Following the dowry ceremony, we drove to a church near the center of Gitarama. When we arrived at the church, I was surprised to see that is was half built. Concrete had not yet been poured for the floor, there was no glass in the windows, and there were bricks piled in corners. Even the benches we used were taken from a nearby school- some people were actually sitting in school desks during the ceremony. This is not normal for Rwandan weddings, and I’m still not really sure why that church was chosen.
The religious service follows the format of a normal church service here, with a choir singing and some sermons read by the pastor. After that, the bride and groom say their vows, and then they are joined in prayer, meaning they kneel down on a mat and are blessed by the pastors.
After the religious ceremony, there is typically a reception at a local community center. The reception for this wedding was at a local women’s computer education center (paid for by the good people of Japan, according to the sign outside.) The reception is in some ways a modernization of an old ceremony that was traditionally held a few weeks after the wedding. This ceremony was a way for the family of the bride to check in with their daughter and see how life is in the new couple’s home. Traditionally, the representatives of each family would discuss how things have been going and try to right any problems that may have arisen between the newlyweds in the first days of their marriage. The new wife would traditionally cook a meal to prove that she was capable of running a good household.
Today, these activities are recreated ceremonially. Each family shares some fanta, and ask the other family some questions to be sure that everything is okay (despite the fact that the wedding probably finished little over an hour before that.) A great big sparkler is put into a wedding cake to represent the smoke and fire of the kitchen, and everyone has a piece of cake. After this, the guests present their gifts to the new couple and make toasts.
The whole process of the wedding took all day. We left Kitabi at 7 am, and by the end of the reception we had been in various ceremonies from 10 am to 6 pm. Despite this being a very long day, I enjoyed the wedding a lot, because I spent the day with my colleagues and some of my friends from the village, especially Mama Rukundo and Mama Teta, who are my neighbors from across the street. It would have been better if it hadn’t been a Protestant wedding (meaning there was no beer… sigh) but it was still a very nice day.