Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Ugandan Adventure: Part IV: A Tale of Two Weddings (Chapter One: The Day I Brought Shame Upon Myself)

It appears that across the Christian world (which includes post-Christian to those who are sensitive about these things…) that Saturday is still the preferred day of choice for weddings in that, for my last two Saturdays I have been in attendance for festivities. Last week was a church wedding; this week, a traditional Eteso ceremony. In which case, for your entertainment, amusement and interest, I shall regale you with the finer details.

Wedding 1: When Thomas Cranmer met Afro-Pop Wagner


The Procession of the Groom
Sometimes, cultural accommodation can take a step too far. One often finds this among those who have spent far too long in an alien culture: upon returning to their mother culture, they have feelings of shame, guilt and regret over some of the friends they may have made, spouses they may have taken, or activities they may have participated in. My dear readers, I now share this shame. ‘Why?’, you may ask. ‘What possible, horrific thing could you have done that makes you feel in such a way?’ Others may ask, ‘Have you taken on a Ugandan wife? Have you taken part in some ancient sacrificial ritual?’ No, neither of these. But, in order to justify myself in what I have done, the story needs to be told.

The beginnings of the bridal
I had been invited to a wedding in St Peter’s Cathedral, Soroti, by Bishop George. Whilst waiting for the service to start, I happened to meet two German girls who are here in Soroti for a year doing charity work with Soroti Diocese (when you encounter fellow Europeans in Africa, you always have the urge to talk to them). Furthermore, I was being given honoured greetings by everyone (a sure pull towards the failings of pride). And then, everyone told me, ‘Remember to take pictures!’ A certain rebellious spirit arose in me - ‘unlike in churches back home’, thought I, ‘pictures shall be taken of this wedding! And during the service as well!’ And so I did: whence the groom processed up the aisle (for yes, in Uganda both bride and groom get processions!), I took photographs from the side of the church. Yes reader, I was not an official photographer, but I still snapped away. I beheld the simple Afro-pop melody with the older ladies dancing around the groom as he processed, shrieking their pulsating falsetto (which is a sign of joy), and I happily took more and more pictures.

Yes, dear reader, I processed in front
of the bride...
Perhaps I was trying to impress the German girls (‘Look at me! I can be incultural too!’); perhaps it was the rising heat that caused evil thoughts to emerge in the chambers of my mind; perhaps it was a sheer sense of fallen rebelliousness that drove my vaulting ambitions. But oh! I went too far! The ushers said to me that when the bride comes I was allowed to stand in front of the procession. I could process in front of the bride. And so I, callous and unthinking of my dear ones back at home, followed their advice. Whence the bride processed up the aisle - to the sound of an Afro-Pop version of Wagner’s ‘Here comes the bride’ - I gradually walked backwards ahead of her, taking pictures and even a video. Yes, I broke that ancient unwritten English law: I blocked people’s view of the bride. I took their attention. In doing so, I became an Other to myself. I now realise the wretch that I am.

The rest of the service was a curious mixture of Thomas Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer (1662 version), translated into Eteso, with Afro-pop hymns (and a long, long, long sermon from Bishop George: he sure can preach!). One of my favourite points of the wedding was hearing a young lady reading the scriptures in a 1950s Church of England style, but in a strong African accent. At the point at which each of the couple said, ‘I do’, the whole of the congregation would cheer (including whistles, vuvuzelas, horns, and pulsating falsetto shrieks). Everyone had a tendency to wave flags over the couple as well. And after only two hours, it was over.

This was in mighty contrast to the second, traditional Eteso wedding…

But that, I’m afraid, will have to wait until tomorrow. Be sure that it contains many elements I now want included in my own wedding (including a song sung about me plus the presentation of alternative brides) and a few things I don’t want (myself having to pay a dowry plus the paying of fines if I am late).

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