What do you do when one of your best girlfriends is getting married? I’m over the moon. I’m SOOO happy for her.
I’ve been sitting and thinking about how awesome our friendship is. I have found myself truly blessed. Through tears and smiles, laughter and heartache, she’s been a part of my life. We’ve laughed together at the silliest of things. Because of her, I have learned great lessons and hold many glorious memories (the 11 d’or party! Hehe). She taught me to always be truthful. She not only told me what I wanted to hear, but pushed me, repeating those affirmations that mean everything when someone who cares about you says them. I would fall apart if we ever stopped talking or if anything happened to our friendship.
She’s now on the other side of the world and as much as I wished to be at her wedding, I won’t *develops instant ulcer* (why can’t I teleport for just one day? Is that too much to ask?)
So, I’m writing this post about Rwandan weddings as a tribute to her. This post is also for those people who are curious about the Rwandan culture.
In Rwanda, there are wedding rituals that our ancestors have invented and have observed for a very long time.
Rwandan wedding traditions have a strong significance because marriage joins not only two people but also both their families. In Rwanda, almost all the important wedding practices are the same, except for some (minor) that differ from place to place.
Rwandan weddings have three ceremonies: traditional, religious, and civil. Traditional wedding involves mutual introduction and dowry giving (gusaba no gukwa). The couple also gets the consent of parents to allow them to get married. The church or civil wedding, is when the bride and groom are officially united in matrimony.
Some of the practices have changed over time, however many remain the same.
When a girl or boy was of age to be married, his or her parents would start the preliminary search for a suitable partner for their child.
KURANGA/KURANGIRA: this was the search for a suitable partner for their child. The family chose umuranga who would point out a young lady/man as a potential bride/groom for their child (kuranga/kurangira). Umuranga did profound research on the lady/guy and their family (their manners, their family lineage, their conduct in society) and informed the other family. If the family approved, the next phase was gufata irembo.
Abaranga acted as middlemen for the man’s family and the family of the bride-to-be.
Today, both the man and lady meet and date, until their relationship culminates into marriage.
GUFATA IREMBO: The father of the potential groom, or a special envoy chosen by the family, visits the girl’s family to declare the intention of his son to marry their daughter. If the girl’s family approves, plans are made as to when the introduction ceremony (gusaba) would take place.
GUSABA: Both families are required to have a spokesman to represent them. The spokesman is a member of the family to speak on behalf of the family. They discuss why really their children should get married. They discuss until it’s decided that a young man on the groom’s side could marry a female from the other family.
GUKWA: Next, they decide the bride price to be offered as a dowry payment to the bride’s family (gukwa). Dowry was given in the form of a cow and the number of cows determined how much the bride was valued. Nowadays, some may give the dowry in terms of money but equivalent to the price of the cow(s) the groom gives to the bride’s parents. The dowry serves to recognise the bride’s family’s efforts in raising their daughter and preparing her for marriage. Bride price must be paid first in order for the couple to get permission to marry in the church or in other civil ceremonies, or the marriage is not considered valid by the bride’s family. Once the bride’s family finds the dowry acceptable, it’s finally agreed that the couple can marry.
Today, both the introduction and dowry giving are combined and take place successively.
GUTEBUTSA: after the introduction and dowry giving, the man’s family went to ask the girl’s family when the wedding would take place. Both families would talk and fix a date for the wedding. Presently, the wedding plans are done between the bride, groom and their immediate families.
GUSHYINGIRA: this was the wedding day. The bride’s family chose some men, women and girls to accompany the bride to her husband’s family, to which she now belonged to. They were headed by umukwe mukuru and umushyingira (a woman who most of the times is the girl’s godmother). They all went at night. When they reached near the home, they put the bride in a traditional mat (ikirago) and two girls held the mat. For the rich, the bride was carried in ingobyi, which was a traditional mat with two long slender pieces of wood attached to both sides of the mat. Ingobyi had four handles which would be placed on the shoulders of four men and carry the bride.
As they entered, umukwe mukuru and some men entered first, followed by the bride surrounded by girls, and after them other men. They would then be guided inside, and ceremonies to honor the wedding would be held.
In modern times, the gushyingira is the big white wedding.
And after the church and civil wedding ceremonies, a reception to celebrate the marriage follows.
GUTWIKURURA: Gutwikurura literally means to unveil or uncover. Traditionally after marriage the newly wed wife would not be seen in public and would completely refrain from work (kwarama). She would remain indoors performing small chores like churning the milk. At the end of this period her family would visit her and bring her several items to help her settle in her home. During the ceremony, the groom’s mother and the groom help the bride prepare her first meal (gutekesha) and they all share the meal. Then the bride’s hair is trimmed off. Traditionally, girls had amasunzu (a kind of hairstyle). They trimmed off the amasunzu as a symbol that she’s now a married woman. Also, the bride and groom give milk to children (a boy and a girl) as a symbol to wish them to bear children of both sexes. These children also must have both parents alive, to symbolise that the new couple’s children will not become orphans. The bride is then allowed to come out (go in public) and to resume her work.
So, here’s wishing you, J & P, a joy-filled marriage with memories galore!
God bless your marriage, always.