Besides the day-to-day running of the shop, we’ve wanted to share more about what makes Rwanda special, and what we’ve all been up to outside of work as well as in it. Nothing comes any bigger than the recent engagement of our assistant manager Claire, which she wanted to share with all of you…
Most couples around the world have a single ceremony when they want to marry. Not in Rwanda! Here people can have three: the traditional engagement ceremony, a civil wedding (no wedding here is legal without one) and a church ceremony. Years of planning and saving typically go into all of this.
The DOT, or traditional engagement ceremony, used to be the exclusive way Rwandans married. At its core, it is where the parents officially acknowledge the couple and their for a life together. Today, it’s the first of the wedding events that take place over the course of a month.
The bride’s house is set up with three tents in a U shape: one rectangular for the bride’s family, a second tent facing it for the groom’s family and a smaller third one in between for the couple and their friends. Most of the day’s activities take place in the center of the U.
First, the bride’s family and friends arrive to take their seats. It’s important for her guests to be more numerous than his, because she is the host of the event. When all of her guests arrive, the groom comes with all of his guests (family and friends – usually on a bus or two!). They bring gifts of beverages (fantas and alcohol) in large amahoro (peace) baskets.
Each family has a representative who speaks on their behalf, usually a wise old man. They begin by praying and then by welcoming each other, giving everyone a place to sit, drinks and making them comfortable. The groom’s representative gives thanks and eventually gets to the matter of their son being in love with a girl, which is when a sort of comedy duel ensues. In fun, each representative tries to trick the other, a sort of test to see if the couple will be well matched. The representatives discuss a dowry of cows, symbols both of something to replace the loss of a beloved daughter as well as the mixing of the families through their herds (cows are very special in Rwanda). Poets come and sing of how beautiful and special the cow(s) for dowry is.
Finally, the bride is able to come out with her entourage, generally four male guards, a girlfriend who is a mother, four other girlfriends and two young girls.
Finally the bride and groom come together – she fastens a beaded crown (called ikamba) on his head.
Once the bride and groom have introduced one another to their families, the festivities can really begin, with drumming and dancing. Lucky for us, entertainment for this event was provided by Ingoma Nshya, the famous all women drumming group that created the Inzozi Nziza project! This wedding was already special, but the bride being a drummer meant that she was whisked up front to join in the music!
After the bride and groom serve food and drinks to one another in front of all, things calm a bit and dinner is served to all guests. There’s more music until the couple and attendants go inside to drink milk and receive guests individually.
All in all, a Rwandan wedding is an experience not to be missed – and all of us at Inzozi Nzizi and Blue Marble Dreams wish Claire the happiest, most wonderful and blessed of marriages!
A word about the traditional costume
The mishanana is the traditional formalwear of Rwandan women; men wear the costume pictured here exclusively for weddings. The headband and beaded “sticks” worn on a lady’s head is a Rwandan-style crown.