Thursday, February 25, 2010


Two weeks ago we attended the wedding of Mavis and Louis. Mavis was one of the first students I worked with in the sponsorship program in 2005, and she was in the first class that I taught in 2005.

We had grown close over the years as I tried to help her struggle through grief and trials that would have overcome a weaker person. Her mother died during her first year of college. Then her father became ill and lost his job. Just before she was to go home to do her student teaching in her final year, he called her and told her that he had been unable to pay the rent and she no longer had a home in Lusaka to stay in. Her four younger brothers were sent to live with friends, and Mavis found a place where she could stay in return for helping take care of the household’s young children. When she graduated, she got a teaching job and rented a one-room apartment for her and her two younger brothers. Through it all, she held on to an optimism and faith that inspired and impressed me.

Now two years out of college, Mavis was marrying Louis Phiri, the son of Namwianga’s superintendent George Phiri. The wedding took place in the Mission’s auditorium and was an occasion for the entire community to celebrate.

Zambian weddings are festive, joyous, and colorful. The attendants perform elaborate dance steps down the aisle as they enter, the music is loud, and the audience freely expresses approval by ululating, clapping, and cheering. So everyone celebrates with smiles and laughter—except the bride, that is. She is expected to look sad and keep her eyes down to show her sorrow at leaving her family. Mavis followed the tradition and kept a solemn face.

Many guests skipped the actual ceremony and came just for the reception. Here the celebrating ratcheted up a notch with louder music and more audience participation. The attendants changed into different outfits and there was more elaborate footwork as they entered ahead of the bride and groom. A master of ceremonies kept the audience entertained with jokes. Louis’s parents spoke to the audience and the couple, and since both of Mavis’s parents have died, her cousin filled in by giving the speech for her side. Mavis and Louis followed the Zambian tradition of presenting a gift to both families, kneeling in front of them to present large baskets of fruit.

Next the attendants shuffle-stepped out of the room, entering a few minutes later with extra-fancy footwork for the knife dance. They brandished the knife for the cake as they danced down the aisle. The bride and groom cut the cake and had a piece, and then the male attendants took the individual layers and performed the cake dance back down the aisle to take the cake outside to be cut into small pieces for the guests.

The guests were served chicken, beef, rice, and sodas, and then the MC announced that it was time to give gifts to the new couple. The groom’s parents announced that they were giving the couple two cattle and a large sum of money. The bride’s family chimed in by announcing that they were also giving some cash and animals. The MC called for everyone to bring gifts, and a procession of guests came forward to either deposit gifts on the front table or place cash in a large basket. Two designated helpers began to count the money as the MC urged more giving. At last the total cash amount was announced, and the audience cheered and yelled their approval. The wedding party danced down the aisle and out the door one last time, ending a celebration and beginning a new family.

Mavis and Louis have teaching jobs in a nearby community, and her brothers will be living with them. We are proud of them and glad that we could share in their special day.

1 comment:

Mary Ann Melton said...

What a great way to celebrate a wedding! Thanks for sharing this great story!