Falling in love, getting engaged and planning a wedding can fling one around in a whirlwind of excitement and leave them feeling a bit confused on the other side of the storm. Amongst the many significant decisions, a newly engaged couple will have to make a decision whether or not they would like to have a traditional wedding or a modern wedding which is known as the white wedding. So what’s the difference?
Why choose a traditional wedding ceremony? For it is beautiful and permanent. Traditional weddings do not come and go like trends do. When it comes to weddings, “tradition” is a moving target! One decade’s tradition is another decade’s forgotten and irrelevant custom. There are also major variations according to region and religion.
“Traditional Weddings generally take place in a church or the place of worship suited to one’s beliefs and led by a religious head. This ceremony includes readings from the Bible or religious text, and traditional marriage vows,” said Hileni Nakufu whose wedding was more traditional.
Hileni explained that traditionally in the Oshiwambo culture, when a man feelsz that he is ready for marriage he sits with both of his parents and announce to them that he is ready to marry and the girl who he intends to marry. The parents then have to accept or reject the wedding. Upon agreement, the man’s parents have to send someone who they trust to announce the wedding to the woman’s parents. If the woman’s parents accept their daughter to get married or not, that particular person has to go back to the man’s parents and deliver the response.
Upon acceptance, the man goes to the woman’s house to be known by the woman’s parents and thereafter the woman also has to go to the man’s house to meet the man’s parents.
Once both families agree to the wedding proposal, the fiancé and the fiancée then start preparing for the wedding. The parents on the other side take the responsibility of inviting the family members and the neighbours. On the Sunday preceding the weekend of the wedding the couples in company of their parents go to church and the pastor announces the wedding to the whole congregation. After the church service the groom-to-be’s parents go home while the groom-to-be and a few friends go to the bride-to-be’s house to put up two white flags. One flag is put on the roof of the bride’s room and the other is put on a tree outside the house.
That same afternoon, the bride goes to a parental relative. The parental relative will then apply reddish oil on the bride’s face, hands and arms as well as the legs as a sign of wiping ill luck. From there, the bride can then start collecting gifts from the invited family members, friends and neighbours.
On the day before the wedding day the groom sends people to deliver the bride’s suitcase and a cow as a sign of lobola. Whoever is sent by the groom has to take the suitcase to the bride’s grandmother or mother’s hut where they will meet the bride. They’ll need to open the suitcase and explain everything that is in the suitcase. A suitcase usually comes with a lamp; the Bride’s wedding dress, under wears and anything else. That night people sing for the bride the whole night.
As opposed to the Oshiwambo tradition, the Herero weddings differ. “The groom-to-be tells the father and his father talks to the bride’s father. However, the decision is to be made by the bride’s uncle. It is up to the uncle to accept or decline the wedding. When the groom-to-be’s father talk to the bride-to-be’s father he has to kneel as a sign of respect,” said Benmore.
On the wedding day, both the bride and the groom get ready for their day and before they leave their houses for church, they have to sit at their grandmother or mother’s hut with their parental relatives for a meal which is the Oshiwambo tradition. As for the Herero tradition they do not marry in church. The groom travels to the bride’s village with his family and his groomsmen. Once there, they will have to stay at a neighbours homestead until the wedding ends. “The groom’s parents are not allowed to enter the bride’s house throughout the wedding. Furthermore, we exchange meat as a sign of unity and connection between the two families,” explained Benmore.
Once the groom and the bride are pronounced husband and wife they go to the bride’s house for the first reception. As the groom and bride approach the bride’s residence, they are met by the bride’s parental relatives otherwise they will not be allowed entrance. Once everyone has entered the homestead, they gather around for prayer and a sermon on a happy marriage is given by a pastor. Thereafter, the parental relative presents his or her gifts to the bride followed by the family elders and then the guests. Once everyone has presented their gift, the couple goes to a reserved venue. When the celebration is over, the groom goes home and the bride goes to another homestead along with her parental relative.
The next day, the groom and the bride meet at the bride’s residence for the bride’s parents to bid farewell to their daughter. The wedding then continues to the groom’s residence and everything happens the same way it happened at the bride’s residence except that the couple will be allowed to sleep together.
The modern way…
Nowadays, modernised brides have what is known to be a ‘white wedding.’ These weddings are however, not very different from the traditional weddings except for the very few things which are done differently. Katrina Basimike who recently got married said that her wedding was modern although they payed homage to some traditional procedures.
As modern weddings are typically non-religious in nature, they can take place in any location such as a garden, park, hotel, beach, art gallery – basically anywhere that the couple wish to have it or can afford.
According to Katrina, one of the things that differentiates a modern wedding from the traditional one is that the contemporary weddings have bridal showers where close female relatives and friends of the bride gather together for a party in her honour, and traditionally bring gifts to prepare her for married life! “Bridal showers are normally held in four to six weeks before the wedding,” she mentioned. The groom on the other side organize a bachelors party where the man celebrates the last days of been a bachelor.
“Today, most couples become engaged as a matter of mutual agreement that, thankfully, has nothing to do with the sighting of omens. However, some couples still pay homage to the tradition by having the groom announce the engagement to the families after the bride-to-be has already accepted the proposal. Nowadays parents are hardly involved in accepting the marriage for as long as the two agree to marry, it is fine,” emphasized Katrina.
“Furthermore, today’s newlyweds go for honeymoons usually immediately after their wedding. It is a time for the couple to spend lots of time alone following the hectic planning of the wedding. Many couples choose very special places to commemorate their marriage,” said Katrina.
In most cases, in a contemporary wedding ceremony, the couple only send out limited invitations to a few family members and their close friends or a couple may choose a simple and intimate civil ceremony. Either of these can be performed by someone who is licensed to conduct a marriage ceremony, such as a wedding celebrant.
“In the case of contemporary weddings, the bride and groom often write their own vows or include poems, letters or song lyrics. The bride also throws her bouquet to her bridesmaids and whoever catches it will be the next to wed,” said Katrina.
With contemporary weddings, one doesn’t necessarily have any real restrictions or limitations as opposed to the traditional weddings. The couple can choose every detail including the wedding ceremony venue, theme, vows and so forth.
It is really up to the couple to choose between these two weddings. Traditional weddings are known to be more homely, more expensive and recognized locally whereas the contemporary ones are believed to be less costly. Whichever one opts for it should be a day to be remembered by the couple, friends and relatives as well.