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By: Imran Abdallah Said

Photo courtesy: http://blackgirllonghair.com/

 

A word of caution for non-Swahili speakers, the Swahili-English translations used in this writing are as primitive as they could get, both for comic reasons and because Swahili is awesome. Learn it so I wont have to translate next time.

 

Deal?

 

Proceed…

 

It’s supposed to be the wedding of the decade. The daughter of a chief marrying the son of a respected doctor. She’s an accountant and he’s a secondary school history teacher. She’s good with numbers, he’s good with dates and today’s is a date that’s been long time coming. She being a pedantic realist and he being a nostalgic dreamer means that they will complete the proverbial ying yang loop, form the perfect couple, and half the stars in the sky will go supernova and turn night into day. At the moment, however, heavy clouds crease the night sky which beams down with malcontent.

 

For the third time tonight it threatens to pour as the groom and his flock of minions walk into the mosque and make a beeline for the front, where the imam and the bride’s father await, the expressions on their faces radiating an unimpressed mien. Between him and his destination, a crazed sea of white and black and green and blue kanzus stretches the mosque’s capacity to its choking point. Kofia-donned heads literally turn as the man of the day passes by, dragging his wedding gear, from the over-size black robe laced with gold trimmings and the blunt ceremonial wooden sword tucked in his belt, to the massive turban on his head that precariously flirts with the physical principles of balance and gravity.

 

He deposits himself immediately opposite the imam and nods to his future father-in-law who is either too distracted by the groom’s excessive decorations or unhappy at his wanton disregard for punctuality, since he doesn’t nod back. The imam begins the ceremony with a short lecture about the highs and lows of marriage and quotes a few verses from the Quran.

 

Then he holds the groom’s right hand and asks him to repeat what seems, to the groom at least, like the recitation of a full twenty-page chapter of the Quran in a single breath. The groom’s heart does the tachycardia thing, a hamster racing a hamster wheel off its hinges. He mumbles and stutters. The imam sighs and repeats, enunciating each word carefully like a nursery school teacher. The groom does better this time, but only just.

 

“I…Matano bin Mashaka…accept…” a year-long pause, “…to marry…” a decade flits by, “…Zubeda.”

“Zulekha.” The imam corrects.

“Zulekha…bin…”

“Bint!” The imam corrects again.

“Bint…uh…” What was the father’s name again? He can’t for the love of everything lovable remember it and the fuming dragon that sits where future father-in-law was a minute ago doesn’t make matters easier either. A century has passed by, by the time the groom finishes his vow. The relieved imam does the Islamic rendition of the “By the powers vested in me…” bit and prays for everlasting blessings to be bestowed on the budding marriage. The father-in-law is now smiling broadly. It’s a smile that could mean anything, “I’ll kill you the next time you forget my name” or “Thank you for reducing the number of stubborn bubbleheads living in my house to fifteen. Now scram both of you, and don’t bring her back!”

 

Then its cheers all round as plates of halwa arrive. After that, the crowd of a thousand or so bludgeon the poor groom with affectionate embraces. His family is big. Half the city’s population is surely crammed within this tiny mosque and since his memory serves him well when recalling names of people who began revolutions or destroyed civilizations ages ago but fails him dramatically when trying the same with the people he called friends and family, the groom is meeting his extended relatives and friends for the first time all over again. Cousin Muhammad is actually cousin Mahmoud and uncle Ali is in fact uncle Alwi. In the end the groom resorts to the only nomenclature he’s always been comfortable with as he thanks Cousin 453 and his father, Uncle 78 as they smother him with musty-odor-sheathed bear hugs.

 

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A motorcade outside whisks the groom and his entourage away to his bride’s home. They arrive to what can only be described as a razzle dazzle peacock fashion show. It’s almost dizzying how many different colors the bride’s relatives have managed to cram into their dresses individually. But now the groom faces a tougher challenge than acclimatizing his eyes to the bewildering scene.

 

The tradition at this point goes so: the bride, having recited her own vow earlier that night, is ‘locked away’ in a room somewhere within the house and one of her relatives stands guard. The groom is presented with two options. He and his lackeys can either try to force their way in, or if he is of a more diplomatic persuasion the groom can bride the guard.

 

Today’s is the case where the groom’s only option is surely diplomacy, for the simple reason that his entourage is locked outside and that the bride’s aunt who has taken up guard duty makes the room’s door look small in comparison. She grins widely as he slips two thousand-shilling notes into her welcoming hand. The deal is officially sealed. He is allowed admission.

 

Inside, the bride sits at the edge of the room’s only bed, white dress pouring out all around her, her face and arms buried under layers of make-up and hinna tattoos, but if you are to believe the groom’s account, she is actually “bathed in delicate radiant light that would shame the sun on any summer’s day and an ethereal fragrance that would push roses and carnations into fits of suicidal fantasies”. He whispers a dua to her as per the norm, their first intimate moment, and wishes they could jump out the window if only to escape the photo session that awaits them outside the door.

 

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An hour or a day or a week later, they escape the incessant paparazzi and the motorcade whisks them away to the groom’s residence. It’s drizzling again outside. Well, no it’s actually pouring dreadfully now. Their driver, the groom’s older brother, focused on the now increasingly treacherous road, accountant and history teacher turn to each other. The groom had prepared a ton of poems for this moment, until the rose-shaming fragrance had wiped his memory clean, but twenty or so years of watching the occasional chick-flick movie have him covered…maybe. He blurts out, “I love you…sweet pump…kin”

 

She’s calm despite the excitement of the occasion as she stifles a laugh and replies in a cool voice, “Well, sweet potato, I love you more.”

 

The groom’s found his courage and confidence again but not the rehearsed poems, so he chides, “Really? How much more?”

 

Then the conversation picks up and they’re soon gone. They’re lost in their own world. The real world around them dissolves away and if the bus and truck ahead of them collided and burst into a million pieces in a shower of burning flames and human screams, they won’t be able to recount it to anyone tomorrow or ever. They’re so lost, they don’t even notice when the car finally pulls up to the groom’s home.

 

“Well I love you a gazillion multiplied by a gatrillion times more.” The groom smirks, impressed by his own ability to remember a very big number, fake or not.

 

She replies with the same calm voice, “And I love you Mugabellion to the power of Musevenillion times more.” In other words, infinity to the power of immortal forever. She’s good with numbers. The groom is stumped and sulks for a second after losing his first contest with his wife.

 

“And I would love it if this awkward conversation continued another time.” Their driver, an unwilling passive third-party to the exchange interrupts.“We’re here.” He announces unceremoniously.

 

Outside stands the groom’s family’s home. Two massive tents on either side, one for the men, the other for the ladies. And people. People everywhere you turn. The couple notice them for the first time and feel dizzy. Hundreds, maybe thousands have come to the wedding, to marvel at and envy the newlyweds.

 

The bride is chauffeured away to a temporary wooden stage under the ladies’ tent, where a thousand phosphorent lights and garlands of flowers festoon across the face of the makeshift stage. Then the ululations pick up and morph into a wedding song as the groom’s mother and aunts serenade their newest family member. There’s a phrase around this part of the world, “Bibi harusi wetu.” Our bride. She’s married a family, not just a husband.

 

The forgotten groom is paraded into the house by his brother who shouts to no one in particular, “Someone feed this oaf, he needs his energy up to prepare for his big performance.” The older men and teenagers hanging around laugh like maniacs.

 

With the groom inside and the bride on the other pole of the house, calm falls on the men’s tent. The topics of conversations that follow dart from football and politics and at some point the death of the groom’s younger brother a few months ago comes up. It’s inherently taboo to talk about funerals at weddings but for these people today, having been shocked by the nature and timing of the groom’s brother’s death, talking about it here is almost therapeutic.

 

The teenagers in attendance joke about marriage and other weddings they’ve attended. One of them waxes nostalgic to the click around him about a different wedding he went to where state-of-the-art amplifiers and 20-feet high speakers blasted the music of Ali Kiba and Diamond into the night sky. “What a dump of a wedding this is.” He complains. That it had stopped drizzling minutes ago doesn’t seem to improve the teenager’s mood.

 

The saving grace of any Swahili wedding, however, no matter how dislikeable to those invited, is of course the feast, or feasts.Tonight’s feast even has a name, Kombe la Bwanaharusi, the groom’s cup or something like that. You know Swahili people love food when they give fancy names to feasts. When the sinias (big plates) arrive and the guests behold their contents, all inhibitions and doubts and ill-will simply melt away.

 

Tonight, the guests are treated to a surprise. Upon inspection of the plates, they discover they’ve been served six different types of foods, from viazi vya nazi (potatoes of coconut), samaki wa kupaka(painted fish), nyama ya kukaanga (fried meat…?),mahamri (I doubt there’s an English equivalent word), kaimati (some round pastry thingy coated in sugar), mitai (another pastry thingy coated in sugar) and tambi (sugary noodles). Seven types it turns out, not six! But wait, upon further inspection, the guests realize the plates come in pairs. There are seven other different types of food in the accompanying plates, mikate ya tambi(sugary-noodle bread), katlesi (cut-less with each bite), viazi vitamu (sweet potatoes!), sambusa(samosas), mkate wa mayai (bread of the egg),mkate wa sinia (bread of the plate) and viazi karai(fried potatoes) You could call it the centenary gladiator match of the calories, a cholesterol and sugars bloodbath. The Swahili people won’t heed you, they’ll continue calling it Kombe La Bwanaharusi.

 

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It’s growing late, the tell-tale signs of the approaching morning begin to show. The groom is tired and sleepy and growing increasingly irritated. He chucks modesty down the drain, rushes up the makeshift stage while the songs and ululations crescendo to a climax, and before anyone can realize what’s happening scoops up the bride, who looks equal parts amused and relieved but not necessarily shocked, and takes off at a canter like a deranged kangaroo, the turban falling off his head. His mother finally jumps to her feet and gives chase shouting, ‘Bring our bride back,’ her singing partners flocking her sides and ululating without let-up.

 

“My bride, mine…” the groom shouts back, head growing giddy from his defiant shenanigans. He makes for one of the parked cars whose passenger door is thankfully held open by his brother, gently sets his wife down on the seat, jumps over the bonnet american-movie-cops-like, fishtails the car out of the parking spot and zooms off, executing a perfect drift around the corner that would send James Bond running for the bank. Cheers and whoops from the men’s side and ululations from women’s side and the groom’s mother’s child-like tantrum sing them off into the night.

 

“Wow,” the accountant laughs, “I didn’t know your family was so…”

 

“Clingy?” The history teacher says.

 

“Affectionate.” She finishes.

 

“They’re clingy. My family’s clingy. I should have warned you.” The dreamer reflects. There’s a long pause and then he adds, “We have might have to relocate to Russia or China or Antarctica where they can’t find us and shove chocolate cakes down your throat every morning and dress you up like Disney princesses every weekend.”

 

The realist wraps her arms around her husband’s free hand and rests her head on his shoulder as she thinks of the long tiring hours she spends at work every day.

 

“I don’t know,” she whispers with a broad smile, “I think am actually looking forward to being treated like a queen.”

 

For more of Imran’s articles log on to: mylitcorner.wordpress.com

Photo Courtesy: Unknown

The Coastal wedding is not only an event of family gathering but also a deep cultural affair. It is one of the most prioritized events in the Swahili community which is one of the largest language groups in Coast and these cultural events can be very interesting. Once a man has come forward to the lady’s family to bring his proposal, then that is just the beginning of the Swahili weddings. The engagement event itself has a lot of merry and the lady’s family prepare with different kinds of foods and more to that; mashairi are recited to the bridegroom’s family to show the great joy that is joining the two families. Dowry is discussed whereby the two families negotiate on the amount of money, property or furniture to be paid to the bride.

Swahili weddings are quite similar to the Arab traditions of weddings since there is said to be a blood relation and connection between the two tribes. The Swahili elders are said to save money, utensils and even gold special for such an event in the family. This just shows to what extent this event is important to them.
A Swahili wedding is never complete without the numerous tasty foods served for the guests and most importantly, for the men of the two families which is known as ‘chakula cha mkono’ which is normally prepared by the bride’s family. The foods include mikate ya sinia, vitumbua, sambusa, kebabs, vilosa amongst others. And of course biriani being majority’s favourite doesn’t miss out for the lunch event. The recipes have not changed over the years and they really display the Swahili culture in depth.The families prepare themselves by making arrangements of the initial wedding day. The women apply the ‘piko’ and ‘henna’ at their arms and legs which are the most likeable adornment amongst the Swahili culture. Shopping for the bride are done immediately while the men share duties on the wedding program. The Swahili women have always been known for the colourful and glittery attires and jewellery that they wear during the event without forgetting the complicated hairstyles everyone prepares for uniquely.

 

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Photo Courtesy: lifeinmombasa.com

 

Most of the times, the event occurs in a hall or sometimes at home grounds. Some families send invitations through cards while others send family members in small groups to invite other guests. This has always been according to the pockets of the family and how big or small a wedding is going to be. The hall is usually decorated in such an attractive way with colourful designs with a couch or comfortable seat placed on a stage for the bride and groom when they arrive.

The initial wedding event is the ‘nikah’ ceremony which is mostly done at the mosque whereby the bridegroom is asked for the consent of the marriage while the bride is represented by her father or brother or uncle in the father’s absence. The women are usually located in a place near the mosque whereby they hear the Imam or Kadhi asking for the consent. This is done according to the Islam religion since majority of the Swahili are known Muslims. Both the bride and the groom are asked to give their consent thrice to ensure that no one forced them in to agreeing. Halwa and kahawa sometimes with meat is usually served during this event.

After that, the men are served their food separately while women have their other events going on like a lunch party ‘the shinda’ whereby the women wear the same kind of clothes ‘sare’ to show solidarity amongst them, ‘kupamba’ and ‘kesha’ whereby the latter are commonly done during the night to wee hours of the morning. The Swahili weddings are commonly characterized with the ‘tarab’ songs and a lot of dancing and thus, usually, no men are allowed in the area.

The climax of the event is when the bride arrives at the hall where the merry is taking place. She is made to sit at a special seat or couch on a stage where everyone can see her. Not long after that, the bridegroom comes along. The guests and all family members have a photo session with the couple where lots of pictures are taken with the ones present. The bridegroom then takes away his wife after a long tiring night at the event.

The bride is advised and given tips on the new marriage life she is about to begin and the couple is usually regarded as newlyweds until the first child is born or after a certain period of time has passed. The bride is also given so many presents to start her life and mostly it includes house utensils, jewellery and clothes especially the leso which is very common amongst the Swahili.

The Mijikenda weddings also have quite some similarities with the wedding programs of the Swahili and thus, have an aura of the unity at the coast. If you haven’t been to one, then make an effort to get an invitation. For sure, it is an eye catching event; that you will always remember.

Photo Courtesy: https://encrypted-tbn3.gstatic.com/

A wedding is one of the most important events in anyone’s life after birth and before death. Everyone anticipates this day in their lives and wants it to be perfect; like no other. The marriage ceremony comes with a lot of merry along; the preparations, the invitations, the event itself and the tiring aftermath. Everyone looks forward to such an event. People go up and down to get the most unique attire to outshine everyone else in the ceremony while the bride and bridegrooms’ family busy themselves with preparing the couple, the bride’s maids, the food and much more. The event is as hectic as possible but this differs from family to another. While others would just go for a simple event whereby the bride and groom just go to the court with their witnesses and tie the knot as silently as possible, you won’t miss those who want a wedding that would strike people’s minds for the rest of their lives.

There are those who have gone to the extent of wearing a wedding gown worth hundreds of thousands and even a million; just for the white piece of cloth to be worn in one single day. To some, that may be termed as extravagance while to others, this is what we call, living it up to your best! If you have the money, why not?!

It has always been upon your pocket. There are those who have the cash and they do that major wedding to be written by many primary school students in their compositions for quite some years to come. They would invite up to a thousand people or more with the media personalities available too to capture the story. The bride and groom would come on a brilliant looking horse and the brides maids are wearing what seems to be like real diamonds. The food is spectacular and enough to feed twice the population available. Everything is so much beautiful and amazing but the most interesting part is when you come to realize that all the money used is from a loan or borrowed from some friends. Worse still is that maybe people had to do a major harambee for you to do all this while maybe your parent is sick and hasn’t been able to afford the hospital funds for months now or can’t even afford to buy some food for the family. Whereas that harambee could have been quite appropriate and useful if done for the sick parent, the huge amounts of money are used on a one or two day event.

I really admire those people who scratch their backs only where their hands can get to. Those people who simply go direct to the court with their witnesses and sign the papers and enjoy just to their abilities. It isn’t that they don’t want to have a big merry wedding but they know that in life, you should take it as it is. Others have used ‘tuk tuks’ and ‘mkokotenis’ (I actually saw this on news) to drive the newly wedded couple to the place where the event is taking place and these methods are quite unique in their own way. What is important is that the couple got to their destinations safely and sometimes the means don’t really matter.

Everyone has a different perspective of this. It is quite true that this important day should be made in such a way to be remembered forever by the bride and groom but yet still, priorities should be kept. It is rather ridiculous for someone to do such a huge wedding basing it on loans and then right after that, you two are all alone with huge debts to pay and maybe, you don’t even have utensils yet in your house kitchen or the bed you are using is borrowed. Some live for a lifetime without being able to complete the wedding debts. Worse yet, is when after such a huge wedding, a divorce happens in a spin of a year only! How sad that is!

Marriage is a whole new life being started from scratch and before taking huge loans to make big weddings, one should consider where they’ll be living first. Do we have the necessities in a house? A bed, some chairs or maybe a mat, some flour in the store? Such are the things one should consider first before anything else because taking priorities is quite important in a new life.