Wedding Bells – Tying the knot in Zimbabwe
If your only thought of weddings was a dreary set of rituals under a drab charade, then you quickly need to plan a trip to Zimbabwe for a new look at how a wedding can go beyond just tying the knot as they say. For most Zimbabweans, a wedding invariably has to be an extravaganza. Depending on the couple’s budget, a Zimbabwean wedding can easily resemble the set of a Bollywood musical. Props ranging from expensive cars to living elephants are not spared as each event manager strives to be a cut above the rest. Needless to say there is stiff competition if not rivalry when it comes to planning and executing a wedding in Zimbabwe.
A wedding is primarily meant to register a marriage but from what I have witnessed countless times in Zimbabwe, the event is larger than mere formalities. It is a colourful party bringing together family and friends. For some it can even be a public show of power and status. Of course the costs associated with any egotistic affair are quite astronomical but money has never been a deterrent to the determined spirit. In some cases it is not even the couple tying the knot that decide the magnitude and texture of their wedding but their families take charge of everything. A proud father giving away his eldest daughter will stop at nothing to bless her by sponsoring a lavish wedding. In some instances a rich bachelor “hanging his boots’’ can bow out in style by hosting his invited guests to the mother of all weddings.
Nevertheless, there is always that odd dreary wedding normally held under the strict aegis of the church or some other religious authority. Such events are hardly the talk of the town and remain largely unreported. The ones that spread like rumours of war are the extravagant weddings staged to make a statement. Attendance to these mega-parties is not limited to invited guests. Gate crushers will try every trick in the book to partake in the joyful celebrations. It can be hard in some venues but where there is a will there is a way. In most cases it is actually the gate crusher that inevitably turns into the life of the party as some invited guests show up against their will. I personally suspect the groom to also be among the ‘happy hostages’ at a wedding. Just my small opinion!
According to Zimbabwean customary laws, a wedding can only happen after the groom’s payment of the bride price commonly known as lobola. This traditional custom is never ignored on any grounds even by Zimbabweans living in the diaspora. There are strong superstitious beliefs that if a marriage is conducted before settling the lobola issues then all hell will surely break loose to even end the marriage in due course. Whether out of fear of the superstition or otherwise, I have never seen any couple break with the tradition. Furthermore, the wedding ceremony itself is interlaced with various traditional rituals mostly emanating from the lobola episode. The groom and the bride’s respective families already joined during the lobola ritual are more at ease with each other during the wedding ceremony. In such settings the freedom to dance becomes uninhibited.
Notwithstanding the flamboyant dressing, unchecked feasting and elevated dancing, a wedding in Zimbabwe is primarily a legal undertaking. Registering a marriage is an Act of Parliament enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe. Only a state registered marriage officer can preside over proceedings. Marriage officers can be legal officials or religious figures. Once the marriage certificate is signed by all parties concerned, the marriage thus solemnised can only be nullified in the High Court. Divorce proceedings are as dramatic as they are worldwide. When you attend a Zimbabwean wedding with all its elaborate twists and turns, it is hard to imagine such a beautiful event ending in a nasty divorce in some cases. Yet there are many couples still joined in ‘holy’ matrimony after decades of marriage. Perhaps these are they whose fortunes give meaning to the notion of tying the knot, to live happily ever after.