A Malawian Wedding

This weekend we were invited to a traditional Malawian wedding. The
wedding was for the nephew of the Chairman of OIBM, Francis Pelekamoyo
and it promised to be a unique and authentic experience as it was going
to take place in his village about 2.5 hours north of Lilongwe.

Francis is a very special Malawian. He was head of the central bank
under Hastings Banda and by all accounts did an impeccable job. He was
able to retire from his position with only praise and has since
continued to benefit Malawians with his expertise and integrity.
On the way to his village we drove through his farm and it was so
refreshing to see a small dam, pipes and pumps. He was irrigating! Sure
enough, we were later told that everyone who works on the Tithe
(Tee-Tay) farm was "prospering" even when their neighbors were facing

We arrived for the wedding reception and were instantly announced by
name to the entire throng of people. And I do mean throng. The reception
was in an open area on the farm and there were people everywhere. The
important guests (which somehow we were included in, despite never
having met the bride or groom) were seated under a thatched structure
for about a hundred people. There was a circular area about 30 meters in
diameter, which was roped off outside of which were a couple hundred
more people all jockeying for the best view of the event. There were
even people in the trees.

We were called out to do a dance offering for the bridge and groom.
While all of these people are watching Claudia, myself, Francis, and two
other OIBM employees danced out into the circle and we dramatically
(perhaps even rhythmically?) pulled money from our pockets and deposited
it into a bucket. Again and again and again. Claudia and I had prepared
perhaps 10 notes each, which was not even close to enough. Everybody
else had huge wads of notes that they just kept pulling out, raising
into the air and then letting it fly. It didn't matter that most notes
didn't make it into the bucket, as there was a crew of people dedicated
to tracking down notes. It would have been strange to do anywhere, but
being surrounded by local villagers who were obviously quite poor made
it feel absolutely bizarre. Yet after we returned to our seats the same
thing continued over and over again. Different people would be called
up, or there would be a dance to join in on, but every time there would
be the money bucket and people dancing their cash into it. We were told
that many people save up their money for a wedding so that they can be
seen flaunting it like this. There were other parts of the reception
that were pretty strange as well - in fact beside the clothing worn by
the bride and groom, little resembled anything from a western wedding.
At one point the bride brought out a plate of small pieces of wedding
cake and proceeded to get down on her knees, in the dirt, in her dress,
and offer pieces to the guests - myself included! No matter what the
bride and groom were doing they were constantly dancing a sort of
understated groovy sway to the music. They were probably just really
tired, but they never really smiled. Danced yes, smiled no. Here is a
picture of the bride and groom, dancing with the cake plate. Note the
people in the tree behind them!

1 Response to A Malawian Wedding

  1. The bride and the groom are always encouraged to smile so those faces are strange to me too.

    Another interesting thing about Malawian/African weddings is that although invitations are sent, everyone is welcome to attend unless it "strictly by invitation" which is very rare. Alot of expats feel uncomfortable to attend a wedding without a formal invitation. We don't mind. Really! :)

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