Bambasi Berta Wedding – May 8, 2016
** A big thanks to Deirdre Nunan for the photos and videos in this section!! Check out her awesome blog here **
Cooking for many!
The first wedding we went to in Ethiopia was a riot of colour, singing and overflowing with food. We were invited to go to a Muslim Berta wedding of a doctor from the hospital. We started by eating as we arrived to the groom’s family’s house where we were given injera and ladles of meat. There was a spicy red meat stew and then also roasted chunks of meat.
Organizing transport for the groom’s party to go pick up the bride
The Berta are traditionally matrilocal, as Ato Mohammed, the CEO of Assosa Hospital who was another guest at the wedding, informed us. However, because of “globalization” – as he also pointed to the other doctors in suits instead of his perfectly white galabyea – the practice is now just shortened to having the groom’s wedding party go over to the bride’s house in all sorts of fanfare to pick her up.
After awhile, we were finally ready to leave and the groom came out of the compound with his male relatives and friends and women dressed in colourful clothes singing and playing remarkably good drum on a yellow water jug. The groom held a leather whip in one hand while one of his groomsmen waved a mountaineering ski pole up in the air, complete with a flash light in the handle. Traditionally, the groomsmen used to whip the groom into alertness for his wedding and he used to whip them back, we were told, but this does not happen today. We never did find out the symbolism of the ski pole. The men in their white galabyeas, small white round embroidered hats or white turbans led in front while the colourfully dressed women followed, clapping and singing. In total, there was about 12 vehicles in the convoy to the nearby town of Bambasi, about 55km away. There were also two trucks where men stood on the back and cheered the whole way to Bambasi. The vehicles honked wildly as we drove through down and did the “celebratory” weave when there was no other traffic on the road. The whole convoy of 12 vehicles would swerve back and forth on the road making a braided weaving pattern. There were a lot of weddings this weekend as it is the holiday season right after Fasika and right before rainy season. I think we must have passed by 7 weddings on our way to Bambasi!
We arrived at the bride’s home and we entered clapping along with the groom’s party of singing and cheering women to the surprise of all the people gathered there.
Joining the wedding party!
The procession of the groom’s party went through the narrow bamboo gate and went up to the bride’s door. There was plastic flowers and money being flung around in the doorway and a lot of cheering. The whole area was crowded with people.
The groom goes into the house and comes out with his beautiful bride all dressed in white. We go into a constructed bamboo and tarp tent where there is the wedding ceremony. The wedding ceremony seems to just be more food! The bridal table of honor is set up in the front where couches and living room furniture has been brought outside into the tent. All around the small table is celebratory glass bottles of orange Miranda. I don’t know what marketing scheme Miranda did here in Ethiopia but they really branded themselves well!
Everyone else gets the homemade “soda” made from roasted barley called “gibs”. Gibs is sweet and dark like local Coca-Cola with a hint of smokey flavour from the roasting and with an extra zest of lime. The bride looks demure and sad without making any eye contact. She is not actually sad but has to look sad for her wedding because she is leaving her family home. The bride is dressed in white with a beautiful white sheer embroidered shawl and intricately hennaed hands. She looked like a doll and never spoke or made eye contact.
Furniture, luggage and other goods were carried out from the brides house into the trucks and soon we were all packing into the vehicles for the convoy back to Assosa.
We got back to the groom’s family’s house and it was another celebration and feast as we arrived. More Mirandas, more delicious meat and more food in general. There was food at this Muslim wedding that I had not experienced before in Ethiopia including a very slimy thin stew. Everyone was pretty tired…and stuffed… by the time the sun set and everyone went their separate ways shortly after that.
Showing off her beautiful hennaed hands
Orthodox Tigregna Wedding – May 16, 2016
The following weekend, we were invited to another wedding of a co-worker at the Regional Health Bureau. This time, the wedding traditions were based in Christian Ethiopian Orthodox church and from the Tigray ethnic group from northern Ethiopia. The wedding took place in the housing compound of the bride’s mothers and the gorgeous bride sat in the corner of one of the rooms in her white ruffle dream of a wedding dress. Her wedding dress was in the modern style – a white, strapless dress with a skirt made of taffeta roses that surrounded her in a long train. Her bridesmaids were also dressed modernly with canary yellow single strap dresses and all in the wedding party had beautifully done hair.
The bride’s mother, however, was dressed traditionally, in a thick white cotton dress richly embroidered. The bride’s mother’s hair was also braided in the traditional style with delicate thin cornrows from the forehead to the top of the head and then the hair is loose until it is caught by one single horizontal collecting braid at the base of her hair.
The bride looked a little overwhelmed but she had her bridesmaids taking great care of her. Inside the small room, the bridesmaids sung, danced and clapped to celebrate the bride. I feel that I might have missed a vital opportunity with my wedding with the potential of bridesmaids…if only I had known I could have them dance and sing for me on demand! While the bridesmaids danced for the bride, the guests outside in the UNHCR tarp covered compound courtyard ankle deep in confetti paper ate and drank. There was tej, the delicious Ethiopian honey wine which is way to easy to drink, the local non-alcoholic soft drink called gibs and endless injera and meat. There were two meat stews – a red spicy one with chunks of meat and lots of berbery and then a yellow one without the berbery and consisted of potatoes and meat still on the bone.
After a couple hours, the groom arrived with a small group of groomsmen all in suits, colourful bowties and holding colourful plastic flower bouquets. They were followed by a crowd of cheering and dancing men. It was like the women at the Berta wedding who sang and clapped following the groom and then the bridal party but this time it was all men. As they got to the gate, the groom and his groomsmen stood back while the crowd of supporters came forward singing. It became a wedding mosh-pit as the crowd of supporters sang and rushed the gate while the bridal party pushed them away. The groom’s party has to pay to get in – I think there was some token money at one point and then also candy. Once the groom’s party entered the bride’s compound, the groom’s party of supporters sang, danced and clapped and then they rushed the bride’s room. The bridesmaids tried to repel the groom’s party but they were quickly overwhelmed and more people than I thought would be possible entered the room and celebrated with singing and dancing.
The bride and groom left the room together and took a seat at the front. We watched as the bridal party signed the marriage papers (seemingly lacking at the Muslim wedding) with many many witnesses signing, exchanged rings and finally got some food to eat.
It was interesting how there were different food stations. Starting from right at the beginning, outside there was handwashing stations for Christians and Muslims and inside there was food stations for Christians (where the tej was) and another off to the side for Muslims (meat is blessed in different ways and also no alcohol on the Muslim side). However, everyone was celebrating together. Finally, there was the bridal party food table, which had the most extensive selection.
After eating, the bride’s family gave a few speeches. The bride’s mother’s words were in Tigrean as she didn’t speak Amharic very well I guess and it brought tears to the bride’s eyes. The groom came forward to bow low at the bride’s mother feet and he was blessed by them with a white cotton shawl. The whole bridal party came up to bow at the bride’s mother and then they started Tigrean dancing, which is a circle dance to Tigrean music with its distinctive heartbeat baseline. Then, the bride was off to go take pictures and go to the grooms house, which conveniently is apparently not too far away. Another beautiful and unique experience!