I take thee…

Ahhhh wedded bliss!  Not our own, but that of one of our work colleagues, Kelvin, who got married last Saturday.  We attended the day-long event with 5 of our other colleagues in the city of Kumba in the Southwest of Cameroon.

Having travelled nearly 8-hours by bus the day before, we had aimed to get extra rest to be ready for full day of festivities.  Due to start at 10am, but with Kelvin still hanging out in his football jersey at a quarter-to, we knew the day would be full.  The schedule, however, would be somewhat more relaxed than the invitation originally indicated.

First came the civil ceremony at City Hall.  Dressed in sharp-looking suits, Paquita and Kelvin exchanged vows in the entrance hall to the mayor’s office.  Instructed to rise when the mayor entered, and to turn our cellphones off, we settled down to what we can only described politely as a “cultural experience”.  Reading directly from the law books about who is allowed to marry (boys must be 18 and girls 15), the illegality of paying dowries (but if one is paid, it cannot be taken back if the husband dies and the wife marries before 180 days is up), the mayor explicitly asked whether both parties were entering into the marriage of their own free will.

Most of the Mayor’s marital instructions from them on mixed scripture (quoted from memory) and heart-stopping statements about gender, equality, sex, infidelity and by when dinner should be placed on the table.  We followed the bride and groom’s stoic and graceful poise and didn’t run from the room.  Needless to say, based on the Mayor’s criteria, I’m a utter wifely failure with a capital F. At least I can tally up bonus points for “satisfying” my husband – another legal requirement and one of very few possible acceptable grounds for seeking legal divorce.

the happy couple - Kelvin & Paquita


Luckily, the more universally recognizable vows came quickly thereafter, and to the glee of the assembled guests – including those who had to remain outside because of the lack of space – the bride and groom were officially declared husband and wife!

Whisked off to the courtyard of the Catholic Mission a few hundred meters away, the photography marathon began.  Every combination of “the bride and groom AND” was announced and photographed, from family to friends, to co-workers (that’s us!) and ladies all dressed the same, to, in the end, “the bride and groom AND all the photographers”!


the VSO delegation

We then made our way back to Paquita’s family home that had been completely transformed.  Not only was the front yard filled with chairs, tents, a wedding arch and balloons, so was the neighbour’s yard and half the street.  While light snacks were served, the wedding party prepared for the traditional ceremony inside the house itself.

The matriarchs of both families assembled in the living room to hand over of the bride to the groom.  In a series of age-old chants, hoots and hollers, the bride’s family demanded symbolic payment for the bride.  The groom’s family responded by, after a bit of haggling of course, giving small bills to the head matriarchal negotiator.  Once satisfied, a bedsheet-covered bride would be presented.  Oh no!  It’s not the right bride under the sheet!  The negotiations started once again.  More chanting, more hooting, more hollering, a bit more money handed over.  Again the bride under the sheet wasn’t the right one!  Surprise, surprise!  Then on the third round of negotiations, more chanting, hooting, hollering and another handover of funds to the bride’s family – Paquita was finally revealed from beneath the bedsheet.  Hoorah!!!


the bride beneath the bedsheet - or is she?

Once presented to the assembled guests outside, the bride and groom – now dressed in full traditional Cameroonian attire – presided over the rest of the afternoon’s festivities.  Following speeches from the Chairman and Chairwoman, father, friends, colleagues, etc, the master of ceremonies declared that he couldn’t wait any longer and that it was now time for the feast!  With a dozen large catering dishes filled to the rim with savoury homemade local foods for each of the three large tables, guests feasted as instructed.  Everyone satiated, a more familiar ritual of the cake cutting ceremony was undertaken– a four-tiered spiced cake frosted with the couple’s colours of off-white and chocolate brown.


Kelvin & Paquito

Before the food, drink and cake had time to settle, the MC once again took control: it was now time for the gift giving ceremony.  Accompanied by music (the rhythmic Cameroonian tune “I can’t see my wife” playing for the umpteenth time), Paquita and Kelvin took their position at the bottom of the house’s front steps, with Paquita’s sisters and girlfriends behind them.  Guests danced their way to the bride and groom delivering presents and well wishes.  Once the bride received the present, she gave it to one of the sisters, who then passed it back bucket-brigade-style until the presents were all safely carted away into the house.


now that's what I call a present!

On and on this went, through quite a few songs, until all of the presents had been presented. Smiling ear to ear, they then danced their way around to each of the guests – in the courtyard, the street and the neighbour’s yard – to officially thank everyone for the bounty they had received.

All official ceremonial requirements met, the couple were now free to visit with their many guests.  It is at this point that Kelvin asked Greg for a very special favour:  could he possibly help strangle some bottles?  Strangle?, Greg asked confused?  Yes… drink, drink and drink some more!  Have fun!!!

And that we did.  With more music and jubilant cries filling the air, we celebrated Kelvin and Paquita’s wedding with gusto.  Soon we were ushered into the house to dance with the bride and groom’s closest family members, much to the amusement of all since our Cameroonian dance steps were awkward to say the least!!!

Glistening (OK, fine, we were really really sweaty by then), we meandered away from the wedding grounds to leave the merry making to the friends and family – a party that likely went on well into the night.

Someone asked me afterwards what my favourite part of the wedding was, and my answer came right away.  It wasn’t so much the cultural experience of the civil and traditional Cameroonian ceremonies, nor the pageantry of the gift-giving or the jubilant dancing.  It was, to be entirely honest, the look on Kelvin and Paquita’s faces as they said how happy and honoured they were that we had come.

Little will they ever realize that the honour was decidedly ours!

we match!

~ by Caroline Spira on December 14, 2010.

One Response to “I take thee…”

  1. lovely wedding! it will always be a wonderful cultural experience 🙂 shocking at some point, but still wonderful. so happy for the couple!

    ps. the song is “a don see my wife” – and yes it is very popular for wedding marches and dances. haha

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