This story comes from my Malawian friend Davis. I asked him for something that goes on in a regular village and this is what he came up with.
A Malawi wedding starts three weeks before the actual wedding day when the bride and groom fist announce that they are to get married. At that point the preparations are in the full swing. The first “battle” the families need to wage is where the actual party will take place. Usually the bride’s family wins and the party will be celebrated in her village. A week before the actual wedding, the partying starts. Every night for seven days from sun down till sunrise young people will dance muganda in a circle around a band playing traditional drums.
At last the wedding day arrives. After the wedding ceremony at the rented hall the couple and their guests will move to the village where the celebrations will shift into full mode. There will be more dancing, singing and the beating of the drums, and lots and lots of delicious food! Special ushers will carry baskets full of wedding cake and village cakes traditionally made in an empty soup can. These slices of cake can range from $.40 to $7 for a piece! The money raised from these sales will go as a gift for the newlyweds. Also guests will be called to a special platform where they will dance and throw money into baskets. This will be one’s chance to show how much money he or she has!
And what sort of wedding would it be without people getting drunk and making fools of themselves? Davis told me about this one man that lives in his village and attends weddings on a regular basis. There he would inevitably get drunk. This man has never gone to school and can only speak Chichewa. But when he gets drunk an amazing thing happens! He starts to speak English! Now, that kind of makes me bitter since it took me 15 years to reach this level of English! And all I could’ve done is got good and drunk! :-) Non alcoholic drinks that are served at a wedding are regular soft drinks and tobwa, a non-alcoholic beer made of corn, millet, and sugar. This beer is thick and one has to use one’s teeth to strain all the particles out of it while drinking. If not prepared properly E coli bacteria can grow and cause some serious health problems that can kill a person if left untreated! Then there is something with a little zing to it, opaque, a beer made with corn and sorghum and it does have some quantity of alcohol. But nothing can compare with the potency of kachasu! It is made of corn hull, sugar, water, animal dung, and lately with ARV (Antiretroviral) drugs! The is no way to measure the alcohol percentage in this particular brew so most of the time it exceeds the safe 40% by far! There are cases where people who drank it lost their sight or even died! To make it even more potent, as if losing your sight is not potent enough, some people put chamba (marijuana) leaves in it. Now that would give you a high to “die” for!
After this one last party the couple is officially married and all of the guest, drunk, fed, and penniless, finally go home!
I laughed a lot through Davis’s interview. To me some of the customs he described were funny and I have lived here long enough to fully appreciate them. At the same time I cannot judge the unknown. I would hate for someone to come over to Ukraine and judge the customs of my people. I sure hope you have learned something new today :-)