Sunday, 12 February 2012

A wonderful Rwandan-Irish wedding

Today was another great weekend because a got to see a friend and fellow vso volunteer, Brigid, get married to her partner Patrick in two wonderful ceremonies in Kigali. Now before I begin, a little about weddings in Rwanda. So there are usually three parts: 1) The civil or ‘legal’ ceremony; 2) The dowry giving ceremony known as a ‘Gusaba’ and lastly 3) A religious or church ceremony. For Brigid’s wedding I got to see parts 1 and 2 because the religious ceremony will take place in Ireland at a later date. 

So the civil ceremony took place at the sector office in Kigali, known as an umurenge. Brigid and Patrick had to make their formal vows here and sign the marriage register. Interestingly, it is also done with other couples at the same time and they take it in turns to take the ‘stand’ and make their vows. The bride of the other couple was wearing the most fantastically eccentric clothing to her wedding, we did try to subtly find out if this was ‘normal’...but it was hard! I think the conclusion was that it was unusual. This part of the day was actually quite quick once it started.  

Ruth, our programme manager at vso came and as she was sat with us she very kindly translated what was happening. Basically this quite stern looking lady tells the congregation and couples about the institution of marriage, about what they should and shouldn’t do and about the promises they make to each other. I would not want to cross her! The congregation is asked whether they know any reason why any of the couples should not get married and the bride is given an opportunity to change her mind. They actually explain that there are other people out there if the marriage isn’t right...which to me is quite late in the day to be floating this thought! Nevertheless there was of course nothing to worry about with Brigid and Patrick. 

In the afternoon we attended the Dowry giving ceremony or ‘Gusaba’. Lots of us vso volunteers got dressed up in traditional Rwandan ceremonial clothing called a ‘mushanana’ for the occasion. This is also what is worn by the bridesmaids and the bride for this ceremony. The men wore a plain piece of cloth and carried sticks like shepherd’s sticks. The mushanana is basically a skirt with a drawstring waist that you wear quite high up, a strappy vest top and a piece of material sewn or knotted over one shoulder and draped across the body. Brigid looked totally breathtaking in her bright pink mushanana with gold embellishment. She looked like a kind of Rwandan-Indian-Irish princess, just lovely! 

So the Gusaba ceremony is basically role play or theatre that is a very traditional part of Rwandan culture. The groom’s family and the bride’s family argue about the suitability of the marriage and the dowry to be given, in a very jokey, friendly way. In the olden times if a deal could not be struck, if the groom’s family did not argue well, the family did not get the bride. However nowadays its just for show and they do always get the girl. This goes on for about an hour. During this time the bride is hidden out of sight. Towards the end of the ceremony, when a deal has been decided and the bride’s family have accepted to give their daughter to the groom’s family, the bride is brought out with an entourage of bridemaids. A gift is presented to both the bride and the groom’s parents.  

Then there was some dancing and singing and celebration. The main wedding party ate some melange or ‘mixed plate’, traditional Rwandan food, then all of us got a chance to eat. The wedding party line up to give gifts to the bride and groom of food, household items, money etc and ceremony was officially concluded. I have to say it was one of my favourite days in Rwanda and it was totally fascinating to experience the dowry giving service. I wish Brigid and Patrick lots of luck in their new life together and I hope they will be very happy together.

Brigid and Patrick
Guest queing up to give gifts

Brigid and Patrick signing the register at the civil service
 VSO girls in mushananas!
 Me getting hot!
 The bridsmaids and male version
 Brigid looking lovely
 Patrick in traditional wedding clothes

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