I have only ever attended unique weddings—first my brother’s on Maui and then last Saturday, where I was welcomed into a Xhosa wedding ceremony by Mama Ghana and her family. The celebration was well underway when we showed up—bright colours, beading, gorgeous fabrics and embroidery, and singing and dancing--the bride works for the Department of Arts and Culture and had hired two Xhosa groups to perform. One was a troupe of adolescents who sang, drummed, and danced and the other was a group of beautiful older women in traditional paint and outfits.
Our scheme of blending into the background was sidelined by members of the wedding party who shoved us into the middle of the tent where all eyes were, once again, on us. During one speech, everyone in the tent turned around to look at us and laugh—Sarah and I turned beet red, but apparently someone had only made a joke about those in the audience who couldn’t understand what was being said. You find that you are much more conscious of your behaviour when you realize that everyone is aware of your presence—no room for error! But a good laugh broke the tension and we started getting more smiles!
Other memorable moments include being followed around by the photographer and featured in a series of photo shoots—the newlyweds are going to look back at their wedding pictures and wonder who the two random blondes are! But, like anything, there are universal similarities; long speeches, cheesy wedding singers, children playing and yelling in the background, and drunken leery uncles. Another hilarious similarity was the reaction that a young barely-dressed dancer can have on women of all ages! The star of the dancing group had the entire tent in shrieks and screams—at one point, he pulled a grandmother from the audience and the whole crowd hooted and hollered with jealousy and excitement!
There were also noticeable differences— for example, a flatbed truck pulled up with a giant bed in the back—the family will sleep in the newlywed’s home for the first night to signify that you have married into the whole family. Also, a sheep was slaughtered the day before to honour the event and the women sat behind the house with large calabashes of slow-simmered meat, creamed vegetables, squash, and nqushu (a staple food of beans and samp). One thing I’ve noticed about South Africa is the generosity of portions—I could barely carry my plate and I think I ripped a few stitches in my dress. Sarah and I also had the pleasure of tasting two types of home brew—regular hops beer and ginger beer. In the tradition of being polite Canadians, we both downed the beer so as not to leave empty glasses.
You realize how much energy it takes to be introduced to countless people, remember names, keep smiling, and trying not to make any huge cultural faux pas. I hope we made a good impression and conveyed our gratitude in being invited and welcomed so warmly to this family event. As far as I can tell, we didn’t insult anyone and I now have a camera full of amazing photos!
P.S. I am in Mthatha so stay tuned for my beautiful photos...