A dinyangi is a birth celebration, usually held about a month after the child is born. It also purports to be a fundraiser, but after all the expense of putting it on, whether any profit was cleared is up for debate.

Some essential elements of the celebration are a temporary shelter of bamboo poles and palm leaves, lots of chairs, a generator to run the lights and sound system, food, drinks, and, of course, a cake, to be unveiled and chipped away at piece by piece -- for a price. Johannes (Scotts' househelp) had a baby in August (more accurately, his wife did). Both Scotts and Friesens were invited to the dinyangi at the beginning of November, so I tagged along with Mike and Dan when they went. (Given that it's a fundraiser, you definitely want to invite the white people because besides having status, they also have money.)

The invitation said the party would start at 6:30, I think, but being just around the corner from where the event was held, we didn't even think of going until we heard the music -- which started around 8. We were seated at the tables. Table seating was limited; less prestigious guests could be seated on chairs or benches lining the edges of the shelter, and the masses of uninvited who came for something to do hung around the edges. Given that the bare incandescent light bulbs illuminating the shelter attracted horrid flying "sausage bugs" which kept dive bombing into me and getting caught in my hair, the masses may have been wise to stay farther from the light source.

When the program did finally start, the first order of business was to appoint a chairman and chairwoman for the event. As far as I could tell, the chairwoman's role was purely ceremonial. She wasn't referred to again after that. Whether the position is the result of woman's lib on African village culture or a pre-existing tradition, I couldn't say. The chairman, however, did have a few tasks. It so happened the man appointed is Friesens' neighbour and one of the indigenous translators in the Oroko project, so I know him slightly. He is the retired headmaster from the primary school here in Bekondo and a village elder, so he likely wasn't surprised to be appointed chairperson but we're fairly sure he wasn't warned ahead of time either. His job was to sit in the place of honour, to make a speech, and to kick off the giving by making the first donation. As the chairman, he is expected to set the tone for financial gifts, so he is expected to make a significant contribution to the event, to encourage (shame?) others into making their amounts heftier rather than smaller.

The whole giving part can be a touchy thing as the chairman's gift is announced (trumpeted) by the MC for all to hear. At this event, the MC praised the gift but went on to say that it was not a cap for future gifts -- anyone could feel free to exceed the chairman's number. This may not always be the case. Of course, anyone is free to exceed the number, but in other situations there may be a great deal of shame for the chairman if his gift is deemed too small and many others give more. For this reason, and also because the appointments are often spontaneous, the host will often slip the chairman some cash to supplement what he brought for the pot, to ensure he isn't shamed and to ensure a healthy "climate" for donating.

After the chairman's gift was announced and made much of, everyone else was encouraged to open their wallets for the plate passed around. The chairman and assistants totalled the monies collected and announced the total. The MC kept calling for people to give, and encouraged them not to worry about the amount, even a "widow's mite" would be appreciated, and "this isn't church" so if you need change just dig it out of the pot.

The giving went on and on, with the cake unveiling as the crowning touch. The cake was named after the child, which to be perfectly frank, I found rather creepy. The MC waxed poetic about coming up to get a piece of "Tata Jean-Claude Bokwe." (In case you're wondering about the young man in question, he was trotted out briefly at the beginning of the event, then trundled off to bed while his parents revelled in his honour.) The cake was wrapped up in a blanket and needed to be unveiled-for a price, of course -- by a prestigious guest. Mike had the honour of doing this and making the first cake donation. The cake was some kind of spice cake (it smelled delicious cooking in the house earlier that day) slathered with icing of an alarming shade of green.

At the beginning of the evening, "light refreshments" (popcorn) were served. After wallets had been opened, the "heavy refreshments" were handed out, around 11:00 at night. Plates heaped with rice and fish in a tomato sauce, or waterfufu and eru. Trusting Dan's advice, I ate enough to show appreciation and enjoyment of the food, then found a kid much more in need of the food than I to finish off the plate. Heavy refreshment time also includes drinks -- quite a lot to lubricate this crowd. The servers went around asking everyone what they wanted (there were a number of beer brands available) but they didn't bother asking us -- they knew we'd go for "sweet drinks," that is, pop.

Once everyone willing to shell out for a piece had gone up, the dance floor was cleared and the women began to shuffle around in a circle, shoulders shaking, throats making guttural chanting -- in other words, dancing in wild abandon. Despite a soft chair, I was experiencing numb-bum and was ready to be out of the path of the divebombers, so I wasn't terribly disappointed that we beat our retreat shortly after the dancers came out.


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