This past month has been a whirlwind of a time. Probably the most culturally integrative week that I have had in The Gambia thus far! After about a month of preparation, my host brother, Papa, had his wedding in our compound. Let me tell you, weddings in The Gambia are just a little different than weddings in America. ‘How so?’ you may ask. Well, let me give you some small insight from my own observations and from the mouths of Gambians…
It is definitely wedding season in Kulari. Marriage is a giant part of Sarahule and Gambian culture as a whole. Coming together as husband and wife brings respect to the individuals, family and community as a whole. Practically every Wednesday you can hear the drums, whistles, and singing floating in the air from a nearby compound. Wednesday’s are generally the first day of the celebration and the festivities continue on until maybe Friday or Saturday. It is quite the party. However, before the wedding, there is still so much to be done.
Culturally, the male initially finds the woman that he would like to marry. The whole process is a family affair, so he generally does not just make his intentions known to her but also her family. Sometimes, he will express his interest to her parents before her, in fact. It is crucial for the parents and elders to give the ok. Of course, the man will always bring kola nuts to the family. That is a must. Kola nuts represent hospitality and life when brought into a home or given to someone. The nut itself is caffeinated and very bitter. A Gambian food that I have a very hard time partaking in eating! Too bitter!
Anyway, contrary to some beliefs, when the man has expressed his interest in a women and her family has acknowledged his interest, the girl still has a say. The family discusses the proposal to her, making sure that she also accepts this offer. The marriage process can really only begin when she accepts.
The women and her family then require a dowery. It is a kind of negotiation with the future groom and his family to see what he can offer for their precious daughter. Once the dowery is paid, the couple can ‘tie the marriage’, but this is not the actual celebration ceremony. Once the knot is tied, the bride can move compounds. This process can happen immediately or even sometimes takes months.
Papa’s bride, Fatmata, and her family chose the date for her arrival into our compound. For weeks, my family waited upon the announced date. On Wednesday, the guests and family from all over Gambia starting coming to the compound. This was also the day of food preparation. Let me tell you, we feasted for days! We are talking, breakfast, second breakfast, lunch to die for, Gambian snacks, two slaughtered rams in the compound, and dinner with veggies galore. Its a good thing that we did so much walking back and forth to greet people!
During this time, all of us ladies went to Fatmata’s compound where the girls all sat down with her family on mats and beds to have a little chat. The women, especially the mother and elder women expose many things about marriage to her, explain how she should be as a wife, and pray for her. This goes on for quite some time. Meanwhile, family members are bringing many gifts to her compound. This girl will never need another bowl again. The below picture isn’t even the half of it either…
Thursday was much like Wednesday except now, we all had to get dolled up and the party began. Again, we spent a lot of time eating and greeting Fatmata’s family… in style.
Thursday also consisted of a lot of dancing and collecting a pone (5 dalasi) or two from the community. These women will dance and sing to you to raise some money for the family! Five Dalasi bills were thrown around like rain. Eventually, I ran out of small change and had to start running away when I heard my name being sung…
Also, as a little side note, these ladies are DIVAS! Each woman changed at least three times over the course of the day and looked absolutely stunning all day. Also, one woman constantly held a boom box that played music everywhere we went. We walked in style and with theme music.
On Friday, it was the big day! Fatmata was to move into Tourey Kunda! I found out quickly that so was all of her stuff…So, all of the sisters got together and hauled everything from her compound to ours! Picture a whole group of princess Gambians carrying huge buckets of gifts through the village with theme music blaring. They let me pack everything up and carry a bucket of soap on my head…hey, at least it is something…
It was another full day of cooking, eating, greeting, dancing, and changing outfits. Also, if you are wondering what the men were doing at this time, they were totally broing out together and drinking attya (gunpowder tea) all day. I often would joke with Papa asking him what he did all day where he would often smile, laugh and say he did nothing!
The arrival of the bride occurs in the evening. It is a very, very dramatic time. Papa anxiously anticipated his bride’s arrival while the rest of us got all dressed up (again) in our asobes (matching outfits) this time. As the sun went down, the party started up.
When it was finally around ten pm, there was a loud scream outside of my hut. What initially I though was a child being dramatic and crying turned out to be the screech of Fatmata. In the culture, it is not supposed to be a necessarily joyous occasion for the bride to leave her family. The bride is to display sadness about leaving her compound…and some misery…and maybe even a little bit of trying to run out of the compound…that resulted in her being beaten with a stick by one of the women. Don’t worry, not severely beaten, but it was all apart of the dramatic entrance into the family.
She was eventually taken into the main house, wrapped up in a white cloth and put into her room. From there, she had to stay in that room wrapped in a cloth for a week and a half burning incense and spending time with her groom. Kind of like a very confined honey moon in a way…right?
Below: the groom (Papa Tourey, Fatmata Dukeray, and my wedding date, Alasana)
As of now, Fatmata is out of the house and a beautiful addition to our family. She is so sweet! Papa is a happily married man, and I am so very thankful that I was included in such a special event. Our compound was wild for days! All of the visitors were able to stay for a while, and I was so fortunate to meet so much of the extended family. Every day I learn more and more about this amazing culture, make new friends, and am reminded about how amazing of a life I am living. The Gambian people make this experience so special.