We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Here Comes the Bride(s)

One of the fun things about living in a country not your own, is discovering how other people celebrate the same event (in this case weddings), in very different yet at the same time similar ways!

We have recently been to two weddings here in Mwanza, both very different to our previous experiences of Tanzanian weddings which took place in villages. And nearly two months ago we celebrated the wedding of a special friend, Ruth, in England, which was very different again. Yet in enjoying the differences, we see so much is the same! And there is much we can learn about cross-cultural living from this fact!

Soon after returning to Tanzania, we went to Esther's wedding. Esther, a lovely girl who works with us on agricultural training, married Baraka ("Blessing") from Dar es Salaam. Word of mouth and mobile texts gave us the details of the wedding; the invitation, which included details on the "mchango" (the money to be contributed in order to attend) the planned times and locations and also sample wedding colours, was always "on the way." We eventually received it at the reception - a good thing to get, as we needed it to pay our contribution to get in at the party and it was a bit awkward there for a while! We had heard the wedding would start at 1:00pm. So we sensibly decided to arrive at the church at 2:00pm. It finally started at 3:00pm. The bride had arrived.

The bridesmaids, who had been singing to the gathering wedding guests for a long time, quickly slipped off the stage and ran to the back into order to process to the front, bringing the groom with them amidst much cheering and photo-taking. They then dashed back to the back again to receive the bride, and cheering loudly, the seated crowd thronged into the aisle with much vigelegele-ing (high pitched trilling), much dancing and more photo-taking! The groom came to the back again to meet his bride. Esther's parents presented her to him, giving their permission to marry and once the veil was removed, the couple slowly made their way through the cheering crowd and took their positions at the front.

People were introduced, songs were sung, the pastor preached, vows were declared, rings were given, prayers were said, the registry book was signed. It all took about two hours. And then the crowd, with more vigelegele-ing, followed the newly married couple outside. Snapping photos. Hugs and laughter. Such familiar joy!

Tim prays for the couple

Giving of rings (notice the hands held high!)
Guests (including Louisa!) rush to the front to get a good look ... and a photo!
It was now 5:00pm and the reception was due to start at another location at 6:00pm. We decided to arrive at 7:30pm. We arrived to find a beautifully decorated hall! Incredible fairy lights and sashes of wedding colour material draped extravagantly on the walls. But we were one of the first there! We were served sodas and juice as we waited (that was similar to what we were used to). Then we were served what we later learned was cow intestine soup (not so used to that). And then sometime after 9:00pm the wedding party arrived! Amisadai was feeling particularly hungry at this point (she had passed on the soup)!

Arriving at the reception
The bride and groom entered through an arch, ceremoniously cutting the ribbon as they came in. Then the party could begin! The MC, with the aid of a microphone and very loud speakers, kept a running commentary going in tandem with the DJ and drum rolls, through everything from the cutting of the cake to the giving of gifts! After cutting the cake, the bride and groom fed one another pieces of cake and then proceeded to give small cakes to their parents and other important people who had been involved in the wedding. There were speeches and many introductions! And then the gift-giving... such a fun-filled noisy affair! Everyone danced up to the bride and groom to present their gifts, in groups (of colour-co-ordinated outfits), as individuals, in groups again, with lots of vigelegele-ing, hugs and dancing! How the couple managed to keep standing through this whole thing is beyond me! I did notice though, that Esther, who has the most stunning selection of very high heels of any agricultural worker I know, was barefoot under the hem of her dress now!
Giving the gifts, wrapped in a khanga!
And finally, three hours later, just past midnight, dinner was served! You can imagine how tired and hungry Amisadai and Louisa were by then!! But we all joined the cheerful line-up and their plates were soon loaded with rice pilau, chicken and sausages, cabbage, and quite to their delight, an apple!

With Baraka and Esther at 1am!
I think one of the things I love most about weddings here is the noisy, informal chaos (in the program) that surrounds the day in boundless joy! People don't stay in their seats here. People wave things about and make a lot of noise! And what I find so funny is that in the midst of all the joyful chaos, the new couple is supposed to keep as straight-faced as possible! According to custom, they should not show that they yet know the joy of marriage and should show respect to their families by not looking happy to be leaving! (Having said that, both Esther and Baraka cracked some smiles!)Another custom I love is that of choosing a married couple as the best man and matron of honour, a couple who together have set an example of marriage to the new couple and can mentor them in their own marriage.

And this past weekend, it was fun to see how a couple blended the wedding customs of Tanzania and America into a fantastically happy day! We were delighted to celebrate the wedding of our friend Joel, an American, to his beautiful bride, Samantha, a Tanzanian. This time we received the invitation before the event (three days prior!) and it was more punctual (yet without being on American time!). There was unity sand and foot washing and then there was also noisy vigelegele-ing! We, as British/Canadians, were far outnumbered by Tanzanians and Americans, and it was fun to celebrate together! The same joy of marriage celebrated in diversity!

Foot-washing at Joel and Samantha's wedding
Living in Tanzania has meant we have missed many special weddings of friends and family over the past years (and we are sad to be missing two more in the next few months!) But we were unexpectedly able to be with our lovely friend, Ruth as she married Jim just after Easter! What a joy and privilege! It was so special for Amisadai (who was born on Ruth's 16th birthday) to be able to pray for the couple in the ceremony! And it was fun to add something different from Tanzania, as we wrapped them (rather noisily with our own poor imitation of vigelegele-ing) in the traditional khanga, decorated with a wedding blessing in Swahili!
Giving the happy couple a Tanzanian khanga




  1. i love it! I thought we waited for a long time for the food at the reception we were at...but it wasn't midnight! :) xo

  2. Nice contrasts . Seb has been asked to dance at some Ugandan weddings. ! He too has to judge arrival times ����


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