Wednesday, 21 May 2008

One Wedding and Tombstone

I celebrated Miss Griggs' birthday this year at a party on this side; I'm not sure this one could have been replicated in the UK. I was cordially invited to the blessing of a tombstone, back near my first community. Having the weekend 'off' the volunteers, I relished the opportunity to try some more African culture.

Wearing my 'traditional' outfit; bright orange skirt and scarf, huge jewellery and perhaps most telling white face and blonde hair, I arrived a little after 6am as the family and friends were walking in procession towards the tombstone. I immediately found myself being pulled along in a wave of women and girls cooing over my outfit. When someone dies in South Africa the funeral is a very costly occasion; it is necessary to slaughter a cow and feed all the funeral goers (up to 1000) so at the time buying a tombstone is usually an expense too far. The family then save up for a tombstone and when they have enough there is a celebration of that persons life and the unveiling of the stone. I read a polemical article that reflected that there as a lot of money in South Africa, but most of it was in the ground. Driving through the rural communities you see tin shacks but then graveyards full of lavish stones; this one was no exception. It was a tombstone in it's own little house! It cost the equivalent of £1500 and it was pretty 'out there.' On top of that cost there is then the feeding of the people, the 'DJ' yes, DJ and the alcohol. So really, like a party all over the world..

The sermon was conducted in Sotho but the 'hilarious' pastor who couldn't fail to miss me kept throwing a few English words in, and saying he should translate to accommodate me.. ha ha. This was fine, a little awkward and more so when I noticed all the video cameras popping up, I tried to keep well back. At one point it felt like a Mafia funeral because out of no where all these expensive cars turned up and well dressed men in dark glasses stepped out to pay their respects. The celebration of the stone allowed for happy songs, speeches by family members and the Sangoma's (witch doctors) dancing around the site screeching to ward off evil spirits. Fine, I thought I was home and dry. Then, the crowd in front of me parted and my hand was clamped and I was forced to dance up to, and around the grave stone/house with these ladies with everyone clapping and wailing. Inside, inside I had spontaneously combusted...I do not think I have ever been more embarrassed in my whole life; and I have done a lot of crazy things. So imagine, you're in your rural community and you see ME dancing around a tombstone. Honestly, I'm pretty sure any evil spirit will never return. To make matters worst it has been caught on 5 video cameras and I have had threats of YouTube...

Once I got over that, and my face stopped being bright red it was 'breakfast.' A full meal at 9am, fine by me. Then it was all this dancing in circles; it looked a bit like the Macarena or Saturday Night. My link to the event were my friends whose Grandad had 5 wives in the village. So, the party was their 'cousin-brothers' and of course I met at least 30 close family members introduced as sisters, brothers, uncles, nephews, cousins. After a while I just nodded and paid appropriate compliments regarding their children, other family members. I could not help thinking that quite a lot of unintended second and third generation incest must go on; these villages really aren't that big!

Later in the day was also to be a Lebolla. When a man and woman are to marry, the family of the man go to her family and agree a 'price,' once that is settled the woman is bought to the community and that is her new home. Any children they have belong to the community, she now becomes 'one of them.' So the rest of the day everyone waits for the bride to be to arrive; they eat, drink and dance. With the influence of Western cultural norms Africans are also having 'weddings' in the Western traditional sense after the Lebolla, but I'm told the Lebolla really is the wedding. On that, after the tombstone part we all got given these chocolate eclairs (Cadburys) attached to some card that said 'Compliments from...... ' Compliment cards!!!! It was just like any party I've ever been too, and I danced until 9pm when the bride arrived and everyone goes absolutely crazy with car horns and the like. She receives gifts of food and Coca Cola (of course) and the celebrating went on to the small hours. I stayed up till 4am; a 24hour day. It made a pleasant change because I was with friends so I was no longer a novelty and I could just have a good time without worrying too much; probably why I drank so much brandy.

No comments: