Weddings! Gotta love them. What a special time of celebration, love, and family! Occasionally, WorldTeach volunteers will get the honor of attending a friend or colleague’s wedding. This week’s #BlogTuesday takes us back to a time when WorldTeach Namibia volunteer, Jenn Pierson, attended her first Herero wedding. Read on to get a glimpse of some unique details!
And if you are considering doing something meaningful while traveling this summer, apply for our Summer Programs by May 1st! Various placements are still open in Namibia, Poland, Morocco, Nepal, and South Africa.
At the end of last month, I went to a colleague’s wedding to learn about the traditions. It was a very long experience, weddings last three days with much talking (of course in Otjiherero mostly), drinking, and sitting in between just a few events, but I’m glad I went.
It started Saturday morning when I headed to the secretary’s house to get dressed up in the traditional dress. She took the sides of her dress in so it would fit me. First we put on three underskirts, though most women would wear at least five, tied tightly across my ribs. Then the long Victorian style dress and belt also cinched across the ribs. Last is the classic hat designed to resemble a cow’s horns. It is quite elaborate and the women really take some time getting ready, which we all know is not my style. The belt around the dress always has some flashy buckle and the hat is adorned with a broach in the front and back (adding to the old fashioned flare). From the very beginning I felt as if my underskirts were falling and I gained ten pounds. I also wore platform sandals and of course stumbled throughout the weekend, yet even with added height my skirts dragged on the ground. Julie laughed as she dressed me “like a doll.” She also assured me that the first time she wore the traditional dress she also felt like her skirts were falling down. Part of getting used to it I guess. The other troublesome aspect of my outfit was the hat. Apparently the base is something firm wrapped in rolled newspapers, but mine was only rolled newspaper so it wasn’t very sturdy. All weekend women and men were adjusting my askew horns.
The wedding takes place in the bride’s village, my colleague was the groom, and she lived very far off the main road through sand and boulders. When we finally arrived we set up camp- literally set up tents- on the “groom’s side,” which was simply a large area of bush (think field) within sight of the wife’s family’s house. There were also tents set up within the area around the wife’s house for her guests. The wedding actually began Friday night. Besides a lot of sitting and drinking the groom’s family goes to the wife’s family’s house requesting her hand and there’s a show of playing hard to get and they pretend they don’t want the marriage and there is dancing and each family has a representative for a “dance off.”
When we arrived Saturday around noon we sat under a huge tent and everyone expressed much pleasure in my traditional dress. Soon Julie wanted to head over to the wife’s side because a lot of her family was over there and I got to meet the bride to be. Apparently she stays in her room the entire weekend out of sight, except the select few that go in to greet her or help her change bedding and dresses. When we were there she changed her dress and her bedding from the blue and pink theme of her entourage to all white (yes the dress, pillow covers and bedspread cover all change!). This was one of the many elaborate things I learned. Not only does the bride have a change of dress, but all the guests have at least three dresses for the weekend. Women changed halfway through the day on Saturday and on Sunday morning. I simply wore a normal dress on Sunday.
Sometime midday or maybe around 2 there was an exchange of food. The wife’s family came with bowls and platters as an offering of goodwill and the groom’s family also gave food. The women wore matching dresses and the men wore shirts and ties that matched the color theme. That evening the groom’s family went to the wife’s family compound and there was traditional dancing and again it is a dance off. Each family had a dancer to represent their family in competition. The groom’s side definitely had the superior dancer. He was louder and much more of an actor. The dancing is very interesting and was my favorite part of the weekend. There was a board tied to one of the dancer’s feet and stepped on repeatedly to create a rhythmic pounding, and as you can see in the picture a cloud of dust! Around the dancers is a semi-circle of members from both families clapping along with the beat. Then the wife comes out with her face hidden in her female entourage’s backs and the fat of an animal on her head. It is taken off by an aunt and she is paraded around the circle and then back into her room. Then the wife’s dancer dances with meat! Of course meat, Hereros adore meat, it should definitely be danced with. Apparently the large chunk of meat danced with has to be eaten before the dances finish that night or it will be some sort of bad luck.
After the dance we went back to our camp to eat dinner and there is a lot of drinking and partying throughout the night. The next morning the camp is packed up and there is a ceremony in front of the holy fire at the wife’s compound. The wife and groom sit beside the holy fire surrounded by family. The holy fire looks like a pile of burning branches with some pots beside it and the elders talk to the ancestors and ask for things like respect in the marriage. Then the wife is taken over to the groom’s side and there is a period of “deciding” for an hour or so and then everyone leaves.