This was published in The Connection
Family, Food and Fun. These three words fully describe a Nepali wedding. Okay, add gifts and tears and you have yourself a Nepali wedding. Weddings in Nepal are not much different from weddings in Kenya. In my first month of stay here, I was invited to witness a Nepali wedding ceremony.
The preparations probably begun years earlier – arranged marriages are common stay in Nepal but today was the final day. In this particular occasion, the couple met as six- year-old children. Kathy, my housemate from Uganda and I were invited to attend the ceremony by the groom’s father, courtesy of Dr. Manju Mishra, the Principal, College of Journalism and Mass Communication in Kathmandu. On arrival at the groom’s house we are met by a procession led by a Nepali musical band. The groom’s mother welcomes us by decorating our foreheads with some red coloured rice. Everyone in the procession has this mark on the head. We are informed that most wedding processions begin with a band playing music right from the groom’s home to the brides home and back to the groom’s home where song and dance continue all night.
This procession leads us to a Hindu temple, where the groom’s family and friends say prayers seeking divine blessings for the day. They do this while going round the temple seven times while sprinkling some coloured rice. From then on, it’s off to the bride’s home. Relatives and friends are packed into two big buses hired by the family while the groom and his sister and few younger cousins go by a special hired vehicle. No bridesmaids, no groomsmen. Just the groom and his sister.
It’s at this instance that I notice the difference between the westernized weddings in Kenya and those in Nepal. First it’s the dressing, most people are dressed in their traditional outfits; for the women it is the brightly colored saris. Red is considered a festive colour here so most people are dressed in red, but there is a mix of different colours and fabrics – all elegant. When it comes to the men, it’s a different story; the older men are dressed in suits while the younger men have adorned some hip jeans
The band continues to lead us in song and dance to the bride’s home. When we arrive, the groom is the first to go in and he is stopped at the gate by a seer from the bride’s family. The seer performs some ritual to bless him as he gets in. The ritual involves placing some red ochre on the groom’s head while speaking an incantation. There is some silence as the ritual is performed. When this is done, a white scarf is placed round his neck, then the band continues playing. The groom is then ushered into the bride’s home while the music continues. Those who were in the groom’s procession are also welcomed by having white scarves placed round their necks. As this is happening, young girls from the bride’s family sprinkle some rice on the arriving guests.
The groom and his guests are led to the balcony of the bride’s home. The band and few of the guests are left downstairs where the music continues. Most houses in Nepal have balconies at the top floors. The big balconies are often used for festivities such as weddings. On this occasion, the balcony is well decorated. There is a small open tent at one end of the balcony.
Inside the tent is a sofa set reserved for the groom and his bride. The groom’s sister has been next to him throughout the procession and will remain there for the rest of the day. When we ask why, we are told, she is what we would consider his “best man” or best maid.” Also in the tent is a table set with a tray filled with fruits. Next to it is a candle and a pot filled with water. The candle stays lit for the rest of the day. There is also a suitcase filled with clothes and gifts that the groom has brought for the bride. This is also placed next to the table. All the items in the table are symbolic. The fruits symbolize fruitfulness in their marriage, the candle is a symbol of their love which should burn bright while the pot of water represents life and purity. A plate with red ochre is also placed at the centre of the table.
The groom sits for about twenty minutes before his bride joins him. The bride, adorned in a beautiful red sari, is lead to the sofa by her elder sister who is dressed in traditional Nepali dress. This time it isn’t a sari, but some oriental kind of dress. At this juncture, I wonder where the priest or the seer who would lead the them to take their vows is. I ask and I’m told, “There will be no vows.”
This public display in front of family and friends serves as witness to all that is required to bind the two as a married couple. The groom puts a pinch of red-coloured powder on the bride’s forehead. This symbolizes that they are now husband and wife. The red color on the woman’s forehead differentiates whether she is married. From then on friends and family dip their hands in the water and ochre which they smear on their foreheads while uttering a blessing to the two. They then present gifts to the bride. This process continues from about 11a.m. to 3p.m.
All this while, a lot of feasting, song and dance is taking place downstairs. Everyone participates, the young, the old, the boys and girls and relatives from both families. I’m impressed by how everyone interacts; you can hardly tell the two families apart. However, just like back home, I notice that most of those who accompanied the groom are men. I’m informed that the women and the groom’s mother are back at the groom’s home, preparing to receive the bride. The feasting and dancing will continue all night long at the groom’s home. It is not uncommon to find such feasts going on for a week. We are informed that the wedding ceremonies differ depending on the caste and class of the families involved. Most weddings take place between people from the same caste. In modern times, not all marriages are arranged though the parents still have a say in cases where the children meet independently. Just like in African settings, the parents blessings are coveted.
At some point, the groom’s shoes are taken and hidden by the bride’s relatives. His family has to plead by “buying back the shoes.” A lot of negotiations follow before the pair is finally released. The process is serious yet somewhat fun and is meant to help bond the two families. The two parties rarely disagree at this point as most of the negotiations on dowry had been done way before the wedding date.
…One way in which gender inequality is reflected in Kenya is in the dearth of women in national governance structures. The current Parliament has fifteen elected and six nominated women members out of a total of 222 members. However, even though fifteen elected women MPs may not seem like much, it does represent an increase from the ten of the former Parliament.
Interestingly, in the 2007 general elections, 269 women contested for parliamentary seats as compared to 44 aspirants in 2002. This, by any means, is a phenomenal increase. Since the advent of multiparty politics in the country in 1992, there have been concerted efforts, driven by women’s rights NGOs to get women into parliament and local government. The increase in the number of women offering their leadership to the electorate is likely to have been influenced by these NGOs. Indeed, many women members of Parliament have at one point or another been active in the women’s movement as members, employees or board members of women’s rights organizations.
Apart from cultural attitudes that obstruct women from vying for political leadership, and people from voting from them, there are several factors that have prevented women from making their numeric presence felt. The pre-election period was characterized by violence generally, but disproportionately against women candidates. (See ‘Kenya’s elections: how did women fare?’ an interview with Wangari Kinoti. http://www.awid.org/eng/Issues-and-Analysis/Library/Kenya-s-elections-How-did-women-fare)
Political campaigns also cost a lot of money, and many women are not able to raise the money needed to conduct a campaign. Women are also underrepresented in the executive and judiciary. Although in the lower courts, women are relatively better represented at between 38 and 44 per cent of magistrates, in the higher courts, the percentage falls to 20 per cent. In the highest court, there is only one woman judge out of a total of fourteen.
After, the negotiations, it’s time for the bride to leave. But first, she has to change her clothes and get dressed in the clothes brought by the groom. The change into the clothes brought by the groom is a sign that it’s time to leave her parents house, for good. At this juncture, the tears start to flow. The bride, the bride’s mother, and sisters are all in tears to see their daughter leave.
As I leave the function, I’m filled with thoughts of the three things that really are similar between the Nepali and Kenyan – Family, Food and Fun. The religious observance may differ but at the end of the day a wedding ceremony is incomplete without your close family (and friends) and, the fun and interaction that goes on and yes a feast always crowns the occasion. All this can be summed up as Love extended, the rest are details.