Friday, September 17, 2010

The Head Washing Ceremony

The taxi pulled up in front of Mariama's house. One of the older ladies gathered the scarf a little closer around Mariama's face and cautiously led her out of the vehicle. Mariama guessed that she was the matron. A female griot coming in their direction, started singing the eulogies of the bride's family, the family she was marrying into, the past glorious moments of the ancestors. The crowd grew progressively bigger as Mariama was led into her mother's room. Through the narrow slit left where the matron's hand was holding the scarf under her chin, she could see that a crowd of men was already under the big acacia tree. She knew they were ready to tie the knots or as they say around here "tie the marriage".

Blogger's note: The "tieing of the marriage" is one of the most important rituals, if not the most important ritual during this African wedding. I'll elaborate on it in a distinct format in a future post.

The matron sat her on the edge of the bed and with the help of an aunt and another woman she didn't know, they changed her clothes to an indigo Topa long boubou (west african caftan) and wrap set. A matching topa scarf was put over her head. Her aunt brought a brand new pair of plastic sandals. The matron physically put each foot one after the other in the new shoes.
"The sun is going down. We need to go." She said.

Mariama had a vague idea of what would happen for the next seven days but she knew she'd be learning many unspoken things about her culture along the way.

A small crowd of women waiting in the living room, joined and formed a circle around her. There was now two griots singing. She could hear the drums beating louder. Some women were clapping to the rhythm of the drums. In the middle of a big circle, two young ladies were trying to outdo each other with various energetic dance moves. The matron was holding her scarf and a corner of her boubou to prevent her from falling. She slowly led her to a 12 inch high stool in the middle of the women. A new shower bucket containing water was waiting; beside it, a new towel neatly folded in a wicker basket. The only men present at this stage of the ceremony were the two drummers and some boys, curious about what all of this ruckus.

The matron stood her with the stool a couple of inches behind her feet and facing her, she held her by the shoulders.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Kidnapping the bride ( End )

Ami knew she and her friends were somewhat in control. The sun was rolling West and time was getting shorter. The ceremonial head washing of the bride had to be performed before dusk. She knew the search party was, by then,  relentless.
One after the other, the groom's best friend, aunt and Ami's mother called. All but her mother, were asking the same questions, irrated at times and seeming concialatory right after. She was a though negotiator. She remained calm at all times, getting on their nerves even more. Her mother was silently proud but she called to ask her to be reasonable in her demands and cut a deal. The aunt called immediately after having been reassured by Ami's mom that they will surrender the bride.

"Ami. Where is the bride?"
"Not so fast auntie. You need to pay up first. 7,000CFA francs" said Ami very assertively. Why 7,000? She didn't know but does that's what she wanted. Her friends were in awe.
Ami's mother wished she were as just like her daughter in many ways. She would always regret that her own upbringing made her too submissive and too respectful of anyone older, especially the ones who took that as an opportunity to hurt her. Now as an adult, she was also too guarded to the point of being what she herself characterised as emotionless most of the time and she was proud of her daughter for not being her in that sense. She admired that she was nice but very confident and spoke her mind when she needed too.

"You lost your mind, daughter. No one has ever paid this kind of money for ransom."
"I think you'll be the first, auntie. Can you call us when you have the full amount?'' she calmly asked the voice at the end of the line.
"Eh, eh, eh!" She heard the older lady exclaim. "Today's kids have no respect for neither their elders nor traditions. Look at this one, holding up a wedding for money!" she seemed address someone around her.
"Auntie, with all due respect, this is also part of our traditions. I respect you but we are the brides friends and we are entitled to compensation for loosing her. So our money..."
The groom's aunt realized that threats will not work in this case. She tried manipulation.
"2,500CFA when you bring the bride back or tell us where to find her. When I have her picked up and you girls get your money."
"Auntie, I respect you. 6,000CFA, nothing less."
The old lady was given 5,000CFA by the grooms family earlier that morning to face any demand for ransom. She was hoping to bargain down so she could pocket some of that money. Unfortunately it looked like she got the wrong adversary this time.
"3,000 is all you'll get."
"Then Auntie," Ami said calmly, "call me when you have all the money and I'll send someone to get it." She hung up and all the girls were still "high-fiving" and chatting when the cell phone rang again. This time it was one of the groom's friends. The aunt had asked for more money and they have it. The old lady badly beaten and bruised by Ami's negotiating skills decided to remain out of the rest. The girls made arrangements to have one of them walk fifteen minutes away to receive the money. Once she did, she'd let the search party know where to find Mariama and alert her friends.

Half an our later, the bride was rushed back in a dusty taxi to her house, sandwiched between two older ladies in the back sit and one of the groom's friends in the front beside the driver.

 Look for the Head Washing Ceremony in the next posting....