01 02 03 Africa Expat Wives Club: Weddings in East Africa 04 05 15 16 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 31 32 33

Weddings in East Africa

Weddings are a big deal around here. It would be very unusual to have a low key registry office do, or an LA style ‘chapel of love’ style quickie. Don’t assume that matrimonies in the developing world are not as flamboyant or extravagant than those held elsewhere. Extended family are all expected to chip in to the wedding budget of a relative, helping to foot the bill for the dress, bridesmaids outfits, a huge crowd of guests, fleet of decorated wedding cars, film crew, flowers, brass band, sumptuous feast etc.

Last weekend was the much awaited ‘Kiss 100 Victorian Wedding’, where a pair of radio listeners won an ‘all expenses paid’ dream wedding (see photo). The venue was the ‘Marula Manor’ in Karen, once home to Sir Jock Delves Broughton and Diana Delamere and one assumes the setting for many a ‘happy valley’ party in its hey day. The house has not been occupied for the last 25 years, but is occasionally hired out for private functions.

The wedding did not disappoint, I stood on the roadside watching with the kids (and many other onlookers), whilst liveried horses trotted past pulling a carriage ready to collect the glamorous bride who was getting ready at the Karen Club. The groom and his ushers were dressed in top hat and tails, the bride’s train was purportedly longer than Princess Diana’s, there were 500 guests, 80,000 flowers, 120 waiters, a 30 tier cake and the likely candidate for next Kenyan president was present with his wife (in the press here he’s referred to as the President ‘aspirant’). This spectacular event may seem incredibly extravagant, but expectations are normally high for weddings here. A work colleague once said; ‘if you don’t have a Benz (i.e. a Mercedes Benz) at your wedding you are nobody.’ The Benz is the preferred wedding transportation in Kenya.

In Tanzania, the wedding convoy is likely to include an open ended pickup truck carrying a brass band that are playing loud jolly tunes as they are driven around the city streets. There is often a cameraman hanging off the back too, eagerly filming the newly weds as they are chauffeured along. It’s a veritable party on wheels and is a common sight every Saturday afternoon! Part of the wedding itinerary in Dar es Salaam always includes a stop off at one of the stunning public beaches, for some formal wedding photography set against the Indian Ocean. Watching the oyster pink, sky blue or orangey gold satiny colour coordinated bridesmaids and accompanying wedding groups congregating on the beach is always quite a spectacle.

In spite of all this romance, I had an interesting conversation with the manager of a popular wedding venue in Karen, Nairobi. He said that many of the happy couples he has dealt with have insisted on total privacy for their weddings, hidden behind high security walls and armed guards. Bridal parties are often known to go to great lengths to ensure that only the strictly invited guests will be granted entry. The uninspiring cement walled field that he hires out is ideal for such occasions. I asked why privacy was an issue:
‘Ah’ he said; ‘they are afraid of a previous wife or husband turning up to the wedding and making a fuss.’
Apparently, its common practice to get out of an existing marriage by paying a bribe and getting it legally dissolved. Often, the partner has no knowledge of this until all the arrangements have been made and they discover without warning that they are divorced! The offending partner is then free to take up with anyone she or he likes and then to remarry.

Of course this ploy only works when your spouse is not wealthy, otherwise there is a danger of being pursued through the law courts to contest the divorce and reinstate the marriage. Hence brides and grooms are often terrified of previous wives or husbands turning up to their new wedding and creating a huge scene, so prefer to hold their weddings in secret.

Which, I suppose leads us full circle back to the Kiss 100 radio phone in ‘busted’, where listeners can publicly expose their cheating spouses. (see previous post: Kenya radio).

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