Traditional wedding ceremony

The team's Oroko literacy coordinator is getting married. His traditional wedding ceremony was to start at 2:00. Returning from Douala that day, we'd only reached Kumba by 2 and needed to run some errands yet, so alas, we'd just have to be late. Then Mike bumped into the groom at market, so apparently festivities hadn't started yet. He gave the new start time as 5:00. We reached home in Bekondo around 4:30 and wanted to unload, grab a bite to eat, freshen up and pretty up for the celebration, so we didn't arrive at the house of the bride's parents in Mofako (a few villages over) until 6:30 -- still the earliest guests to arrive. Ladies were bustling about arranging and rearranging chairs, the groom had not yet arrived, and the pastor who would oversee the proceedings was with his broken down car in Kumba.

While we waited, we were offered some "traditional" waiting food, called "light refreshments," of popcorn and groundnuts (peanuts). When it became apparent the wait would be another hour or so, we were taken down a dark and uneven path through the village to another house where we visited with the groom's parents and smiled at the antics of the assembled cats and children. Then we were taken to the chief's house to partake of some food so we could leave after the ceremony (to get young Joshua to bed) without offending the hosts' hospitality. Shortly after we finished our pepe soup, the groom arrived and we were guided to the seats of honour in front of the house where the wedding was to take place. By now a crowd had assembled and the requisite loud music was coming from the generator-powered speakers which were, of course, right behind us. Music selection in Cameroon is nearly always a curious mix of North American worship songs, North American pop songs, Cameroonian-style makossa, and Cameroonian traditional music. This event was no exception.

The service started shortly after 9:00 with much preamble, effusive welcomes, a song, long but partly inaudible introductions, and a prayer (the groom and the MC are pastors in the Apostolic Church). The traditional part of the ceremony went as follows: The husband is introduced and told it is time to meet his bride. A woman comes out, elegantly dressed, her head draped with a translucent cloth, and parades slowly in front of the crowd. Then, standing in front of the groom, he lifts the veil and declares, "No, you are not my woman," (or something to that effect), and sends her off with some money. A second woman comes out and does the same thing. This time he adds "Here's double the money so you don't come back a second time." A third woman comes to taunt him, a sister apparently (not clear if she's his or hers), to whom he says "Get out of here, I'm not even going to pay you at all."

Finally, the bride comes out. Under the veil she's wearing a fabulous, enormous styled hat of stiff, pinned cloth, so even if you hadn't met the bride before (like me), it was immediately apparent it was she. She paraded extra slowly in front of the crowd, pretending she can't find her groom. At last, she is in front of him where he unveils her and the giving of the woman can begin. The families have their say in the matter, and the groom pays his brideprice.

Speechmaking is a thoroughly Cameroonian activity at events. People of status must be prepared to be called upon to spontaneously praise the event or person being celebrated and the pontificating can go on for a while, though much length is added through copious repetition. At this event, an ordained pastor, a mentor to the groom, spoke to end off the official part of the ceremony.

In North America, at fundraisers, the banquet and entertainment usually come first, then you're called upon to donate. In Cameroon, the congregation is called upon to pay before they get fed. Sometimes the donating is tied to serving -- or, unveiling -- the food. So before the informal part of the celebration began, the music was turned up loud and each section of the crowd was called forward to bless the couple with financial gifts.

Now, as we'd understood it, they invited us to eat before the ceremony so we could leave immediately afterward without shaming the hosts; but when the food was brought out, we were nevertheless entreated to stay to eat and drink more. There was an elaborate spread, (which, to my joy, meant I did not have to eat waterfufu and eru just to be polite) and the food was delicious, but we really didn't need to be eating again (it's now after 10:30 at night) nor was my third pop of the day really necessary (they come in .6L bottles and each adult is expected to down one themselves). Nevertheless, blinking back sleep and loosening our belts we did what was asked.

As we excused ourselves to scurry home to put Joshua to bed, the bride and groom came to say goodbye...and to invite me to be a bridesmaid at their church wedding in January. I met the bride and groom for the first time at this very event, in fact, at this very moment that they invited me to be a part of their wedding party. "Have white skin, will use," chuckled Mike at my incredulity at this turn of events. Oh how I hate to be more conspicuous than I already am, and to be on show when I'm so clueless about what is culturally appropriate is torturous!


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