of the key methods of showing appreciation. Men clap with their hands vertical, women horizontal. The number of claps is significant of the measure of gratitude. It is usual to clap to a child once or twice, to a person you are meeting two or three times. Women clap more times for men and so on. It is very hierarchical. One doesn't clap with hands flat, but slightly cupped, for more resonance. Now, back to the wedding.

At his point, the groom and his best man and four compadres (who came down the aisle with the lovely girls on their arms) all came together before the bride and her parents, then THEY KNELT DOWN and on cue clapped in unison. Thirty-six claps. Now if you consider that there were six guys on the floor clapping, that is a total of 216 claps. This girl must be something!

I haven't mentioned all the other details about bride price, and other gifts given by the groom to the bride's family. And cows are still a part of that, I'm only telling you what we saw.

Once the bride finally got to the front, handed over to the perspiring groom, and her parents seated, the actual ceremony began. They exchanged vows and rings and signed the register--just like western folks do.

Then they sat patiently in their seats, facing us, while the pastor preached about marriage. For an entire hour. He even had a married couple stand up front and modeled how things interfere with communication and a couple grows apart (he had them step away from each other at each example until they were at opposite walls). I didn't catch everything, the sermon was mostly Shona, but the phrase he kept repeating in English was: "this is a till death do us part kind of thing." I think everyone got the message and no one was bored.

I was touched by how much the couple, although the reason for the celebration, did not expect all the attention. (Truth be told, I'm sure the groom was relieved when they stopped picking on him!) The event was for us all--and we were all blessed.

1 comment:

Vicki a.k.a. Jarm said...

Silly me to think that all African cultures are similar...I should know better.
Love your descriptions of the kindergarten graduation, and the wedding...what a beautiful bride! Is she a typical Zimbabwean woman?
I know you will have a wonderful time in SA with Luke and Bell, at the wedding of your friend.
Enjoy your time gets more precious as the years go on, doesn't it?
A Very Blessed Christmas to you all...Love, Jarm