September 3rd, 2011
Swazi Traditional weddings. One of the great things here.
I was invited to one in my community on the homestead of another volunteer. Preparation takes days, as any wedding does. Family from all over the country come to stay at the homestead to help with the endless cooking required to feed everyone. Days before, Mahewu (Ma-hey-u, a corn meal drink) and traditional Swazi beer are brewed in giant quantities. The actual wedding takes place over the weekend. The husband’s family host while the wife’s enter family comes onto the homestead as well.
A cow slaughter kicks of the events as any good celebration does here. It is dismembered and dispersed to be cooked over the braai (br-eye), aka BBQ. We (meaning the other volunteer and I) were literally given a hunk of cow and told to go cook it for ourselves. It’s actually delicious! It gets coated in some seasoning and then cooked on a grate over the open fire. I once paid $30 to do that at a restaurant in America and honestly it tasted better here. The bride’s family and the Bridegrooms family at this point had their separate braais. You are allowed to bounce from one to the other to socialize but most people I noticed stuck to their family.
At lunch time everyone come together and all the women of the husband’s family (aka the hosts, ourselves included) gathered trays and served lunch to everyone. Lunch consisted of liphalishi, rice, spinach (that I got a blister from cutting all morning), potato salad, cole slaw, and beef that was stewed to taste like pot roast.
After lunch the real fun began. Everyone switched into their traditional Swazi attire. We donned our emahiya for the event and gathered to watch an afternoon full of dance and ceremony. The bride’s family started the event by dancing in the bride. She wore a traditional outfit of a feathered headdress, cow’s tail tunic, and what I think was a felted cowhide skirt. I thought she was a traditional healer until someone told me it was the bride. I wasn’t expecting white dress, but wasn’t expecting that outfit either. Once she was danced in, the women all formed a line in front of the crowd and lead the songs and dance after song and dance. They stomped in rhythm to the songs and the bride dances between them and the guests watching. People took turns to come up and dance with her. I am sure there is a precise order to all of this but as an outsider I just watched and enjoyed in my state of ignorance. We were lead up twice to dance with the bride. Once we just stood by her, hunched over, stomped our feet fast and hollered, which I was told was a way of celebrating with her. The second time was for the dollar dance. Yes Swazi’s have a dollar dance! People go up to the bride, dance with her and tack bills to her headdress. Eventually oranges are passed out and throughout the dances people go up and give the orange to the bride and groom as a gift.
At one point the bride danced over to the grooms family escorted by the females of her family. Then she danced back to the other side with the males of her husband’s family. I assume this was the transfer from one family to the other. Then her and her husband danced from one side of the field to the other together. Some drums were brought out and some high kicks where done. It was now after 5:00pm and I needed to leave to get home before dark. However the men of the husband’s family were just lining up and doing some dancing of their own as the brides bed (a straw mat and blanket) were transferred to the homestead from the camp that her family had set up on the lower field. I am sure the party went on all night. I know another meal was coming, and I was insisted to come back on Sunday for more dancing as I left.
I couldn’t make it on Sunday, but I was so glad I got to participate in this event. It was fun, the singing is always enjoyable, and I met so many people. You can’t help but feel Africa at events like this. It’s so rich in tradition and spirit. A great day here in the Kingdom!