Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Mozambican Wedding

Saturday, a family that I’m close with (The Uarila’s) invited me along with them to their friend’s wedding.  Attending a Mozambican wedding has definitely been on my list of things I’ve wanted to do here and they assured me that my tagging along was absolutely no problem.  His words, “They invited me and my family, and you are part of this family, so you were invited also.”

A typical Mozambican wedding has two parts: the civil ceremony and the church ceremony.  At 9am, we arrived at the Civil Register Building and joined about 50 others in a small room to watch the bride and groom officially register their marriage in the eyes of the government.  Like American tradition, the bride wore a fancy white dress and a veil.  It was hard for me to hear what was going on the whole time, but the big events included a quick kiss between bride and groom while the crowd sang a song in Macua about how weddings are good, and the bride and groom signing their names in a book while the crowd sang “Do not be afraid to sign”.  A representative of the government led the ceremony, diverging off into a long speech about how domestic violence is not tolerated in a marriage, something I thought was good to address but was maybe not the right setting for such a lengthy speech.

After the hour or so ceremony, we filed out of the stuffy room and sang as the bride and groom entered the car to drive to the church.  The rest of the wedding participants jumped in to two small pick-up trucks, filling the beds of the truck in true Mozambican transportation style.  Inocêncio and I decided to walk to the church.

It was a short albeit really hot 15 minute walk to the church.  On the walk over, I asked Inocêncio some questions about marriage and this couple in particular.  I told him how the bride did not look particularly happy during the ceremony, I don’t think I saw her smile even once.  Soon, I learned that this couple had been married for a long time already and had several children.  According to Mozambican law, if you live together for over two years you are recognized as being married.  This couple just hadn’t had an official wedding and had not yet legally registered their marriage.  Inocêncio explained that the bride was probably just afraid because now it would be much harder to ever decide to end the marriage as it costs about $2000 to get a divorce.  Also, this is just part of the culture here – they don’t really smile in photographs and don’t typically show a lot of excitement during formal events.

We arrived at the church, a small cement building with a thatched roof decorated with torn pieces of paper strung along lines of string and the occasional bunch of purple flowers dotting the ceiling.  Not surprisingly, no one was there yet.  Inocêncio suggested that they probably went to take pictures somewhere in town before arriving at the church.  We sat around for about 30 minutes until we heard the rest of the wedding arriving in honking cars, singing and clapping to a song saying, “It is very good.”  The bride and groom walked from their car to the church through an arch made of palm fronds and down an aisle way decorated with the same torn pieces of papers, the bride walking atop capulanas laid on the ground to prevent her dress from getting too dirty. 

The ceremony in the church was much less formal than any wedding ceremony I’ve attended.  People walk in and out, children kind of roam around, the pastor kept forgetting the bride’s name (she didn’t seem bothered by it at all), there didn’t really seem to be an order of events.  People stood as the bride and groom walked in together, but there was no wedding song (no musicians, in fact, just people singing) nor a wedding party.  The pastor read a couple passages from the Bible and discussed the importance of a monogamous relationship.  The bride and groom read their vows, essentially similar themes to American vows, proclaiming their freewill in getting married and their promise to protect each other and be together forever.  Several singing groups sang songs in Macua, the local language, for over an hour.  To be honest, after a while, every song sounded exactly the same to me and I was itching to get out of that hot church.  After about 3 hours, the singing finally ended, people were done talking, and the bride and groom led the way out of the church, stopping right outside the doors to great everyone as they exited single file. 

By then, the wedding audience had grown to about 75 people and we all proceeded to their house for the reception.  They had set up a covered area with chairs, speakers and a TV, and a few tables filled with food:  buckets (yes, buckets!) of rice and beans, chicken, coleslaw salad, and goat stew – the typical Mozambican meal.  We sat around for a while as, I think, the bride and groom changed clothes and the hosts finished preparations for the party (not really sure what was going on at that time), the food just taunting us just sitting there as my stomach growled.  Finally, the bride and groom came out and everyone was welcomed to eat.  It still baffles me how much rice Mozambicans can eat!  I was telling them that what they ate in one meal would take me probably two days to finish!  I had no idea paper plates could even hold so much food! 

Sitting there, it was interesting to compare the Mozambican wedding with American weddings.  The biggest difference?  The simplicity of everything – simple decorations, simple food, no wedding party, no stress over the number of people and random uninvited people (like me) showing up.  Simplicity.  That pretty much sums up everything about life here.  Much simpler and slow paced. 

Another thing that surprised me was the lack of enthusiasm shown by the couple.  Thinking about it afterward, it really is a big part of the culture to not show much affection and enthusiasm, especially during such formal events or ceremonies.  Quite the stark difference to American culture where toasts are held and glasses are clanged to encourage such displays.  Out of curiosity, I did ask about marriage for love versus marriage for family obligations and was happy to discover that marriage for love is much much more common nowadays.  Maybe the bride was just too hot in her wedding dress in one hundred-something degree heat!  The crowd on the other hand had so much enthusiasm!  Mozambican women make this incredible cheering sound by “wooing” and wiggling their tongues back and forth.  And the amount of music, though I couldn’t understand it, clearly emphasized everyone’s happiness for the occasion. 

We left the wedding reception before the cake cutting, but I’m sure the party went on late into the evening, complete with more singing and dancing.  


  1. Sara, you're getting old. Evidence your leaving early from a party instead of party hearty until the bitter end!

    1. It wasn't my decision, my hosts decided to leave. Though it was probably for the better because I got pretty sun burned that day.

  2. I love all your details - you are such a good observer as you write. Re not showing happiness - I remember going to a Bedouin wedding in Israel when i lived there. If was told it was actually bad luck for the bride or groom to look happy that day. The groom looked so down cast - while his lap filled up with money people were giving him - that it became almost comical. Nervewracking too, since they kept shooting guns toward the air (where do all those bullets come down?!) And the bride may have not been too thrilled to have Israeli guests (and me along) pop by when, apparently, she had just been released from 6 years in an Israeli jail for protesting. Maybe its WE who lead the simple life. Or at least the illusion one.