Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Party in the Kitchen

Some of the dresses at the kitchen party, all
the same but different
Last weekend two other interns and I went to a wedding with Mary, the executive director of Women Fund Tanzania. I believe the bride, Agnes, is Mary’s niece. This was actually a pre-wedding event, called a “kitchen party,” which only women are allowed to attend. It's sort of like the Tanzanian version of a bridal shower. Traditionally, this event would have been held in someone’s kitchen, with only the bride’s close female friends and family, and some women from the groom’s family in attendance. They get together to show support for the bride and give her advice on life, marriage, and motherhood. Today, this tradition has grown into a huge event, usually held in a hall to accommodate the 100+ women invited. Each wedding will have a different colour or fabric pattern associated with it (a kanga) and each woman attending is expected to wear it. If it is only a colour, say blue, the women can wear any blue outfit. If the bride has chosen a certain fabric though, all the women will have dresses or outfits designed and made out of the same material. The range of dress styles at this kitchen party was incredible. They were all so beautiful. Some were short, some were long, some looked traditional, and some were very modern. We felt a little out of place in what we were wearing; I wish someone had told us the colour of the kanga beforehand.
The bride in yellow
It took a while for the kitchen party to actually start, which is apparently normal here.  We spent two hours waiting for everyone to arrive, and the bride doesn’t show up until all the guests are seated, so it was a lot of waiting in the heat with little water to drink. Once the bride arrived and the party started, it consisted of mostly dancing. Almost every song came from a different region of Tanzania or a different country in Africa, and a lot of them had different dances to go along with them. We had so much fun dancing for hours with these ladies. They just let loose and dance like crazy nonstop, not like Canadian weddings where people have to be urged to get out of their seats and then they only dance to one song. I think the fact that it was just women there also helped; there were no men to interfere with the fun. (No offense to the men).
At traditional kitchen parties the older women give the bride advice on things like sex and how to be a good wife, as well as anecdotes from their own marriages. This seems like a beautiful tradition, this passing down of information from one generation to the next, but unfortunately the advice they give is generally to benefit the man in the relationship. It’s all about ways to please her husband, how the man is superior, how the wife needs to remember her place. Not so at this modern kitchen party, where Mary the women’s empowerment advocate was chosen to give the main speech. In the middle of the party Mary made a speech to the bride in which she talked about remembering who she is, what her values are and where she comes from, and not to lose these things simply because she is married. She told Agnes to respect her husband, but also remember that there are two people in a marriage and to respect herself as well. She also told Agnes to talk to someone if her husband beats or rapes her. Mary’s friend translated all this for us (it was in Kiswahili) and told us that often when a husband is beating his wife (which is common), he will stop after someone talks to him about it, but will continue if no one knows. These are the kinds of things brides need to be told before getting married in Tanzania, and all of these women at the kitchen party are there to support her and answer any questions she may have. Seeing how supportive women are of each other here gives me hope for women’s empowerment in this country. It is a good thing men are not allowed to attend these events though, because I can see how some of the things said would be offensive to husbands.
With my two wedding dates
There are several other events involved with a Tanzanian wedding. After the kitchen party comes the bride’s send-off party, where people also wear the same colour of kanga. Both women and men, including the groom, are allowed to attend this party. It is mostly people from the bride’s side of the family again, but some members from the groom’s side are invited as well. There is another party for the men, like a bachelor party, and then there is the typical white wedding ceremony followed by a reception with dinner and dancing. All of this can get very expensive, so each guest is asked to contribute to the cost of the wedding. Weddings are very important in Tanzania, so people are willing to spend a lot of money on any family or friends that are getting married. Couples receive very expensive gifts, the best each guest can afford. It is not uncommon to receive televisions or even cars as wedding gifts. There is not as much pressure to get married in Dar as there is in other areas of Tanzania. In rural areas women are married off for economic reasons to “good families”. The family of the bride may receive a large dowry, or maybe a couple of cows in exchange for their daughter. This is not legal but of course it still happens, as it does all over the world.

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