Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Engagement, Ghana Style!

Last Saturday, we were invited to the engagement ceremony for Jane's younger sister Jennifer.

We could live here the rest of our lives without getting to participate in so much of the Ghanaian culture if we didn't count Duke and a few others among our friends.

Duke came and got us and drove us over because even after driving there, we had no idea where we were, except Accra. Maybe. ;-)

There were four shade tents set up, two facing each other were for the families of the bride and groom. Here's the groom's side...

and here's the bride's side...

(Click it bigger and you can see Jane standing sideways, Jane's mother sitting in brown, and the bride herself)

The groom's sister had a tray that she would fill with gifts- liquor, envelopes of money, stuff like that and she would let the family preacher examine the gifts, discuss them, make jokes, etc. and then she would present them to the bride's family.

Then a crate of Coca-cola, a crate of Malta, and a gift wrapped suitcase were brought out. Duke informed us that the suitcase was full of underpants, brassieres, and nightgowns- her trousseau provided by the groom's family so she wouldn't bring her raggedy old underwear to the marriage. (There were many jokes and comments about this suitcase and its contents- even Jane got into the act...)

Although it was all in Ewe (Jane's family is from the Volta region and speaks Ewe), it was pretty easy to tell when they were having a good time, and Duke said we were freaking them out because we laughed in all the right spots and they kept asking him if we spoke the language (it's the rare obroni who masters even Twi, let alone Ewe or Ga).

Then the bride and groom were paraded in front of each other's family tents so everyone could get a good look at them...

Note that their outfits match. :-)

Then they were seated with their families again and asked separately by their family ministers if the other person was the one they wanted to marry. When they each said yes, everyone whooped.

Once they had agreed to marry each other publicly, the bride was given a ring box attached to a gift wrapped bible, and the groom placed the engagement ring on her finger...

...then they made their way from the bride's tent to the groom's tent together...

...and sat to listen to both family ministers and assorted family members give them advice and well wishes.

They are a lot happier than they look in these pictures. We asked about it and never got a coherent answer, but they both kept suppressing smiles and laughter, so apparently they are supposed to be serious and somber whether they feel happy or not. (the groom actually has a great set of dimples)

After all the talking was done, and after we all stood while the prayers were sung, there was a happy dance in the center of the yard.

The betrothed couple danced and were surrounded by anyone who felt the spirit move them, and occasionally, someone would dance up and throw money which the sisters of the bride would gather to give the couple. That lasted about 10 minutes.

(note the fabric in the yellow dress nearest the camera- it's Ghana's 50th Anniversary fabric!)

Meanwhile, the Obroni contingent (that would be Ted, Cooper and me) sat in our assigned places and tried not to be intrusive in any way (although obviously I moved around a little to take pictures. When I checked with Duke to make sure it was okay to take pictures he was very enthusiastic and said they would be pleased if I took lots of pictures), and we were happy just to have been included in a family event like this.

(that's Christa over on the edge- she sat on my lap sometimes, but eventually fell asleep in that chair)

What we didn't plan on was another culture clash.

Since we had been invited to an engagement party we brought a small gift (a picture frame that we hoped they could use for an eventual wedding photo). But in Ghana, the groom's family gives all the gifts and ours was the only non-family gift offered.

This required that the three of us troop out into the middle of the yard to stand with the bride and groom who were holding our wrapped gift, and have our picture taken.

If you check the picture where Tomås gives Jennifer the ring, you will see half a dozen "photographers" with cell phones. They were all present for the "gift" picture too, in addition to the hired photog and the videographer. We felt like celebrities as all the cameras clicked away. We also felt really stupid. ;-)

Talk about feeling like a spectacle.

Then Jennifer's sisters passed around soft drinks and Malta along with small "Thank You" bags containing a vegetable pie, cookies, and cake.

Now it was time for the dancing and partying to begin, and Duke very kindly told us we could leave anytime.

When he repeated the invitation to leave, we realized we were putting a little bit of a damper on the celebration- everyone felt they had to be a little subdued while we were there.

So we thanked our hosts and congratulated the happy couple and headed for the car, which we couldn't get into right away because a few people wanted their picture taken in front of it, both with us and by themselves.

We were a pile of melted sweaty obronis by this time, but really truly glad to have been included in this happy day for Jane's family. How often do you get a chance to do something like this?

Duke told us Monday that his family left about 5 o'clock, but that the dancing and celebrating went on into the early evening. Can these people celebrate, or what?