Weddings (harusi in swahili) are big things here in Zanzibar. For the locals it seems like weddings are the best parties they can imagine. And they talk about weddings often, probably because they attend weddings quite often. In Zanzibar, you see, it is considdered posh to have a lot of guests in your wedding, so this means that everyone you know (and most of the people they know) are invited, often several hundred persons. And that, of course, means that most people attend weddings quite often. So I have heard a lot about weddings, especially the female part of it. Because in Zanzibar men and women often do not celebrate together. (This is actually true not only for weddings; women and men have separate activities most of the time, if my observations are representative, and rearly interact outside work places.)
Finally, last Friday, I got the opportunity to come in a wedding personally. It was a close relative of my language teacher who got married, and together with some other of her students I was invited. All the guests on the grooms side gathered in the appartment of my teacher, and from there we had a small bus trip to the mosque where the ceremony was held. Most of the ceremony was outside (on blankets placed on the ground), where the men sat down. Women was not included in this, not even the bride, not even when the handshake that confirmed the marriage took place or when the certificate was filled out. I have learned in my swahili-classes that there are different words for marrying for a man (kuoa) and for a woman (kuoliwa), because men marry, while women are being married (by a man). Now I saw that this is the reality, not just in the words, but also in the action of marriage. Afterwards the groom went in to a small room where the bride was waiting for him on a bed, and we could take the first pictures of the newly wed couple.
I have heard stories about how women celebrate weddings, but not about the male part, so I looked forward to learn something about this. But it turned out that there wasn´t much to learn. When the ceremony was finished, I asked my language teacher where all the men were going now, and he answered “they are going home. Now it is only the party”, and by that implicitly saying “men do not party”, I guess. But since I was a foreign guest, interested in the traditions, I was taken to the (womens) party. Of course I couldn´t participate, so I sat in a chair on safe distance and watched. A little bit of handfood was served, and the women danced a little, but the whole thing didn´t last very long, only about one hour, before the bride arrived, and the party had a slight change of character:
First the bride marched slowly up through the crowed to a scene, where she sat down. Then the groom had the same kind of procession, except that he was escorted by two men, who I assume were kind of like best men. And without not fully knowing what was going on, I was suddenly part of this group, now consisting of four men. I felt like I didn´t belong there and suddenly took a lot more space and attention then I deserved, but I think it was an act of hospitality and friendliness, so when the groom insisted on having me there, I played along. It felt like a great honor for me, and probably it is kind of exotic to include a mzungu in your Zanzibari wedding pictures, so I guess it was a win-win-situation.