WorldTeach volunteer Hilary Kovalchik has been living and teaching English in Namibia for almost a year now. A couple weeks ago she was invited to take part in an authentic Namibian wedding! In this post she shares the once-a-lifetime experience during which she was able to see the surprising similarities and differences between American and Namibian ceremonies. Thanks for sharing Hilary, and good luck to the beautiful couple!
Last weekend, my housemate’s girlfriend’s brother was married. Naturally, I was invited to the wedding reception. The bride and groom were married on Saturday, in the bride’s village, far away from Ekoka. On Sunday, they returned to the groom’s family homestead for the reception with his family in Ekoka, which is what I attended.
I arrived in the afternoon at the family homestead with my housemates (all men), but I was soon whisked off to sit with the old memes (ladies) as they chatted and inventoried the gifts coming in. We sat on the sand under a thatch roof. The old ladies wore colorful flowing dresses and every time a new woman walked in, she greeted everyone with ululations and hand clapping and sometimes even dancing. They brought in gifts of mahangu grains, baskets, beer, and soft drinks. The memes sat around talking and passing around babies and drinking the traditional beer, omalodu.
After some time had passed, we all went outside the homestead to watch the bride and groom arrive. As per tradition, they had to walk all the way around the homestead before entering. They walked slowly around with their entourage: first came the host of bridesmaids blowing on harmonicas and dancing, then came the bride and groom taking measured steps, and then two bridesmaids holding umbrellas over the couple. Behind them was a line of groomsmen singing hymns in four-part harmony and carrying the couple’s wedding flag, and bringing up the rear was the junior groomsman carrying their luggage. All around were people flashing pictures and ululating. The bride and groom were dressed as a western wedding couple would be. The bride was in a big white dress and the groom a suit and tie. But there were two main differences. First, while the bride did carry a flower bouquet, the groom carried a wooden bow and arrows. Second, neither the bride nor groom smiled. I asked my housemate why that was, and he told me, “Well, they have been having their wedding since yesterday morning; maybe they are tired by now.”
After they walked all the way around the homestead, they entered and sat in what we would call the living room. I should probably digress a little here and tell you more about the homestead itself. Instead of having one big house, families here live in a big fenced area. Each function of the house is fenced off: the cooking area, the eating area, the sleeping areas (there may be several depending on the members of the household), the mahangu storage area, sometimes an area for animals, and then the sitting area, where families hold their family meetings. When I’ve visited different homesteads, I always have the feeling that I’m in a maze, since the fences separating each area are made of thick tree trunks. But it is always very pleasant, being in a “house” which is open to the sky.
So the bride and groom were seated in the “living room,” and all the guests were seated around them on logs. A few people made speeches and a few people danced and then the gifts were given and everyone who wanted to could shake hands with the bride and groom. After that, there was only one important thing left to do: Eat! We had beef, macaroni, rice, cooked cabbage, coleslaw, and potato salad. We ate just before the sun set and then my housemates and I went back to school in the dark. If I was tired, I can’t imagine how the bride and groom felt!