2013 can officially be dubbed ‘The Year of the Bridesmaid”, I was a bridesmaid three times in one year and successfully managed to attend over ten weddings. Lets face it, I am in that age bracket where most of my school mates, friends and cousins are getting married and if not for my good looks and body size, must be the fact that I conveniently reside in Zimbabwe so I am the “default bridesmaid” to local and foreign brides! I did the math, I am a size 6, which makes shopping for a bridesmaid’s dress for me very easy, I spent my university days partying away so I am most likely to pick up the wedding choreography quite easy and I happen to be almost 6ft tall when in heels making me a perfect match up for that one random groomsmen who is over 6ft in height. Its either that or am just really close to women who get married! We will stick with the second assumption for arguments sake.
As an experienced bridesmaid I have had the privilege to experience the behind the scenes action as a build up to the big and anticipated day! I have seen sweet angelic women turn into blood sucking bridzilla’s, the petty cat fights among bridesmaids, the unspoken rivalry between the childhood best friend and the current best friend who have both been shafted from being maid of honor and replaced by a young sister or cousin. You name it, I have seen it. Besides the 3 weddings of 2013 I have had my fair share of bridesmaidship from being a flower girl all the way to my teenage days of feeling like a bridesmaid for hire! So when my best friend of over 12years asked me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding I was more than delighted to be a part of her special day.
She asked me to arrive in Harare a week in advance to help with some of the preparations and to attend the Traditional Ceremony where she would be welcomed by her in-laws! I was super excited as I don’t come from a hugely traditional family so this was a first time experience for me.
I was informed that this Traditional Welcome was no walk in the park and that I should be well rested before we set out there because there would be much work to do! In my head I thought yeah right? What are the chances, I have met some of her in-laws they seem pretty modern to me, this is just ceremonial nothing to it. So off we went to her in-laws armed with firewood, loads of face towels and soap, live chickens, our head scarfs (madhuku) and our sarongs (wrap arounds).
On arrival my friend the bride was veiled with a white cloth and accompanied by her aunt (tete), her uncle’s wife (mbuya) her sisters and the other bridesmaids. We were all wearing head scarfs and sarongs as a sign of respect to the inlaws. We sat outside in a circle surrounding the bride and would not enter the premises until we were given money. We were given money but at first we did not move as per Tete’s instruction. When they increased the value our circle moved however we still did not enter the premises. The groom’s sisters and aunts were hurling insults at us and taunting us (all in good spirit though) and we were under strict instruction not to laugh, respond or make any comments. When they upped the stakes on a third offer we entered, being December it was pouring with rain and we could not afford to sit outside in the rain waiting for more money, so we entered the house.
The bride remained veiled this entire time and was not going to remove her veil until more money was paid. The groom’s sisters started singing: “Dai kusina mwana wedu wayiroorwa neguno remugomo” (if our son had not married you, a baboon from the mountain would have married you) At this point we all wanted to burst out in laughter but we remained calm. The inlaws paid more money and finally the bride was unveiled. There was a lot of happiness and ululating as they welcomed their new bride. I thought in my mind that was not bad at all! This is it? So why was everyone fussing? At this point it was way past 11pm. We were given a room where we would sleep. Little did I know the real ceremony was yet to begin.
When we got to the room we had what i would like to call a Strategic Planning Meeting. Turns out our ceremonial entry was just the tip of the iceberg. According to the “HTIC” (Head Tete in Control) we had to wake up at 4am and start sweeping the compound (yes you read that right…4am, sweep) we were not to collect the rubbish we swept up but to leave it in mounds around the compound. Next call of duty, we were to boil water on the fire (that’s why we had our own firewood) and give each member of the family from the eldest to the youngest water to bath when they eventually woke up.
We split into two groups, the sweepers and the water boilers. Luckily there were some family members who woke up early and we got started with the water distribution. We had brought towels and soap and each family member was given bathing water in a bucket, with a fresh new face cloth and their choice at wash soap or bubble bath. (This was very very new to me)
While the family members were taking turns bathing we were cleaning the house, sweeping, waxing the floors, scrubbing dirty areas and we started making breakfast ON THE FIRE! There was a sizeable number of people present and we had to work efficiently! When all were done bathing one of the inlaws went about the yard putting money on the mounds of rubbish so we could collect it and throw it away.
After serving breakfast the real work begun. We were to cook and serve lunch for the entire clan. It just seemed as soon as one task ended a new one began. Step one slaughter the chickens!!!!
Step two cook the chicken and sadza on the fire.
When all was said and done, we cooked we cleaned, we swept, we slaved and stood for hours on end, waited on the inlaws hand and foot. We proved our own. We were virtuous women as described in Proverbs 31! The point of the ceremony as I later learned was to prove that the new bride was a diligent woman who would be able to care for her husband and her in-laws. The point of receiving money for all tasks performed is to show the bride and her family members that through it all she will always be provided for. She is not marrying into lack but into a family that will care and provide for her while she nurtures and cares for the home! It was a beautiful experience but every beautiful experience has to come to an end! And when the day was done I was completely exhausted.
I came, I saw, I conquered and I made a few bucks while at it!
At the end of it all, I had a new found respect for the traditions and cultural practices of Zimbabwe. Although we have evolved over the years and adapted to new cultures and norms, it made me proud to know we still practiced things that are distinctly Zimbabwean in nature. It was an all round fascinating experience and I learned so much I had not known in the past. Marriage is a wonderful gift and I wish my friend all the best in hers! The wedding ceremony was a beautiful day as well and its a day I will live to cherish! PS I caught the bouquet!!!!! watch this space 🙂
*all images courtesy of Leah Dorn & Amy Williams
He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the Lord.- Proverbs 18:22 (NKJV)