Weddings; The stress behind the fairy tale Mwelwa Chungu, The AFRican Londoner

Weddings; The stress behind the fairy tale

Mwelwa Chungu, The AFRican Londoner

Published on Mon, Feb 18 2008 by Mwelwa Chungu

After many years of avoiding them I am finally going to a wedding. I have to go, it is my own. I have always dreaded the thought of having a wedding. However, I managed to circumvent much stress through extensive research and all out action. I am not patient enough to spend eight months planning an event; I have other things to do with my life! I ensured most of the major decisions were made in about three weeks and carried on with my existence.

Yet despite my obsessively organised approach to the planning and dissemination of information, people have still managed to stress me out. Now, just two months before the event, people are coming forward to say they would like to come, asking for information that I have already given them or that is readily available from other sources or that I cannot actually supply as I am not a travel agent/doctor/omnipresent all knowing being.

I realise from my experience why the saying “weddings and funerals bring out the best and the worst in people” was coined. The people that you least expect to become demanding and insensitive in ways that are exasperating. I once read a letter in a magazine where a woman, who was (by her own description) heavily pregnant and had a very young child, wrote about how outraged she was that her sister did not pick her to be her Maid of Honour.

People seem to think that a wedding is a big free party, thrown together at a moments notice and they are owed something, that they have rights depending on who they are and how long they have known you. Few people seem to understand that weddings require a great deal of planning and actually cost money.

Weddings are notorious for being extraordinarily expensive events and yet the cost does not seem to occur to people. Many simply see it as a way to get a free meal and some drinks of their choice. I have had people demanding that the drink they normally have be on the menu without a thought that they might be the only ones drinking it. Most people also don’t consider that the wedding is a celebration of the bride and groom, of their union. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been told that this wedding is not about me, so I should accommodate my cousin’s brother in law’s uncle’s youngest sister’s son’s nephew’s request not to have nuts in the wedding cake.

It has, off course not been all bad. The people that have shocked me with their behaviour are my parents. They have listened to me, and been supportive of my wants and decision. I was prepared to fight demands for a bigger wedding; they are after all Zambians. They have not insisted that we go the traditional route and have the “kitchen party” and Matebeto and all the extra celebrations that these events attract in Zambia.

If my partner and I were both Zambian it would be a given that I would have, depending on tribe, had a kitchen party, which is a get together for the women on both sides so that the older women can give advice to the bride as well as give her items for her new kitchen. This may have been followed by a matebeto, an event where the women of the bride’s family cook for the men of the groom’s family. This is a mostly northern tradition that is intended to show the groom’s family what the groom will be eating in his new home. There is a similar event in the eastern province but the food is not cooked. There would perhaps have been hiding of the bride or the killing of a white chicken in the early morning and other revelries that all have a place in our traditions which I have littel knowledge of having avoided attending a wedding for this long.

There are many traditions related to marriage in my country but the thing that stands out about most is that they are about bringing the community together to celebrate the coming together of the two people, the continuation of the family and by extension the tribe. The members of the community are happy to help with the proceedings, be it giving advice to the couple or a present or assisting with the food preparations. It seems that although the traditions are sometimes testing for the couple, they are ultimately supportive, an attempt to give the couple the best possible chance of staying together.

So people’s insistence that weddings are not about the bride and groom makes me wonder when the coming together of two people became about everyone else. For all the talk of “it’s the bringing together of two families”, we must not forget that without the couple there would be no coming together.

As for me, I hope I remember how I am feeling when my children want to get married.


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