A Story about a Wedding

A few weeks ago, I headed back to the PC training site to go to my host sister’s wedding. Mama Marie Claire has 6 daughters, a few of whom are already married, but it sounds like there are several more weddings coming up next year. Yesterday’s celebrations were in honor of Vestine and her new husband Jean de Dieu.

Me with Diane, Elise, and Kelvin before the dowry ceremony

Me with Diane, Elise, and Kelvin before the dowry ceremony

The festivities started Saturday morning with the house bustling with activity. Mama was cooking food. Papa was running around orchestrating everything with his little notebook full of notes in hand. The houseboys were out putting up tents and fetching water. Sisters were putting on dresses and readying the bride. My sister-volunteer and I just tried to stay out of the way while everyone did their thing.

The groom (second from left)  and his groomsmen

The groom (second from left) and his groomsmen

After a few hours of standing around waiting while being fed giant plates of plantains and Fantas, it was finally time to start the dowry ceremony. The groom’s family had driven in buses from Kigali to the house. There was a processional as the groom, his groomsmen, and his family, bearing traditional baskets and gifts, paraded into the tent where the bride’s family was already seated.

Inspecting the gifts for the dowry

Inspecting the gifts for the dowry

With everyone clustered under the tent, two men stood up to represent each family as they bartered over the dowry. Traditionally, the dowry was paid in the form of several cows to the bride’s family. However, the practice of giving cows was ended by the government because many young grooms could not afford to pay for the cows, and they became indebted to their new families. At this ceremony, the gifts exchanged included a new hoe, a jerrycan, and a 2-litre bottle of coke. The representative for the groom’s family presented each gift to the bride’s representative, who inspected the gift, decided whether it was acceptable, and fake-argued with the groom’s family over the dowry price.

The bride and groom

The bride and groom

Jean de Dieu giving a gift to Mama Marie Claire

Jean de Dieu giving a gift to Mama Marie Claire

After the dowry was settled, the bride was escorted in by her bridesmaids, all wearing beautiful Rwandan dresses. Then the groom was officially presented to the bride’s family. They hugged and welcomed him as he gave the parents a small gift. Then same was repeated as the bride was presented to the groom’s family.

Vestine saying goodbye to Mama and Papa

Vestine saying goodbye to Mama and Papa

Then as the Pentecostal choir began to sing, the bridal party made its way to the front tent. After they sat, Fantas were served, and guests were ushered to the buffet for lunch.

The choir singing and dancing

The choir singing and dancing

After eating, the ceremony was finally winding down. The bride and groom both left in order to change into their wedding outfits. Some pictures of the bride and groom were taken at home before everyone climbed into buses to go to the religious ceremony in Kigali. The religious ceremony is more of less like ours at home, so I go into another long explanation.

Jean de Dieu and Vestine during the religious ceremony

Jean de Dieu and Vestine during the religious ceremony

After the religious ceremony, there is always a reception. The bride, groom, bridal party, and the families sit at the front of a hall, and the guests sit on benches facing the stage. There are more speeches by each family’s representative, the bride and groom cut cake, and guests are given yet another Fanta. It’s more formal than an American reception because there is no dancing or lively festivities.

So there you have it, a Rwandan wedding. Actually, that’s only part of the marriage process. The day before the dowry and religious ceremonies, there is the civil ceremony, in which the families go to the government offices to sign the marriage license. Rwandan weddings are an all day (or several day) event and are exhausting but fun! In February, I’ll be going back to visit my host family for Clementine’s wedding, and Julienne’s wedding is rumored to be sometime next year, too!

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