Bahamian evangelist and author Myles Munroe tells us that ‘a wedding is an event, but marriage is life’.
Seen this way, the irony stands out more glaringly that quite often the ‘event’ stands in the path of ‘life’. Some might argue, though, that the event happens (or may) once in a lifetime; so, it ought to come with all the colour and grandeur.
This is how Harriet has come to wait longer than donkey years for her wedding that, in Baganda idiom, would break banana trees. Oh yes, big weddings are not new. Of old, a big wedding would have to break banana trees as people scuffled to find space when the courtyard had been overwhelmed.
Of that old wedding and today’s, the difference is not only about the definition of ‘grand’, but also in terms of the expense at which it came or comes.
Harriet has done all her research and rehearsals following the many TV programmes on weddings, and those she has attended. Whoever tried his love luck with her got to know it quite clearly that she was not to be rushed into a small wedding.
Earlier, it was the limousine – those cars as long as a lane. Then the limo went out of fashion. Now she also wanted an entourage of four Mercedes cars, and later Prados or Range Rovers.
But what is it to have four of these with just three wedding cakes? It was not Harriet at the center of it, wedding trends were generally changing. She was just a committed follower. Now the cakes increased from one to two, to three, to seven, to ten, then to every table having its own. Pomp married our weddings, with Showbiz as best-man.
So, every table got a cake, but it needed accompaniment. On that old wedding, if any, there was one bottle of champagne which we all waited to see shaken and splashed in the air. We drank that in spirit. Living within our means? Oh no, don’t walk us back to the past.
Now each table got its wine bottle, plus apples and fresh flowers. Isn’t that so lovely? And as we drank and ate all this, relieved from the popcorn wedding of old, we got a chance to see one or more of those musicians we only used to hear about and see on concerts. A celebrity MC too.
Clearly, all this could not fit in our homes. Besides, the bride, groom, plus their parents could be renting somewhere in the armpits of Kampala.
To hotels and fancy gardens we turned, where the concert would fit. Budgets grew from small to big, from big to obese. This is how wedding preparations became begging sprees, where meetings after meetings had to be called with the bride and groom to be sitting before you, miserably overwhelmed by their handicapped appetite for glamour.
No, I rushed! Before we get to the wedding, there is the introduction (kwanjula) – another wedding all together. What we were doing as drama and showing off sucked all meaning out of these cultural functions! Cultural institutions, please stand up for recognition! Now that you are standing, are you happy with what you are seeing? If you spoke and guided insistently on these matters, would things get this far out of hand?
When you asked us to take tree seedlings at kwanjulas, didn’t we heed? With the respect you command among your peoples, would you say this is beyond your powers? Goodness Ssentongo, compose yourself. Don’t be too hard on your elders. Go with the cliché, ‘culture is dynamic’.
Since marriage is a private affair, let people do their things the way they please. The postmodern world is defined by freedom. Isn’t a society free to destroy itself? Don’t we have the liberty, as that of a glutton, to dig our graves with our teeth?
Joseph says he won’t go to be introduced to his wife’s place to get embarrassed. We told him to take what he can afford, but deep inside we know what this would mean in a society where introduction has come to mean an occasion for showing off at all costs.
He has decided to cohabit, until he can afford the show. He can organise begging meetings, but these would become a debt – a favour to be endlessly reciprocated, until you limp.
He had vowed to stop attending wedding meetings. He earns Shs 600,000 a month, yet no one expected him to pledge less than Shs 100,000. And every now and again there is another wedding in his network of friends, brothers, sisters, cousins, colleagues, and a long chain of relatives.
Must we wed, anyway? Preacher, kindly sit down. You spent your hour on offertory. Materialism, we are all yours. In the event of separation or death of a spouse in our cohabitation, we shall handle our battles over legitimacy and property. We shall eat and excrete freedom; that way we shall know that it too, unguided, may stink.
The poor must be already used to exclusion, let us exclude them from wedding too. If they are lucky to get invitation cards, they will attend weddings of the haves and successful beggars. That way, they will get to terms with their status of being unworthy of wedding and alternative happiness.
And to the women, the donkeys of the home that are often thanked with kicks, you will have to hold the smelliest side of this corpse. It is not in your favour that we postpone the burial because there is plenty of food at the funeral, or in the hope that something good will become of the carcass.
There may be laws to protect marriage by cohabitation, but what haven’t we seen in this land! The sweet side to the norm of pompous events should not make us lose sight of the dangers of cutting our coat according to an illusory cloth.
The author is a teacher of philosophy.