From the producer of “Tchale Village Part 1” comes the much anticipated sequel “Tchale Village 2: When Malawians Wed”
On Friday evening, I piled into the back of a pickup with 15 other adults, one baby and a live chicken. With my hosts from Tchale village, we went to Lilongwe and stayed the night in preparation for the wedding on Saturday. I was entirely a tag-along… I had no idea what was going on at any time, and I had no idea what to expect of a Malawian wedding. It was a bit overwhelming at times, but I’m so glad I experienced it, and I did enjoy myself as I figured it out.
So Friday night, I shared a twin bed with a 40-something year old Rwandan refugee who I met moments before. An awkward way to meet, but I did manage to have a conversation about himself in French, which was cool.
Saturday morning. Chaos. There was about 40 people staying in that house, all getting ready for the ceremony. Ladies cooking up a storm, people taking turns bathing, using the latrine, and ironing everything. I enjoyed a little downtime here to sit and drink tobwa (a drink made from slightly fermented maize and sugar) with some of the younger men while we all shaved our heads.
Saturday afternoon brought the ceremony. We piled into pickups and minibuses and shipped off to the hall. Here I expected to encounter familiar themes, but that was not to be the case.
To start off, the master of ceremonies began encouraging everyone to come to the front and throw some money in a basket for the newly-weds. They played music, people danced up the aisle to the front, and gave some money. They repeated this several times, turning off the music for the MC to rattle something off in Chichewa in between. Eventually I got up and joined the mob to the front. I felt grateful for having been invited to the wedding, despite only meeting the groom on Thursday, so I dropped an American $20 in the pile, thinking it was a nice gesture.
I sat back down, waiting for the money thing to end so the ceremony would start. But it just kept going. Was there a quota of money we had to raise for the newly weds before we carried on with the ceremony? I went up again, just so I was participating, and danced my way to another 200 MWK gift (about $1).
About two hours in, we were still throwing money about, and I was getting rather confused, and a little bored given my inability to understand anything that was said. I asked someone near me, “What happens after we finish throwing money?”
Confused, he asked, “What do you mean?”
“Ok, when do we stop throwing money?”
“Around 17:00 I think.” That was still two hours away.
“And… then what?”
“We all go home.”
So, throwing money around was the whole ceremony. Prior to this, the couple would have already signed a marriage certificate (and by registering with the government, they were granted two police officers to guard the entrance during the ceremony). This ceremony was just a celebration, and the money throwing dance was just a fun way to give the couple money to start their new home. Understanding this now, I went and bought a Coke to make change. After that, I had 900 MWK left in small bills. I went up to the front again and threw a couple 100 MWK bills around, feeling confident I could ration my remaining money and continue to participate.
Once again, that was not to be the case. The MC went down the aisle handing out plastic roses to about a dozen people in the crowd. Naturally, I ended up with one. I had no idea what to do with it, so I put it in my bag to take home. However, the MC came back and said, “Where’s the flower?”
“I put it away.” So, I pulled it back out and was pulled to the front by the MC. I played along, putting the rose in my teeth and provoking a chorus of toolooloo’s (it’s a characteristic African noise of excitement… can’t really describe it in text very well). Once at the front, the MC said to all of us rose recipients, “Everyone with a rose… give me 1000 MWK.” Well crap, there goes my rationing. I apologetically handed over my remaining 700 MWK and sat back down for the remainder of the ceremony, with absolutely no remaining cash. Luckily I already had a ride home.
Back in Tchale village that night, Mr. Nthala asked me, “So… are African weddings very different from European weddings?” Wow. Where to start…
“Umm… yes, very different.”