Our house mama had something a bit like a second wedding this weekend. We were honoured to participate and excited to learn about this aspect of Tanzanian culture. Every wedding may not be exactly like this, but here’s some of what we observed:
- At first we didn’t get an invitation to a wedding – we got an invitation to contribute funds for a wedding (an ‘mchango‘) and then after you’ve paid the suggested amount, you’re supposed to get a proper invitation.
- The mchango was really only giving approximate information. Even the date was subject to change!
- The invitation was not the the main way we got the details of the wedding. We received them verbally and didn’t get our invitation until the evening before the wedding. Some people didn’t receive theirs until the day of the wedding. However, you need the invitation because it’s your ticket into the reception!
- There is a committee that puts together the wedding, plans the decorations, food, etc.
- There was a mat up the front for the children to sit on so they could see everything.
- The groom entered with the ministers and stood with them. The bride was surrounded by her bridesmaid and ululating, dancing women as she approached the church. When she arrived at the end of the aisle, the groom and his groomsman processed down the aisle to where she stood and then the bride and groom walked up the aisle together, followed by the groomsman and bridesmaid.
- The bride kept her eyes down and did not smile until after the marriage was announced – very demure! We’re told that traditionally Tanzanian brides are fearful of their new husband’s family.
- Both families came forward to make a vow to accept, love and encourage the new member of their family.
- There was a ritual of washing each others’ hands with water (for life) and oil (for the Holy Spirit).
- During the exchange of rings, the hands are held high.
- There was no rehearsal so things were less precise than what you’d see in an Australian wedding. There was stumbling over vows, as well as a constant commentary from the minister. For example, during the washing ceremony, ‘OK, pour a bit of water, yep, bit more, whoa! Not that much! OK, little more. Put a bit of oil on. Rub it in – rub, rub, rub, OK, that’s enough. Here’s a cloth, wipe it off.’
- There was food after the ceremony, but we didn’t stay for that.
- It is perfectly acceptable to go to just the reception, without having attended the ceremony first.
- Women need two different outfits for a wedding: a more traditional kitenge combo for the ceremony and a party dress for the reception. Men wear suits but can remove the jacket for the reception.
- There was no assigned seating except for the official wedding part and family who sat up the front. There were tables, but you sat where you liked.
- There were several different types of dancing – to pop music, traditional Gogo style dancing, and even a line dance. The bride and groom did not dance on their own and still didn’t really smile.
- The wedding cake is a big deal – more on this to come! I’d been told it would be danced in by a group of women and that I would be part of that group but in the end, it was laid on a table by some of the organisers. There is a cake feeding ceremony with bits of cake on toothpicks.
- People process up to give their presents, laying them on the present table. It is perfectly acceptable to give money and there was a box on the present table for this purpose.
- There weren’t really any speeches. Each side of the family were introduced and welcome people though.
- The food comes at the end of the reception – after the dancing, the introductions, the present ceremony, the cake ceremony, etc.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.