Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting Married - and the nuances of culture, religion and society







Getting married – and the nuances of culture, religion and society

So…I recently turned 25 and life on this side of my twenties is definitely not as I expected it to be! It’s awesome; don’t get me wrong, being 25 has to be the prime of my young life thus far. But I never thought the societal pressure around marriage in my African and Christian context would ever affect me! The bug has bitten, and the concept of the ticking biological clock has kicked in, people my age (and younger!) are getting married, having babies, throwing hen parties, bridal showers, baby welcomes – you name it! The wedding invitations are starting to flow, and parents and aunts are starting to look at me and ask…ok, so who is your special person – you almost have your Masters, have graduated twice already, are independent and live away from home and have started your new job…when are you getting married? <insert awkward silence>
This time in my life has revealed a lot about the fallacies in the fairy tales we grew up believing. The knight in shining armour doesn’t always come, or he does, but at the wrong time, or he does and breaks your heart, or maybe he stays and in places where this is socially acceptable, he may even turn out to be a she! So it’s a little complex, and it turns out, that it gets even more complicated in the society I grew up in, where African traditional cultures begin to mix with Eurocentric notions of marriage that we have been bombarded with since baby-hood. And because I am Christian, there exists that complexity too – which more than complicates notions of gender roles, perceptions of marriage, what a wedding should look like, who, to whom and for whom it is actually for! I haven’t quite reached the stage where I have to negotiate these various complexities, but I do have a close Zimbabwean, 24 year old friend, with a similar background, who is embarking on this journey. She is recently traditionally married, expecting her first child, planning for her big day, and discovering so much - so I decided to ask her about the whole shebang, what it’s revealing to her and how she is coping with it!
Rue: Did you expect to be getting married at this stage in your life?
T: Funny when I was about 12 I always used to say I want to be married at 22 and have my first kid at 24. If you asked me this last year my response would have changed by a couple of years. I wanted to be married by at least 25 and have my first child at 25/26. Never expected it to happen this year but I sure don’t regret it.

Rue: Can you describe the marriage/wedding process you are going through at the moment?
T: Wedding process has been one of the longest journeys I have ever been on. It has had its very many ups and downs. Given the fact that there are so many steps that have to be done before roora can happen. (Roora is when the husband to be makes his intentions known to the girl’s family, and pays lobola to the bride’s family) It has been difficult. The first step we had to take was to inform my tete (dad’s sister) of our intentions to get married. It is considered taboo to discuss this with my father directly. We also informed her of the fact that we were expecting a child and she made the decision to not inform my father until after roora. We agreed with her as we figured she knew what was the best way to go about it having represented two of her brothers’ daughters at roora before.   
 At this stage my mother did not know of the pregnancy, and again I could not tell her myself but had to wait for my tete to tell her on my behalf because again that is considered the correct protocol.  My tete proceeded to tell my father’s brother who would then inform my father and his two other brothers of our intention to marry. This process took about a month to happen and I could not discuss any of this with my father because again it is taboo. When news of our intentions finally were known by my father, nerves kicked in, anxiety, frustrations, worry you name it - I felt it. It took a while for him to accept that his youngest daughter who had just moved back home, did not have a job yet was now wanting to get married. Our relationship wasn’t the same for a few weeks, there was always an awkwardness. We both knew why but again could not discuss because it is not tradition.
Eventually he accepted it all and I now had to go “kuona musha” which is a one day event where I am accompanied by my tete, older sisters and younger sisters and mbuya (grand-mother) to go and “view” how my in-laws are. In my opinion I see it as a way for my father to “spy” on the family that I intend to join and make sure all is well. This event was lovely and just a simple welcoming of their “muroora/makoti” (daughter-in-law) into the family. Having done the “kuona musha” process we were now able to be given a date for roora itself. This however had its own set of rules. We had to call the munyayi (the mediator between the future husband’s family and the wife’s) and inform him of the date we would like for roora and then he would then call my dad’s younger brother (who would be my acting father on the day) and negotiate with him. We faced no real difficulty in attaining a date; I just found it awkward to not be able to just discuss all of this with the man I call my father. It was awkward to see him every night but not be allowed to have a discussion about it.

Roora has finally happened and I am now traditionally married however I cannot live with my husband until another process has been done. This is called “kuperekwa” and this can only happen after we have attained a marriage certificate. (Basically the official hand over of the muroora/ daughter-in-law where my sister and mbuya/grand-mother and tetes/father’s sisters and aunts escort me to my in-laws house and we cook and clean for them and then at the end of it all they leave me. It’s the official handing over me to the other guys. It’s a half day affair). Yet another leg of this journey that is yet to be completed.
Rue: How has your up-bringing influenced the process you are going through at the moment?
T: Growing up we never really were exposed to all this culture and tradition. It was more respect your elders type culture but no one really took the time to explain to me the big stuff like marriage and why such processes happen. So with that it has been difficult at times to accept the processes we HAVE to take because no one really explains why. All we have to go by is “its tradition”. Nonetheless we respect it all the same.
Rue: What was your idea of a dream wedding when you were younger?
T: When I was younger I never really fantasized about what I would want my dream wedding to be like. I just always wanted to be proposed to in Paris for some absurd reason.
Rue: What is your idea now?
T: Now, I want a wedding that is real, memorable and beautiful. I have a vision of what my dress and hair will be like on the day but not so much my bridesmaids. A wedding that is by the lake with stunning views and lighting and a day that is simple yet memorable for everyone especially me and my husband.
Rue: What were your views about marriage before?
T: Before marriage for me was about getting married to your “Mr Prince Charming” who was the perfect 10: tall, dark, handsome, sings to you every night, etc. Basically all the unrealistic stuff you see on TV. That perfect guy who does no wrong. Having kids with this Mr Perfect living in a big house with no worries or obstacles just love love and more love.
Rue: What are your views about marriage now?
T: Now my view is more realistic and more mature. Marriage for me is about spending the rest of your life with the man/woman you call your bestfriend. Your partner in all aspects of life, your soul mate, your confidante and lover. Spending the rest of your life with someone who understands you and how you are and think and vice versa. Marriage for me now is about being with someone who will hold your hand and embrace you through the storms of not just marriage but life and also enjoy the very many good times one has in marriage and life. Marriage to me now is committing yourself to being happy forever, together.
Rue: What role does tradition and culture play in the process you are currently going through?
T: Tradition and culture play a very big role in this process. Basically everything that has happened so far is only the traditional aspect of what marriage entails or rather the process of getting married. If it wasn’t for tradition we would have just gone to court or called a pastor to wed us. Although we didn’t grow up being told about tradition we prefer the traditional route, though tiresome at times, it is who we are.
Rue: How has it affected your ideas of marriage?
T: I can’t say it has affected my ideas of marriage. I suppose it has affected how I feel about the process of getting married. I am very close with my father so it was awkward to not be able to talk to him as freely as I normally do. In some ways I respect our marriage traditions/processes more and in other ways I find some of them unnecessary. The process has not affected my ideas of marriage itself though.
Rue: What role does your religion/faith play in your marriage?
T: Religion plays a great role in our marriage. Or rather Christianity. We believe that if it wasn’t for God we probably wouldn’t have survived the year so far. Everything ran smoothly and our baby is healthy and growing. Provision after provision with regards to stuff for the baby, stuff for us. It’s been nothing short of amazing.
Rue: How has this affected your ideas of marriage?
T: I can’t say it has. We just continue believing.
Rue: What role has your up-bringing had in influencing your perceptions of marriage now?
T: My up-bringing has taught me on how to be a wife, to cater to your husband and ensure you give him his place in the household as a man. To love him and support him. This I learnt through my mother who has also taught me how to be a mother myself. My upbringing has taught me my role as a wife and mother. I acknowledge that I will never stop learning but I feel well prepared.
And that concluded our short interview session! There is so much to be unpacked from this conversation alone and the (albeit) short summary I have taken from this is as follows:
-          Marriage for Zimbabwean girls is NOT for the weak – one needs to endure and be willing to let go of childhood fantasies in order to make it worthwhile and in order to keep everyone around you happy
-         Society undoubtedly defines the roles people play, in the household, within the marriage process, and in the broader society
-     It is not your marriage, but your family's too!
-         The process of marriage is very fixated in gender roles, and each contribution that one makes must adhere to the understandings on traditional frameworks
-          The globalised society we live ensures a mixture of Eurocentric, African traditional, religious boundaries that are continually crossed and shifted, negotiated and renegotiated
-          And finally, the pressure is real! For young Zimbabwean girls my age, it’s not just a question of “when are you getting married”, but it will require an additional pressure to learn how to attest to all the nuances of tradition, religion, and societal expectations, all within the context of modern society!
It’s a process – and I applaud my girl for rising up to the challenge and still managing to see the beauty in the process! I wish you all the best my friend…I’m pretty sure I will be asking your expert advice on this someday in the (near?) future!


5 comments:

Coco said...

Thanks Rue, this is a great. It brings up a lot of issues that we are faced with at this point in life and thought provoking. I've always tried to explain the lengthy process of marriage in Zimbabwe, next explanation, I'll use this as a resource.

Anonymous said...

Some say that marriage is God. I'll believe it when she marries ME. Love is strength that can tame the impossible, and all thats up to us is just how much we can take. I'm alive today, and at her mercy like always. I want her much more than my next breath of air. I will marry a woman I fought for...until all my letters made sense and she finally forgave me.

Ruvimbo Gwatirisa said...

Thanks Coco!

Egide Nsenga said...

That was a good read. In Rwanda the man must go to the fathers house and ask for her hand in marriage. They will discus and if the father approves, they will negotiate for the dowry (usually cows). The wedding proceeds and the husband and wife can only live together when the man has built a house or has a place of his own. Its different in all regions some more extensive (Zimbabwe) and some a little less. It sure is a lot easier just to go to Vegas and get it done with :)

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