Ending in style: a wedding in South Africa

When I started to plan this trip, I originally would go straight to South America. However in April of this year at our “Karavaan Generation 7” (aka G7)* reunion, one of us, Tom, announced that he would be getting married with his South African girlfriend in South Africa at the end of the year and  we were all invited. When a couple of weeks later three of the guys (Koen, Kris and Nick) decided that they would go over there, I also started thinking about introducing an ‘Africa leg’ on this world trip. As you have probably understood from my previous posts I have not regretted  that decision for a second and the wedding would prove to be a real nice climax to this Africa trip.

* a bunch of friends, all tour leaders that were selected  in 2007

 

However before going to the village of Secunda for the wedding, Koen, Nick and Kris wanted to check out the Kruger park. As the park was on my way from Mozambique into South Africa that was perfect for me. So after my adventures at the border, I headed to Nelspruit where the guys would pick me up. And so in a café just outside Nelspruit, I met the fourth and fifth and sixth Belgian person after 2 and half month in Africa (a couple of days later I would meet another 30 Belgians). The next day the three of them went on a guided safari into Kruger Park . I gave the trip a miss partially because it would ruin my budget but also because I felt I had had my share of these guided safaris.

Rhino: the missing Big Five

The next day however we headed into the park with our own rental car and a guide book on the park that I had bought on my previous visit, 7 years ago.  And so we spent about 12 hours (from 5.30 am) cruising the park, searching for animals and sure we found them. Unfortunately for the guys no cats but once again a lot of elephants, buffalo, giraffe, etc. But also, and that was a first on this trip, a good number of rhino. And so that way I did “collect” the famous ‘big five’ on this Africa tour.

Near Kruger NP

The next day was another pre-dawn wake up for the trip to the small mining town of Secunda where we were expected at 11am for the first part/day of the wedding; the ‘traditional wedding’ that would be hosted at the house of the parents of the bride Nolo. As we expected that there would be some ‘delay’ (aka African time) in the ceremony we only turned up around noon and… nothing was happening yet. It was kind of funny to see some of the newly arrived  Belgians (some of them had raced from the airport the same morning) getting really nervous about what was supposed to happen and when.  It would take another hour or two before the traditional ‘master of ceremony’ (MC) sent all the women and ‘boys’ (=male guests wearing shorts) to the tent in the backyard. As yours truly and two of the other G7 representatives were the only ones wearing long pants we were requested to ‘represent Belgium’ for the first part of the ceremony…we had no idea what we were supposed to do but just walked, acted and danced (well sort of) along. It turned out that we would re-enact the ‘lobola’.

The groom arrives

The ‘lobola’ is a custom that is really common in Southern Africa among a lot of the ethnic groups like the Zulu, Xhosa and Ndebele. It is the price the groom and his family have to pay to the family of the bride before he can marry the girl. The goal is to bring the two families closer together through a ceremony that can last several days. It is also a way to thank the family of the bride for raising the bride to the lady that she has become. In the past the price that was paid was mainly cattle (cows, goats, etc.). These days it is usually money complemented with some cattle. And both are often used to finance (part of) the ‘western wedding’. A couple of months ago, Tom had flown over with a couple of Belgian friends that would represent his family and an African friend that was there to support them in a ‘light’ version (3hrs instead of 3 days) of the ceremony. During the ceremony the future groom had been sitting outside in the car as he is not allowed to partake in the negotiations. Apparently a rather funny thing happened at the end of the ceremony after the negotiations on the price had finished, the family of the bride mentioned that there would also need to be some ‘cattle’ in the deal. Unfortunately the Belgian friends were not familiar with the word ‘cattle’ and actually confused it with a ‘kettle’ and did not see how a ‘kettle’ would impact the foreseen budget and so they agreed without further negotiation. Much to the surprise of the family of the bride.

The bride (right) and her sisters

Back to the wedding ceremony. Once we finished the re-enacting of the ‘lobola’ it was  time to bring in the groom. Again only the men (long pants) were allowed to join in the welcoming of the groom. By that time Tom and his best men had been sitting in a car outside the house for more than an hour. He was dressed in what I think was a traditional Zulu warrior outfit, bear chested with shield and spear. After that the bride was brought in, accompanied by her sisters and brides maid. All of them looked absolutely gorgeous in their colourful dresses.

The ceremony could start and it started with a number of questions to both bride and groom. It concerned the type of questions that would make most candidates at a job interview sweat like hell. “Why did you choose the bride/groom?”, “What makes her/him special?”, “How are you going to make her/him happy?” All of that in front of about a hundred guests. Both of them managed very well, Tom already revealing some of his ‘wedding vows’ for the church ceremony the next day.  The ceremony continued with a number of aspects that a traditional (South) African marriage entails.

To me personally some of the most remarkable aspects were the fact that Nolo would now become part of the Belgian ‘tribe’ and no longer of her own ’tribe’. Also the emphasis that was put on the fact that in a traditional African wedding, divorce is not possible. “Till death do us part” and even beyond… The same theme was also repeated in the church ceremony and in the speeches at the wedding party. I have not been able to figure out whether this is standard practice or whether this is because the groom comes from a country where more than one third of marriages end in divorce.

The bride in another outfit

By that time a lot of (especially Belgian) people were really starving. They had been around since 10.30 am and a lot of them hadn’t even had time for breakfast. But after some more dancing around it was time to get some food. And it was delicious. A huge buffet that had all the African classics that I have learned to love over the last couple of months from  ‘sheema’ (they call it ’pap’ here) to the stews. Before the end of the traditional wedding there also had to be some ‘Belgian’ input in the form of our national dish: ‘Belgian Waffles’ and the Belgian ‘national dance’. The latter proved to be a difficult one. Most of us in Belgium are not really into the whole “folk dance and waiving flags”  thing so there wasn’t really a dance that all of us could come up with on the spot. Tom however had a great idea… the ‘kabouter Plop’ dance, a dance from a children’s TV programme. The secret is that in the song the lyrics (in Dutch only!) basically tell you how to dance. It was funny to see the surprise on the faces of the African people when all the Europeans managed to ‘improvise’ in a ‘well-coordinated (al be it infantile) dance’.

The ‘before’ picture. There exists a hilarious ‘after’ version taken at 4 am the next morning but I haven’t been able to get my hands on it yet.

During the traditional wedding the dress code had been casual with a ‘traditional touch’ in the form of traditional shirt. For the ‘white wedding’ (day 2) however, we were instructed to be dressed in ‘suit and tie’ and the bride had promised us that she would personally send us back if we weren’t. Luckily my friends had agreed to take my suit with them when they came over so I didn’t have to drag that with me for 2.5 months across Africa.

 

 

 

As we were told that the timing of the second day would be ‘a lot more strict’ and against our better judgement we arrived 10 minutes before the official starting time at the church. We were about the first people there and the decoration of the church had only just started…About an hour later however the bride walked in and everyone had long forgotten the slight delay by the time she was next to her husband in front of the church. Honestly I’m not a big fan (that’s an understatement) of weddings and definitely not of the church ceremonies. I try to avoid them as much as possible. I must admit however that it was a ‘touching’ ceremony. It was also funny to see how the priest sometimes had trouble to keep the crowd under control. Once they start singing and dancing it is really hard to stop them.

After the church ceremony there was another small buffet in the church yard with everything from spare ribs, pies and rice to delicious little cakes. This could be an interesting idea for our churches in Europe. Maybe that way they would be able to draw some more people.

The afternoon was spent by the side of the pool to prepare ourselves for what turned out to be one of the greatest parties ever. This time we decided to be half an hour late. It turned out to be more like 45 minutes late because we took a wrong turn somewhere…and this time we were about the last people to arrive and missed most of the reception. We’ll keep trying!


 

The party was awesome, the venue was really nice and the food and music were great but I think this must have been a logistical nightmare to organise and coordinate. As the MC of the evening was at my table, I got some ‘behind the screens’ info. The whole evening that had at least 10 different speeches and ‘performances’ had been planned to the minute but Murphy’s law was applied a couple of times: the well prepared organisation of the tables was lost by the venue, people turned up that were not invited others were late, the starters were not ready in time, the staff kept bringing the wrong drinks. But all this was brilliantly managed by Nolo’s sisters. On the other side it was great to see that a lot of the Belgian people that had been stressing only a day earlier now just sat back and weren’t bothered by all this.

Around 23 hrs the speeches were finished, deserts had been served and the party erupted on the dance floor. At first, the dance floor was full of gorgeous African ladies and gentlemen showing off their superior dancing skills but slowly but surely the Europeans also started to appear and it all ended with only Europeans except for one or two Africans. Can we conclude that although the African dance skills are way superior, the endurance of the Europeans is better? Honestly, I think it had more to do with the fact that we need a lot more alcohol before we risk ourselves on the floor and also with the fact that the later at night the more European or even Belgian music was played. For myself and I’m sure Koen, Kris and Nick can testify I don’t thinnk I have ever spent that much time dancing as I have at this party. I got completely lost every time I tried  to join one of the local dances. So while standing outside the venue to catch my breath and cool down a bit, I asked one of the African ladies to give me some private classes and soon five of them were occupied trying to get me in the rhythm. Ten minutes later my private class had turned into a group session with at least 15 Belgians joining in. Eventually people complained that the dance floor  was emptying because of these classes.

Around 3 am with only about 8 people on the dance floor (4 of which G7 representatives) it was time to call it a night. We thought it was really funny to arrive at the huge parking lot and finding only one care left.The next day would be a big driving day for the guys so we started early with only 4 hrs of sleep. They dropped me off near to the Jo’burg airport where my flight home would leave the next evening (Xmas Eve). But I guess you can say that the African leg of my trip has ended in style. Looking forward to start part 2 on Friday and with my missus again!

 

 

 

 

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