African weddings are an elaborate affair. You can have as many as four ceremonies in respect of a single union! The engagement party (where the groom publicly declares an intention to marry); the roora (lobola) (where the groom pays the roora (bride price/ dowry)); a spiritual wedding (where the couple ties the knot in a church) and a wedding reception (celebration / party).
With time, some of these celebrations have been combined and held on the same day; such as an engagement and roora ; or spiritual wedding and wedding reception; or roora and wedding reception.
Whatever the form of the African wedding, there are two constants: food and dancing. The idea of food is central to the African celebration. The preparation of a wedding feast itself is a communal endeavour.
Each of the wedding ceremonies has its own food expectation. At an engagement party, friends and family of the couple provide snacks and drinks. Increasingly, a small private dinner with a chef is an acceptable way of having an engagement party.
For the roora, there may be a “grocery list”. As part of the dowry, a man has a list of goods they are supposed to buy. These may include things such as sugar, salt, cooking oil, soft drinks, meat, rice, washing powder and many other household goods. In addition, the groom usually has to pay for nhumbi (clothes) for the parents of the bride such as a suit, a dress, hat and shoes. An integral part of the roora celebration, especially within rural locations, is having a cow (or at least a goat) slaughtered in merriment. The meat would provide relish to the sadza as people celebrate.
For spiritual weddings, a cake is an absolute necessity. In the Catholic Church, for example, the blessing, cutting and eating of the wedding cake is a central part of the church proceedings. The cake binds all witnesses to the solemn occasion. Where spiritual weddings happen on a different day than the wider wedding celebration, the church members often contribute food and snacks to the occasion on a bring-and-share basis. The church would share some tea and confectionary in festivity.
The BIG one, is the wedding reception. EVERYONE wants to be here. The family of the groom; the family of the bride; friends of the couple; colleagues from work; neighbours of the groom; neighbours of the bride; the church they attended including church leaders; colleagues from college, high school, and primary school; the blogger from a gossip magazine; the local member of parliament and the councillor from local government; followers from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook… EVERYONE wants to be part of the wedding reception!!!! It is quite possible, to have an open wedding reception of over 700 people. And if you make an invite only guest list? Prepare for the wrath of the scorned!
A running joke is, “rice repamuchato” (wedding rice). While it is increasingly common to have outsourced catering that does elaborate buffets, the sheer size of the wedding reception lends itself to a simple meal produce on a mass scale. Under the leadership of the family, guests (friends, church, neighbours) prepare food in an informal mass production factory which is nominally a converted kitchen / living room / garage / shed / dining room. Specifically, the wedding lunch is, Rice, Roasted (or stew) chicken, coleslaw salad, soup and a soft drink for each guest.
The success of your wedding depends on the talkative person (aunt, neighbour, blogger) approving of your wedding lunch. That approval depends on how full each guest is and how much of the food is leftover.
One wedding tradition seems arbitrary. The throwing of rice on the bride and groom after their wedding (usually as they exit the church). A foreign concept with seemingly little meaning. (If you know what it means, let me know in the comment section).
Regardless food is absolutely vital to the wedding feast. As one shona saying goes, ukama igasva, unozadziswa nekudya (Family is fulfilled by food).