Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A 2012 Gourmantchema Wedding

This past Saturday we got to attend two weddings on the same day…and that's quite tricky out here where a wedding is a 24 hour event!  We claimed "old age" and were able to bow out of the second wedding celebration around 5 pm.  I think by that time, everyone was exhausted, even the bride and groom!  But the first wedding was while the day was still fresh and it represented so many contrasts, that I knew I just had to tell about this one. 
The first wedding was out in the village where we lived when we were learning the Gourmantche language and we wanted to "immerse" ourselves in it.  Our language teacher took us to his village and arranged for us to "camp" near his family compound.  Ever since those weeks spent living with our Gourma family, we are adopted "Family" to them.  So this was a family wedding and of course we were going.  
The trip to the village is always interesting, since the paths through the bush change all the time, depending on the seasons and the cattle or donkey carts traveling them.  We were worried that we may not be on time since we were arriving at 9:15 and the wedding was supposed to have started at 9.  Well, when we drove up, all fears were put to rest.  There were no people at the church and our "family" welcomed us into their compound to come and visit with them.  After making a tour of the huts to greet "the old man" and "the old woman" (our "parents") we went over to greet the women who were busy preparing the food for the meal after the ceremony. 
After oooing and ahhing over the humongous pots of sauce and rice sitting atop fires, we were ready to head for the church to get seated…we knew it would become crowded quickly.  While we were visiting, the groom came by in his everyday clothes and greeted us and even chit-chatted, in no hurry.  But he was beaming with a grin as big as possible!  Finally he went off to get ready.

As we were leaving, the Father of the groom came after us and insisted that we return to the groom's hut to eat!  Nothing would do but to sit with our friends while the ladies brought us steaming bowls of rice and sauce with goat meat.  (Remember, this is 10 o'clock in the morning!)  It was delicious and after enjoying the visit and meal, and thanking our host, we made our way to the church. 
The wedding was going to be too big to be held in the church, so the villagers had constructed a vast "hanger" from poles topped by grass mats.  We would all sit on benches under it.  And as the time began to pass, more and more people arrived and we began to be more and more numerous on the benches!  Pretty soon there was no room to move.
After singing for 30 minutes, accompanied by a drum section and 3 instruments of African origin, the choir began to sing.  

(It hasn't even become crowded yet...this is during the singing time, with the choir up front, middle)

The choir was well into 20 min. of singing when I was told that the Bride and Groom were ready to begin their wedding march from the near-by compound.  I inched my way through the crowd and over to the compound to get some pictures.
All the men had come to this compound to accompany the Bridal Party to the church.  They were standing around waiting for the Bride to come out and the march to begin.  I stood with them…and we waited.  In the sun.  

Finally, they emerged and I was struck by the sight.  We were in a remote bush village, animals nearby and huts all around us and out walks the Bride in a white wedding gown!  And the Groom comes out in a black suit that looked as good as an Armani suit!  The contrast between two cultures and two worlds was striking at that moment! The past and the present collided! And then I noticed that her veil was made from a sheer curtain with lace on the edge…and I was impressed with their improvisation. 
They formed a line and the older brother began the slow step march, while the rest of the men brought up the rear and we all sang the songs as we walked together to the church.  At different times, the procession would just stop and sing, and after awhile, it would continue. 
Eventually the wedding party arrived at their seats in the front of the congregation where the marriage ceremony would take place.  There was a sermon on marriage, there were choir songs, there was the exchange of vows, and there was prayer.  

(L to R - Maid of Honor, Bride, Groom, Best Man, and Brother/Leader)

But we didn't get to see all of that, because we had to leave when the bride and groom were seated.  We had to get to the second wedding back in Makalondi. We made a quick exit in our truck and managed to make the second wedding. Two of our "kids" who had grown up in my kid's club, and then youth group were getting married, so we couldn't miss that!  
Two beautiful weddings, western style in Gourmantche culture...even their world is changing.