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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

one wedding and a funeral

In the last three days we've spent two afternoons at different neighbors' houses, Monday at a funeral and Wednesday at a wedding.  Both were times to experience and participate in the solidarity of community.  The funeral was by far the larger and more significant event, attracting hundreds of people.  We sat on dried cocoa leaves under the shade of the cocoa trees, as the grave-digging was completed a short stone's toss from the front door.  As soon as the clan leaders spied Scott they announced he would be giving a speech, and so he was called forward into the bright sun of the courtyard to talk about community, mourning, relationship, and the preparation of our hearts for the inevitability of death.  Burials represent probably the largest community events in this culture, and by their very nature times to ponder immortality and the Gospel.  It was hard for me to watch Richard, only a few years older than Luke, hunching his shoulders and wiping his eyes as his father's body was lowered into the freshly dug hole.  The next morning I went back to take some tea to his mother.  It is traditional for close family to spend four days sleeping outside the deceased's home, on the ground together, a long watching and supporting.  Solidarity.

Yesterday's event was more intimate.  We had been informed that we should come, but I had forgotten completely until I walked in from a very long morning at the hospital at almost 2 and found Scott waiting to go.  Our direct nearest neighbor Tabaka, brother of the late Mukiddi, was receiving bride-price for his daughter from a family in Congo where she had "married".  In traditional culture a couple often "elopes", pays a fine of a chicken to show they are officially together, and it can take a year or two or more for the formal family negotiation legitimizing the marriage.  I think this couple had two kids already.  The Babwisi have incorporated some Baganda culture into their marriages in the last decade as this place has become less isolated.  The whole event is rather dramatic, with appointed spokes-persons for each side, the two family groupings seated facing each other, and much bandying back and forth.  The groom's group has to present the goats they have brought; the bride's family makes a great show of inspection and rejects some on the basis of their size being too small or their fertility being unproven, then the groom's family will make them "grow" by adding on an envelope of money.  Besides the goats there were a list of concrete demands such as "7 litres of paraffin" and the men on the bride's side had to open the bottle and smell the liquid to be sure they weren't being cheated with plain water.  The 15 kg of sugar when counted out turned out to be 14 and a half, but the bride's group agreed to forgive. 

Lots of laughter, but also the underlying cultural appropriateness of the DEMAND.  A woman is something to be haggled over, and the exchange of a daughter for goats and crates of beer and soda is considered a fair deal.  And the last chance to press for more, so take it.  ( Our weddings in our culture could also be seen as mercenary, with the expectation that all guests bring gifts . . . ).

So, a couple of observations.  The wedding had very little to do with the bride and groom.  They were peripheral to the whole affair.  The event yesterday was an bonding of two families.  It was a negotiation of alliance, and exchange of goods that sealed a relationship.  The last order of business was formal recognition of the "mukwenda", the go-between, who is related to both sides and will serve to relay messages and confirm rumors and smooth conflicts between the two groups in the future.  The burial was also about family and clan rather than a dead individual.  In the speeches and the customs, the lineage, the property, the descendants, are the key points of interest.

Second, it was a privilege to be drawn into both.  Particularly at the wedding, we were called to come as part of the bride's family.  In fact Scott has had the opportunity to care for both of her parents at times over the last 16 years when they would have died otherwise.  Tabaka, who is now in his 70's and the elder of the whole affair, and recipient of the don't-try-this-at-home surgical procedure Nathan blogged about a week or so ago, made a formal statement early in the ceremony.  He came into the courtyard and introduced Scott as his son to all present, so that we were not attending as guests but seated with the family.  One of our "adopted sons", boys we sponsored through school, was the MC of the affair.  Two other young men who have been very connected with our mission sat near us.  The "maid of honor" I had also sponsored in school, and another "bridesmaid" young woman is one of my patients.  

Sitting under a tarp laid with banana leaves for coolness, in the bright afternoon heat, straining to follow dialogue in a foreign language, claimed by a rascally clan of sometimes-devious always-generous people who have forgiven our other-ness and drawn us in, thankful for moments of inclusion in a life that is often disjointed, but always interesting.

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