Last week, I had the good fortune of meeting a new friend while having lunch at Sugar Bush. Her name is Mwanida and I had such a great conversation with her that I got up the courage to ask her if we could go out for coffee some time. She thankfully agreed and then promptly invited me to a kitchen party that she was going to on the weekend. This is the Zambian equivalent of a bridal shower. I was a little nervous that I would be imposing, but she assured me that it would be no problem to have an extra person, even if I had never met the bride. She said she didn’t really know the bride either, but was friends with the groom. I was so excited for another Zambian experience. The whole afternoon was a lot of fun and so interesting. It was great to learn about the different customs and events that go into a wedding. The party was supposed to start at 1:00 with lunch being served at 2:00 and the whole thing coming to a close at 6:00. I think we arrived at around 3:30, right on time according to Zambian standards. Lunch hadn’t been served yet and the groom and his sisters still hadn’t arrived.
The party was being held in the mother-of-the-bride’s large backyard. I immediately realized that kitchen parties are a big, big event, much different from the bridal showers back home. There was a huge white tent, drummers, dancers, a buffet lunch, bar, waitresses, servers, and approximately 200 guests (all women). Mwanida explained that the parents on both sides typically purchase (if they can afford it) appliances and kitchen items for the bride and groom to set up their kitchen. As houses, including unfurnished rentals, don’t come with appliances, this gift is an important one for a young couple. There was a big display of the gifts that the bride and groom would be receiving, including a new fridge and oven. Traditionally, guests would bring a gift for the bride and each guest would individually present her gift and explain the purpose. The guest would also have to give a small amount of money. According to Mwanida, if you did not give money in addition to your gift, you needed to do a dance for the bride. I was relieved that the bride had chosen the more modern option which was a monetary gift. I was surprised when I handed my money to an attendant that my name, the amount of money that I was giving, and my signature were all recorded in a ledger. I asked Mwanida the purpose of this. She said that it was both to ensure all the money made it to the bride and groom, but to also help in determining who would be invited to the wedding. As I gave the minimum amount indicated on the invite and know neither the bride nor the groom, I’m not expecting that invite in the mail anytime soon.
I really enjoyed seeing all the different outfits. There were a lot of women in traditional attire. Many of the bride’s older female relatives were all wearing matching dresses and head scarves. The groom’s sisters all had different dresses made out of the same fabric. Even the groom’s niece had a dress made of the matching fabric with a little tutu. She was so incredibly adorable.
I’m not exactly sure how it happened, but I ended up being included as part of the procession of the groom’s family as they entered the tent. Everyone was clapping, singing, and making loud, excited sounds that I can really only describe as “ai, ai, ai”. I did my best to join in. I tried to get out of the way as soon as the family reached the bride.
The bride was seated on a raised platform with two elderly female family members on either side. Brides are covered head to toe with a chitenge until the groom or his female family members “unveil” her. As the groom was quite late, I really hope that she wasn’t sitting there completely covered by this fabric for that long as the day was very hot. The groom and his female relatives presented money and gifts to the bride. The bride then presented gifts to her groom. Following this, the groom was able to leave.
|The bride under a chitenge. You can't see it, but she was wearing a very pretty dress and looked beautiful - you'll have to take my word for it.|
|Money gifts for the bride and groom.|
After the presentation of gifts, a female Reverend spoke and said a prayer and then another family member made what I can only describe as a lecture to the bride. She spoke for about 15 minutes and the theme of the lecture appeared to be along of the lines of the importance of keeping your home and staying traditional. There was mention that they shouldn’t be cooking only cabbage for dinner, but rather returning to the traditional foods. There were a lot of “amens” from the older women in the audience when this was said.
I also learned about some other wedding traditions from Mwanida. It was so interesting learning about the different events. The groom also gets his own special event where the female members of the bride’s family cook for the groom’s family. This is another big event with lots of people and I can imagine a lot of work for the bride’s family. Interestingly, the bride has to take lessons prior to her wedding. These lessons are given by friends of the bride’s mother. Topics include cooking, keeping the home, and (shockingly) how to sexually pleasure your husband! I had a hard time imagining my mom’s friends giving me this lesson. I just couldn’t picture sitting down with Marilyn, Marjorie, Cathy, and Irene over coffee and going over in detail what I should be doing in the bedroom. I asked Mwanida if the groom had to have similar lessons (it’s only fair really). She said that at this time, grooms didn’t have to have go through these lessons (I guess, men already know it all – please note my sarcasm), but she had heard this topic being discussed on the radio the other day. I guess there’s some talk of guys having pre-wedding lessons as well as it’s felt to create an unbalance in the relationship with only the women having lessons. Then once the bride has completed her lessons, there is another event in which she has to demonstrate what she has learned to the female members of the groom’s family. Mwanida described her event which apparently involved some sort of erotic dancing on her part in only a bra and what she described as “what Jesus wore” – I think she meant a loin cloth, but I’m not sure. I have to say that I was thankful that in Canada the bride’s embarrassment is kept to the bachelorette party in which there tends to only be friends of the same age. I asked Mwanida’s sister, Chi Chi, who was also at the party, whether she wouldn’t have found it better (read - easier, less embarrassing) to talk with friends her own age about sex. She looked at me like I was crazy and then said that she really wouldn’t have considered it as her mom’s friends at around 60 years of age had so much more experience. I guess that is true, still, I don’t think I’ll be calling up Marilyn or Cathy any time soon for advice.
All in all, it was a fantastic event. It was so much fun to hang out with some new friends, enjoy some good food, and savor the new experiences.
|New friends - Chi Chi and Mwanida|