Cultural Talk: Of weddings, gatecrashers
On every weekend and public holiday when the city is quieter and you go into the city, you meet a lot of wedding convoys matching and decorated vehicles hooting in jubilation. Some newly weds love to wave at onlookers while the bridal party sits in the car-windows.
Often other drivers will join the celebration by honking their horns as the convoy passes by. The thing about Malawian weddings is that even if you do not send out invitations, people will, as long as it is somehow publicised or word goes out that you or a family member is getting married, still come to your wedding. It is very difficult to have “small” weddings in Malawi. With the exception of those engagement ceremonies called “cha m’nyumba”.
“Cha M’nyumba” – means that it is not open to the public but only to a few invited guests, which are a few family members from either side. These kind of engagements are usually associated with circumstances whereby the two people getting engaged have somehow found themselves expecting a child and to preserve the dignity of the families a ceremony is organised quickly where the two worlds will meet to map the way forward and start planning on a possible wedding. I use the word possible here because I have cases of many who have simply stopped there.
But this is not to say that all who do chinkhoswe cha m’nyumba are doing it for the reasons above. In these economic-hardship times, most families choose to do it this way because of financial constraints.
Others simply because they do not enjoy large gatherings and simply prefer their privacy.
But Malawians, being who they are, do love social gatherings, engagements and weddings being at the top of the list, and so they do get offended and such arrangements warrant them to raise their eyebrows and enquire. But, all in all, it happens.
I was reminded of all this recently when I bumped into an old friend of mine that I got to know as far back as primary school. I had not seen her for many many years and hardly recognised her because she had been overseas. I was with a colleague of mine over lunch when we bumped into her and her fiancé and she gleefully introduced us.
I, having taken note of the formal introduction, cordially asked them when their big day was and she said it was going to be in a couple of days. I had plans and so I did not promise I would attend even though I did ask where it would be taking place.
I did congratulate her in advance of course and, as we parted ways, I made a remark to my colleague that I did not think that I would be in a position to attend the wedding and he brought my attention to something that I had not thought of.
The fact that I assumed I was invited to the wedding just because she had told me about it! That is a very Malawian thing to assume! I laughed when I thought about it. How true. But, then, our ways are not like the western ways. In most weddings “out there”, unless you receive a formal invitation/card, you are not invited to the wedding.
This is mostly because they believe in weddings being close and intimate affairs and so they are restricted to close family, distant families and close friends. They usually have a list of people that they intend to have at the wedding. This helps them budget properly so that there are no incidents where there isn’t enough food or enough chairs. It’s very rare to find people standing because of lack of seats at a western wedding.
But this happens quite a lot in Malawian weddings because even people who are not even remotely allied to the two families being joined in marriage find themselves gracing the occasion. Some of course have their own reasons for being there, such as old flames and doubting Thomases who won’t believe what they have heard until they have seen it.
I have found myself feeling obliged to attend a lot of weddings lately, and having thought it through, I was asking myself why. Well, the answer really is that I am Malawian and Malawians are creatures who operate as one big family.
This could be one of the reasons that we are known as the Warm Heart of Africa. People get offended when you do not attend their weddings, even if your excuse is, as would be valid in other cultures, that you did not get an invitation. We are different and I would not have it any other way. Hahahahaha you’ve just got to love Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa!
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