A Rwandan Wedding
In Rwanda it seems like there is always a wedding happening, especially in the months of November and December. Couples have three wedding ceremonies – traditional, church and civil – and this past Sunday I attended the traditional wedding ceremony of my neighbor Janette.
Early Sunday afternoon Jacqui, Janette’s sister, came over to our house and dressed Mary, Helaina and I in the traditional dress of the Rwandan woman, a mushanana. A mushanana is made out of a silk material and has a long wrap skirt and a sash that drapes over the shoulder. Rwandan women can technically wear mushanana whenever, but they are mainly worn for formal occasions like weddings.
Once we were dressed, we went next door to Janette’s aunt’s house where the wedding was being held. The traditional Rwandan ceremony is held at the home and her aunt’s courtyard housed three big white tents with rows of chairs underneath for guests, and a small tent for the bridal party that was decorated with faux leopard print fabric and numerous handwoven baskets, Rwanda’s traditional handicraft. Two of the large tents were opposing each other on either side of the bridal tent and were for the bride and groom’s families. The respective families sat opposite one another and the first part of the ceremony focused on their getting to know each other.
When we entered the courtyard we were shepherded to seats in the front row of where Janette’s family was seated, and since the ceremony was in Kinyarwanda, one of her family members translated for us. From our front row seats we watched as male representatives from the bride and grooms families discussed why the couple should marry and introduced the families. During this time the families also exchanged gifts and everyone received a soda to drink. After the male representative from Janette’s family agreed that the couple should marry, the groom, who was hidden behind where his family was sitting, was called forward to meet Janette’s family. After the introductions were complete the male representative from the groom’s family presented Janette’s family with the dowry of a cow, which is only symbolic in the urban areas where the family gives money. Two men then recited poems about the importance of cows in Rwandan society.
After the men finish reciting poems, the rest of the ceremony focused on Janette. Her procession was led by women, young and old, from her family who brought out gourds of milk for the grooms family, followed by four traditional women dancers. Then Janette proceeded down the aisle. She was dressed in a white and gold mushanana and wore gold jewelry in her hair. Janette was followed by a matron of honor and four bridesmaids that carried gifts for the groom’s family, and four spearmen. After Janette was seated next to the groom the ceremony proceeded quickly. Once Janette gave gifts to the grooms family and both the bride and groom agreed to wed, there was more dancing and everyone received a plate of food. After everyone finished eating the wedding party retired to the home and the ceremony was over.
After the ceremony Jack, Janette’s brother, asked me if I would have a traditional Rwandan ceremony when I got married. I told him I was not sure what type of wedding ceremony I would be having, but that I would love to wear a mushanana again!
Pictures from the wedding are below! Enjoy!