Sunday, May 10, 2009
A Kenyan Wedding
You may or may not know this about me, but I'm a little obsessed with weddings. While I do think they're starting to get a bit out of hand in the U.S. (it's just one day!) I love how they combine all of life's most important pieces into one event. From family and friends to the day's underlying theme of love, plus the added elements from the spectrum of creativity (fashion! music! design! FOOD) everything blends together in celebration of a couple's new life - what's not to love? Thus I've been anxious to attend a local wedding to experience and compare Kenyan traditions and perhaps more importantly, to see what people are wearing. For you see, a Kenyan wedding is one of the best excuses to break out your hottest, brightest and most in your face African outfits. I say African because Kenya doesn't really have a national dress the way some African countries do. Some tribes have traditional wear but when it comes to Nairobi, where society is a blend of backgrounds and tastes, you pretty much get it all. Dresses for formal occasions and weddings are often made specially (and sometimes worn just once) out of traditional kangas, imported wax cloth from West Africa, more locally printed leso and kitenge or any combination thereof. I'm still learning how to distinguish what comes from where and what patterns are more traditional versus new takes on classic pieces, so I loved having the opportunity to see so many designs in one place (though I had to be somewhat surreptitious in how I took my photos!).
A great thing about Kenyan weddings is an invitation is more of a formality than an etiquette lesson. For yesterday's wedding, I was invited by a friend of the bride, who, along with the groom, I have yet to meet! The event started in a Catholic church, where a wonderful choir sang both modern and traditional hymns throughout the service. After the church portion (in which the groom was invited to "embrace" his bride - no kiss!) the guests were invited to take pictures of the bridal party before they left briefly for formal portraits. After that, a buffet line was set up and guests ate and drank (soda - alcohol isn't served until the evening's festivities which are more for the couple and their close friends - less family, more booze) while waiting for the return of the bridal party.
Upon the bride's return, all woman were summoned to greet her at the car and help bring her into the reception with song and dance. The bride is from the Akamba tribe, but her husband is Kikuyu so it was his relatives that participated most in this in order to announce her welcome to the family and her new identity therein. There was a loud call and answer song as the group made their way into the reception. Shortly after, the bride's family and friends from the coastal area were also invited to dance and celebrate their traditional songs in celebration.
A series of dances and speeches followed, culminating in the cutting of the cake, which the bride and groom took turns feeding each other and then to their parents (I thought that was a nice gesture of commitment to each other's family). The whole ceremony was very Christian, with many sound words of advice for making marriage work and biblical references. I loved the honesty and encouragement family members and friends offered - very realistic about the challenges of marriage but also full of hope and blessings for the new couple.
Turns out it's easiest (and quickest) to upload photos to facebook. You can look at the rest of the wedding photos here, whether you're a facebook member or not.