My Big Fat Kenyan Wedding

Posted on April 21, 2012

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The title of this blog is misleading. I have not tied the knot. I just went to see two other people (total strangers, by the way) do so.

That cleared up, let me tell you the story of a Kenyan wedding. Or a Kamba tribe wedding, to be precise. After arriving easily in time at a private house near the Karen area of Nairobi, we waited in the sun as the final preparations were made. The altar had been randomly yet quite spectacularly assembled above a swimming pool, and the reception area was tastefully decked out in purple. As per usual in this country, the ceremony itself started late. When it eventually began it was with a dramatic bridal procession around the edge of the pool and up on to the stage. Much of what was to take place was as you would expect from a typical wedding in the UK. Much was not.

Having glanced at the order of service and seen ‘praise and worship’, I had presumed this would be a brief prayer session before we moved on to the real activities of the day. In this, I was wrong. ‘Praise and worship’ in fact involves a singer and a full backing band singing lively gospel songs, with the whole congregation joining in with the singing and dancing. It lasted a full 45 minutes, and involved me being shown how to dance ‘properly’ by the Congolese man to my right. A rare mzungu in a crowd of Kenyans, I felt a little out of place, but I think I made a sufficient spectacle of myself while admiring just how into it everyone else was. They certainly were a religious bunch.

Dancing was a regular theme of the day, with the excitement and happiness of everyone involved contrasting hugely to the often more sombre weddings you see back home. After the ceremony had been concluded with all reverends beig summoned from the congregation to touch and bless the newly married couple (and by all, I mean all 15), those of us not in the wedding party decamped to the reception area to eat and drink (non-alcoholic drinks, by the way). Here the MC summoned groups of people tribe by tribe to dance their distinctive dances for the pleasure of us Europeans. People got heavily into it. Overweight Kamba women ground to the floor (and then struggled to get up again). This continued with the arrival of the wedding party, who were required to actually dance into the reception tent. Speeches ensued. Long ones. The almost military organisation of the event (I think the only words the couple were actually allowed to say to each other the whole day were their vows) was offset by the sheer delight of everyone to be there. For the couple, their families and their friends, it was certainly a precious day, and for us a privilege to witness (even if there wasn’t a Tusker in site).

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Posted in: Experience