My experience of a Malawian wedding was short but most definitely rich in culture. The wedding preparations began on the Friday, with twenty members of my host mum's family arriving to stay the night, which meant a very busy household. Unfortunately, just as they arrived, the power in the neighbourhood went out. This is something that isn't uncommon in the area, so everyone was well equipped with candles and torches to continue the evening as normal as possible. As it had been a long day travelling for the bridal party, everyone found a guest room or sofa to crash on for the night ready for the big day.
On Saturday morning we were still in the middle of a power cut, which made it slightly more difficult for the bridal party to get ready. However, the excitement throughout the house was evident. The morning could be described as somewhat chaotic, with the cooks preparing lunch with coal outside, the cleaners making sure the house was spotless and everyone trying to get ready in time for the ceremony. Julia, my fellow UK volunteer whom I share a host home with, and I left everyone to prepare and made our way to Shoprite, the main supermarket in Mzuzu. After walking there and back via the market, the planned two-hour trip quickly turned into four hours. This meant we returned home with just enough time to quickly get dressed into the smartest outfits we had, before the bride and groom returned to the house after the church ceremony. Once we were as colourful and Malawian feeling as possible (including the addition of glitter) we made our way to the reception venue.
The entrance to the reception was eventful, with many people turning to view a group of seven British volunteers awkwardly dancing their way in. The reception was spectacular and contained the most fabulous centre piece for the bride and groom, which was surrounded by hundreds of family and friends. The music was blaring and within five minutes we were all up dancing (again with many stares and laughs from the Malawians). Shortly after our arrival, the bride and groom made a grand entrance, dancing behind all of their bridesmaids and groomsmen. This is when the wedding becomes very different from any traditional British wedding. In different groups, the guests grooved their way to the newly married couple (to a song of their choice) and began showering them with money while one member of the group would present a gift. From a distance this behaviour appeared strange, but all those taking part were enjoying the event.
We finally made out way up front with my host family, again awkwardly dancing (but trying), we began throwing the 20 and 50 Kwacha notes (worth around two and five pence) that we had either exchanged at Shoprite or the cashier who was dealing with all the money at the wedding. I felt rude at first, why not just put the money in a card with a ‘congratulations’? But this was not seen in a rude manner, more a celebration that everyone can participate in. The throwing of money goes on for hours without a break and seems like the only purpose of the reception.
The differences between a Malawian and British wedding are not too far, the bond of love through the church. However, the idea of attending and dancing only when providing money was not as exciting. Throwing money to the ground in the UK has such negative connotations, such as waste that is felt strange to do it as a celebration.
Traditions and cultures vary and being allowed to join in and participate in someone else's wedding was an honour and a truly amazing experience.
Written by ICS volunteer Emma Miller