Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tanzanian Wedding

I recently got a call from my long lost Baba... remember my host family? I haven't heard from him since mid-July when he asked for a contribution for a cousin's wedding. Well, the big day finally arrived. The groom, Lawrence, is an engineer!! I think I only met him once or twice. I remember he stayed with the family for a few days back in March. He thinks my name is Kate... oh well. The wedding was awesome. 

I met up with some of the family at my old house, and we drove to an area called Mbezi, where they go to church. There was a huge party going on before we got there. A band of trumpets, trombones, and drums were echoing for miles. Whenever they took a break, you could hear the choir singing and dancing. They looked (and danced) exactly like the women from this video. In fact, this is one of the songs they sang, a very popular Christian song in Tanzania. 

Everyone danced as they processed in. It was a huge celebration--for 3 different couples. Although each wedding party had 3-4 bridesmaids and groomsmen, only the bride, groom, maid of honor, and best man from each marriage sat up by the altar, and everyone else in the pews. 

There was nothing too remarkable about the ceremony. They walk up to the altar, priest says a few words, lift the veil for a very quick peck on the lips, exchange rings, read to each other from the Bible, and then repeat for the other two weddings. The real shocker was the response of everyone in the audience. There are a few moments throughout each ceremony when the audience completely freaks out and starts screaming. I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time it happened. This isn't just normal cheering. It's almost like a dog yelping, but they trill it, and go on for like 25 seconds! It's really impressive, but something I'd never try to replicate. 

As soon as the wedding was over, we all walked out to the front of the church and took a million pictures. People would randomly break out in song and dance. They never really stopped dancing from this moment on. You had to have a bounce in your step for absolutely everything you did from this point forward. We loaded up a giant bus and headed to the beach for more pictures.

Something I was not told beforehand was that the wedding had a very specific color scheme. I'm not sure how this is selected, but every person in the wedding parties, family members, and everyone else in attendance was wearing maroon splashed with either silver or gold. I showed up in bright blue. As if i don't already stand out in Tanzania...

I spent most of my time with my best friend, Neema. Anyone remember her? She's the greatest housegirl/sister anyone could ask her. Still doesn't speak any English, but we make it work. 

I had one other friend for the evening, Deo. He's my brother, though we'd call him a cousin. I was psyched that he was also not wearing maroon. 

My favorite comment from him was "I think I want to get married in the next 5 years. I'm still young now, but I get so bored washing clothes by myself. I want to get married so I have someone to help me wash." With that attitude, I'm sure he'll find a lovely Tanzanian girl... certainly not an American!

We had some major bus issues on the way from the beach to the hotel. First we had to push it to get it started. Already a bad sign... then the driver tried to take a shortcut through the sand, and got stuck. After about 10 minutes of failed attempts, we dug ourselves out of the sand and continued back on the road. One problem--the bus couldn't go any faster than 10mph now! It took us about an hour to get to the reception. No worries though, because nothing ever starts on time. And half the guests were on my bus! 

The reception was a lot of fun. There were a few quirky Tanzanian traditions that I really enjoyed. There was a structured schedule of events, hosted by an MC. It started off with procession of the wedding party. Obviously they all danced in. It was really cute. When the bride and groom finally entered, everyone stood up with their special wedding handkerchiefs. Instead of bubbles or rice, all the guests here get hankies with a nice message from the bride and groom. You have to dance while waving them in the air as the couple processes in. 

Then they introduce all the elders. In Tanzanian families, you don't have aunts and uncles, you just have big fathers/mothers, and little fathers/mothers. So nearly every relative that is older than the bride and groom gets a special introduction and a big cheer from everyone in the room. After that, everyone else is introduced to each other. They do this by a community toast. Everyone stands up with their glass and walks all around the room. You clink glasses with everyone you run into! And of course, you're all dancing while this happens. It's a really cute tradition. 

Then they bring all the families onto the dance floor with tribal dances. This is where things get really cool. As you've probably heard by now, I try really hard to be Tanzanian. Many people don't believe me because I'm so white... but I'm mastering all the important stuff--being late to everything, speaking colloquial swahili, welcoming others to my food, etc. When people call me "Mzungu" ('white girl' or 'foreigner', however you choose to translate it) I've earned the right to snap at them at say "mimi si mzungu! mimi ni mbongo!" which basically translates to "I'm SO Tanzanian!!" They always get a big kick out of it, because they don't expect me to understand them in the first place. Now that I've been to this wedding, and performed the ritual Chagga (tribe) wedding dance, I'm even more Tanzanian than before. There wasn't much to it, but it was so much fun! Everyone ran up onto the dance floor waving their arms around like monkeys. Then they all linked hands and swayed back and forth while continuing around the circle, stomping with the major drum beats. 

There's one really weird tradition that I can't quite understand--presents. Everyone who brought a gift dances up onto the stage with the present, sets it aside on the table and then hugs/shakes hands with the bride and groom. Then they all pose for pictures. It doesn't end there, though. Afterward, all the siblings (including cousins) open each present and run (dancing) onto the stage waving them around in the air. Then they drop them all in front of the bride and groom and pose for more pictures. Weird... but that's not all. Then the parents of the bride and groom are invited onto the stage. They all sit down in a line and even more presents are brought forward. Instead of just dropping the gifts in front, as with the first group, they are literally COVERED in the gifts. Why? I'm not sure... tradition. 

Now, please brace yourself for the BEST part of the evening. It's called Ndafu. Words cannot describe how excited I was for this. In English, Ndafu is "goat cake." 

I imagine it's kinda like a pig roast, but way cooler. Look at that head! This is one of the greatest Chagga traditions. I'm pretty sure no other tribe eats ndafu at weddings... or ever. 

They carve into it like a turkey... or like a cake. And then the couple romantically feeds each other pieces of this goat as it stares them in the face. 

I love Tanzanian weddings! Can't wait for the next one!


  1. Haha this is fantastic! Take notes for when you have you little Tanzanian wedding ;)

  2. Christina, you look so beautiful. I am so glad you are enjoying yourself and the culture. I like the handkerchief tradition but I can't say that I would embrace that wedding cake!