Traditional marriage has left the village

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THIS August has had its fair share of weddings within the family.
Weddings, being weddings, leave families financially, physically and emotionally bruised in an anti-climax to their key objective of celebrating a new family.
At the centre of these fissures are perhaps struggles with adoption and adaptation to British marriage traditions, as well as ongoing erosion of the Shona/Bantu marriage practice.
As I reflected on this I found myself asking: “When did the traditional marriage leave the village?”
I grew up during a time of changeover from traditional marriages to Christian marriages.
The latter was a hit both at Church and in the village.
For the emerging African and schooled community, a Christian marriage opened doors to the Christian socio-economic establishment.
While roora and customary marriage remained integral to family unions, most missionaries promoted the view that a Victorian white wedding is the only true Christian wedding.
To these missionaries, African customs and traditions were hedonistic while European and Victorian traditions were Christian.
I vividly recall two Victorian weddings in the village during the early 1970s.
One was of a daughter of the village.
The other was of a son from a neighbouring village to which we were also all invited.
As per tradition of then, a wedding was a week-long event starting with a kubatanidzwa ceremony at the bride’s and concluding with the kupereka ceremony in the groom’s village.
My enduring image of the ceremony that took place in our Chimhuka Village of Unyetu is of the many cars, brown beer bottles, plenty rice and chicken, the veiled bride in all-white and the well-drilled choirs.
The latter was real war with some of the lyrics going like: “…tine urombo kwakaroorwa…sisi vedu.
Kunobikwa sadza nekanyama kane honye,” were belted from the bride choir.
From groom side I recall: “….gange mukange…svosve dema…rinonhuhwa…Emeri uyo!”
I got really upset at what these scoundrels were allowed to do to our beloved sister.
Away from this little war, the priest presided over the joining of bride and groom in holy matrimony.
I never got to know what happened when the lorries left for the groom’s village in Zviyambe.
As for sisi Emeri, I don’t recall her ever returning to our village. Perhaps there was no rotten meat in Zviyambe after all!
The wedding that took place in the neighbouring village, kwaGwena, near St Paul’s, was also a grand occasion.
We left, with other village boys and girls, mid-morning dressed in our number ones and determined not to miss any part of the proceedings.
The bride’s spotless white gown again fascinated me.
There was plenty to eat and drink as well as disco music.
It was rumoured the groom was a radio announcer and radio had followed him to the village for the wedding.
The only low point was that due to the huge gathering, plates quickly ran out and the chefs could only serve the rice and chicken into people’s palms.
We improvised with tree branches and got generous meat servings.
Sadly, we had to leave around sunset to go and pen our livestock. Seeing generator supported lights from a distance, we remarked at how Salisbury (Harare) had been brought to the village.
Today the white wedding has largely left the village and found a new home in mushrooming wedding venues in big cities.
The two weddings from my memories above firmly sit within the Christian and modern wedding.
What we call a Christian wedding today is a Victorian tradition whose origins are traceable to Queen Victoria’s 1840 wedding.
On that occasion, Queen Victoria chose a white dress and this was subsequently adopted by most wealthy and fashionable English brides.
Given the royal family’s grip on religious affairs during this time, their choice of ‘white’ dress was given a new Christian meaning.
The white dress came to be considered ‘an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood — the unsullied heart she now yields to the chosen one’.
The term ‘white wedding’ has now come to mean more than just a traditional British wedding.
It is now synonymous with the Western wedding routine which in turn is accepted as the ultimate Christian wedding.
The resultant wedding ceremony etiquette in many ways borrows from the Anglican traditions.
So clearly, our marriage traditions, Christian or non-Christian, have come to be defined in-terms of British traditions.
The pressure for a white wedding, muchato wemambure, is now every parent’s dream but in many respects haunts and despairs many families.
In the Western and Christian tradition, the white wedding is also the marriage ceremony.
In our ongoing transition, we have split the two into roora and muchato, the latter being granted upon request and subject to the groom’s family having met a certain threshold with respect to the former.
In the Western traditions, marriage was an event, a ceremony as opposed to a drawn-out process in the traditional set-up.
The week-long weddings of the 1970s were an attempt to fuse Victorian and African traditions.
While today a wedding essentially consists of a church ceremony and a celebratory reception at the advent of colonisation, roora was a process encompassing courtship, bride price negotiations as well as song and dance to celebrate the new couple.
A hundred years back, the marriage process started with kupana nhumbi.
This was usually a private successful ending to courtship when the two love birds exchanged love tokens before the girl’s aunt, which were usually bracelets or bead ornaments.
After kupana nhumbi, the boy’s family then arranged for kunobvisa rutsambo.
A munyai was sent with a hoe and two strings of beads chuma.
After the rutsambo ceremony, the boy, his father and male relations would then make a visit to the girl’s family for chirango chaambuya.
This took the form of neatly cut firewood and snuff gifts.
The bundles, bakwa rehuni, were stacked on either side of mother-in-law’s kitchen door.
At the end of the above, chirango chaambuya, the boy was left behind to formally pay his respects to his father in-law for at least a week.
This involved kushandira tezvara through clearing and fencing agricultural fields.
At the end of this, the boy went back to his parents to report that the fields were ready for tilling.
The boy’s parents then organised for a working party at the above fields.
On the agreed date, youngsters went to the fields before dawn such that by the time ambuya got up, she was pleasantly surprised at the industry of the makororo mumunda!
Later the boy’s relations joined and brought with them beer.
By the end of the day, the nhimbe would have successfully tilled all the fields.
The tilling of fields was followed by the girl’s first formal visit to her prospective in-laws.
This took about four days and during that time, the girl collected her fair share of gifts from kushonongorwa by boy’s relations.
The girl’s aunt was then sent to the boy’s parents to arrange for the lobola cattle, danga.
Numbers having been agreed, the mediator (munyai) would then point out the actual beasts and make arrangements to drive them to the girl’s homestead.
Before the cattle were accepted into the kraal, the munyai would hand over ‘the stick used to drive them’ and this was usually a hoe or a goat (munongedzo).
This was followed by the act of formally handing over the girl to her husband’s family, kuperekwa, which concluded the main marriage ceremony.
Post this were matyorwa and masungiro ceremonies celebrating new found fertility.
Clearly the traditional marriage ceremony was elaborate and pregnant with village meaning.
It was sadly displaced by the Victorian wedding which has also retreated from the village to new homes in cities.
Can culture be re-invented?
Can traditional weddings return to the village?
Possible, but highly unlikely.

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