The differences between a Malawian wedding and a British wedding are evident from the word go - beginning with the invites. There are no fancy invitations sent to specific individuals with an RSVP date, rather you are invited by default if you belong to the church that the couple attend. Us UK volunteers were all invited, even though I had only been to church once, and didn’t even know the name of the couple. There was some confusion over invites as a couple of my fellow volunteers were unsure whether to come or not as they hadn’t been specifically invited, we told them you don’t get that kind of special treatment here, anyone can come to the wedding.
We were all very excited for the wedding, from what we’d heard it was going to be a day full of dancing, music and singing. On top of that, a few of us had been to the tailor to get handmade outfits, shirts for the boys and dresses for the girls, all made from elaborate, bright material.
The service at the church began at 6.30am, which is an unthinkable time in the UK, with most services starting no earlier than 1pm. I can’t even imagine what time the bride must have gotten up to get herself ready for her big day. It’s the same with everything here though; early mornings are the done thing. The service however was worth the early start. The music was blaring, people were dancing, singing and shouting. It was so much noisier than any wedding I have ever been to in the UK. It instantly put a smile on my face, and lifted my mood. It just makes you feel so happy and thankful to be part of someone’s special day. The dancing and music doesn’t stop there. It is constantly playing! The groomsmen boogie into the church with a prepared routine, and dance all the way up the aisle to collect the bridesmaids, who then dance in partnership back down the aisle. There’s no slow walk down the aisle for the bride. Her and the groom, again, both dance down the aisle.
The first major difference that stood out for me was the fact that there were two weddings going on, at the same time, in the same church. Imagine getting married and having two strangers bombard your day. For me there’s no way I would let that happen! My day is my day, and it’s going to be all about my wedding… I’m not sharing it, and I’m sure the majority of British women would agree with me on that. In Malawi, it seems normal. They both picked the same day, but instead of arguing about it, they simply had their weddings on the same day. So once the first couple have made their way down the aisle, they sit at the front looking very bored (if I may say so myself), whilst waiting for the next couple to perform their dances and get to the front. At the end of the service, the same thing happens again, with the first couple going outside for pictures, followed by the other couple.
For the reception I was expecting a large hall with an abundance of dancing, a couple of drinks, some food and a slice of cake. How wrong was I? The reception was arguably the part that baffled me the most. The difference between the British and Malawian culture is clear to see. Firstly, the hall was just full of chairs and a small stage at the front for the bridesmaids and groomsmen. There were no drinks on offer, let alone any food. There was a cake, and I was hoping to pinch a slice at some point in the afternoon. The reception began around 1.30pm, more dancing down the aisle, followed by the main reason for the reception; money giving. Everyone changed 1000 kwacha notes into smaller 50 kwacha notes. The bride and groom then took it in turns to stand at the front whilst the master of ceremony (MC) called different groups of people to the front, to dance and shower them with money. This went on for hours, at least three hours that I know of, but supposedly there is no time limit, and it could have gone on for the entire evening. I found this hard to understand, and honestly I found it a little boring after a couple of hours. I wanted to get up and dance, but you could only do that if you were offering money. They raised 1.6 million kwachas (£1600), so instead of a present list like you would have in the UK, the couple simply get money and also a couple of mattresses. Still not sure why. The disappointing thing was that I didn’t even get a slice of cake. I heard afterwards that you have to pay for them. Nothing in the wedding is free, hugely different to the UK where you would expect at least one meal and a slice of cake, and at some even a free drink.
Despite the differences, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of a Malawian wedding, it only added to my love of this country and its culture. It was enlightening to experience how vastly different their weddings are, and to see their own traditions. If you ever get the chance to go to a Malawian wedding, then don’t hesitate in saying yes.
Written by ICS volunteer Sophie Herring