Weddings here are major affairs, and an interesting mix of Western, African, and religious traditions. So far, every wedding I’ve been invited to has taken place in a church, with a reception following at a home. The weddings themselves aren’t much different from American ones–a church service plus extra marriage stuff (in my experience, South Africans experiment much less with weddings than Americans). But the reception is done very differently.
The most in-your-face difference is that most wedding receptions are actually 2 in 1 affairs. There is a “private” reception, which isn’t much different from an American reception–speakers, a tent, food, dress up, etc. But there’s also a “public” reception, where anyone can walk in off the street. Often, these two events occur simultaneously.
The public wedding can easily attract hundreds of people. It’s not uncommon for a whole village to turn up at a wedding. And the tradition is that all the guests must be fed, which can be a serious undertaking. Luckily, our friends pap (corn meal) and meat are here to save us!
Pap is dirt cheap. But where does the meat come from?
WARNING–PICTURE OF SLAUGHTERED ANIMAL (I’m sure my South African readers are confused…why would you ever have to warn someone about a slaughtered animal picture? Why would such a picture be interesting enough to share? Because we don't ever see this in America, and some Americans have trouble with the fact that meat comes from a living thing that is killed and cut to pieces…some of us live so far removed from our food sources that we don’t fully grasp the process of how food gets to the store).
Every wedding has a slaughtered cow. Payments from the groom's family to the bride's family (called lobola where I live), are still very much a requirement for a wedding, and one of the reasons many South African couples marry in middle age, when they’ve already settled down and had kids (often, the couple will save up together to pay lobola to the bride's family). Traditionally, lobola is paid in cows. Nowadays, the price of a cow is agreed upon and then a number a cows is negotiated to arrive at a cash total. Either way, the bride’s family is responsible for providing a cow to feed everyone at the wedding.
But what are we going to drink?
Tasty umqombothi! Umqombothi is something like South African moonshine. It’s sorghum based, not very strong, and tastes a bit like old bread. Traditionally, it’s brewed in a big pot and imbibed from a gourd.
One of the issues with an open invitation is that lots of people show up, and the partying can get out of hand:
Once the public reception is in full-swing, the wedding party shows up. At this particular wedding, they danced into the private reception tent, not an uncommon practice:
And from there, it proceeds not unlike an American reception. Speeches, food, dancing, etc., but more so…there’s often a hired MC (this one had a minor TV star), programs, performances, and the whole thing can go on for hours. There was one particular speaker I found very interesting, simply because it is not something we’d usually see in America:
On the back of that beret is the logo of the ANC, the dominant South African political party. I’m told it is not unusual for a representative from the ANC to attend and speak at almost every wedding.
For those of you in New Providence, the greatest hometown in New Jersey, that would be like Al Morgan showing up at every wedding. How cool would that be? I think this is a tradition we need get on IMMEDIATELY.