Weddings and Funerals

..Are absurdly expensive and equally frequent in West Africa. And there’s no such thing as a private affair. There’s even no such thing as an invitation because the implication is that not only is everyone invited, they’re compelled to participate. Participation in and of itself costs money. People often travel quite long distances and bring gifts. However the real burden of expense falls on the shoulders of the family for which the event takes place. They must furnish lodging, food, drink, and more drink in the case of Christian and Pagan ceremonies. Not to say that Muslim events are any less expensive; it was rumoured that a family in one village dropped a cool fifteen million CFA on their daughter’s wedding, only for her to be divorced not a year later. So how do people have these kinds of funds you ask?  I think the priorities here are different than ours in the UK/EU/US. As I read recently in a NY Times article, “it’s not about how much you have but how much you give”.
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Being that Momo and I neither have nor can give (at least not to the masses who should have been informed and therefore invited to our wedding – sorry about that folks!), we more or less eloped by fixing the date of our wedding four days before having it, thereby making it impossible to inform anyone other than our physically proximate and immediate family members. By this we managed to please a few and offend many, but thankfully folks here at least are quick to forgive once an apology is offered. Plus we really enjoyed the few brave wedding crashers who heard the party  attended the event anyways.

Naturally, documentary linguists that we are, we have over 8 hours of video and countless pictures of the official signing at the mayor’s office, including our tossing of rice all over the building, the subsequent emotional speeches and first dance, ending up with one of our also newlywed witnesses catching the “bouquet” (a handful of pretty weeds).SAM_8830The other trouble about weddings here is they don’t end. I fact, some celebrate the fiancéship in addition to the official and traditional marriage ceremonies. So after a day of rest, we met up with Momo’s mom, step father, and their two twin girls for the preparations and road trip to his natal village. Momo’s family is Muslim, but was more familiar with traditional Muslim village marriages than he was as they’re not often performed here anymore. Luckily, I did not have to endure that which I knew from Mali, three days of solitary confinement under a blanket and then transported to the husband’s house. Instead, much to both of our surprise (and surely yours now too reading this), his family decided a conversion was necessary. I won’t go into all the reasons here that made me decide to go along with this plan; suffice it to say in the end I did it off my own accord and not by their persuasion.DSCN4619After a day of rest and we all travelled back together to Kafountine from which Momo and I took a muddy taxi ride followed by a quick canoe border crossing into The Gambia.IMG_8661.JPGThus came our honeymoon stay at the long anticipated Sandele Eco Retreat. Their motto, “luxury doesn’t have to cost the earth”, refers to the fact that, as the name suggests, the entire lodge and its surroundings operate in an ethical and resource conscious manner.  Renewable energy sources sun, wind, water, and waste (in the form of composting toilets) are used to provide electricity, hot water, and soil for vegetable gardens and fruit trees. The concentric circle, Sandele’s symbol, is discoverable in a fairy-tale-treasure-hunt type of way: from the sea front yoga gazebo flooring to the kitchenware, everywhere one finds the circle of life. No wonder the founders, Maurice and Gerry are some of the kindest people ever and those who work there (in fact the to-be-owners of Sandele as it will soon be given to the staff), provided us with every need before we even anticipated it. Mattresses with sheets and towels seemed to appear from discrete fairies as we emerged from swimming, and we received all our creatively delightful vegetarian meals in our ocean front room constructed from packed earth bricks sealed with naturally occurring lime extracted from the women’s oyster harvests in the Mangroves. (here I should add a note to say that while Momo was quite adventurous, he did request some non-vegetarian Senegalese dishes which they were also more than happy to provide).IMG_8699.jpgAh if only we could have stayed there forever but at some point the honeymoon must come to an end so we headed back for our respective homes. Unfortunately, because our entry into the country was in fact too discrete, we had to journey out the long way on the road in order for me to pass a proper border so as to acquire the re-entry stamp that would allow me to remain in the country without a visa past the allotted three month time frame.IMG_8677As much of joy is a part of life, so much is passing and sorrow. Here in Casamance, funerals can be both. If the person for which the funeral is held was old at the time of their death, such as this 109 year old man will be at the moment of his passing, then the funeral is a time for celebration and is thus carried out with drumming, singing, and (again in the case of those who partake) lots and lots of drink.IMG_8738

If the person is young, which is more often the case than the former, a funeral can serve as a time in which mourning can be preformed. Not just in Casamance, but in many countries in West Africa, family members and close friends are expected to not only mourn, but to cry, wail, and scream; to truly release their emotions. In some places, the lack of these outbursts is seen as suspect and grounds for their culpability in the person’s death (since there is little belief in death from natural causes). Following the funeral, in some cases it is forbidden to utter the person’s name until a year has passed, at which time another rite is performed and is for subsequent years as well.IMG_8676

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One thought on “Weddings and Funerals

  1. Pingback: Living and Leaving London #FF | Radio Free Africa

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