I got married a few months ago. It was a quiet, invitation-only ceremony that took place in the morning of a Tuesday when people were sure to be at work. I also ensured that there were no church announcements prior to the wedding. Very few friends and relatives were aware that we were planning any such thing even though we had begun planning actively four months before. On the morning of the wedding (when it was too late for uninvited guests to show up), I wrote a Facebook post announcing that I would be getting married one hour later and apologizing in advance to all the people who would get offended that they had not been invited. Naturally, my Facebook wall was flooded with comments- with a number of people wondering why I would do such a "secret" wedding. In any case, I achieved my goal: our 100-seater reception hall was not overstretched.
But pulling that stunt was the most difficult task in the world. My wife is Ijebu, a Nigerian tribe reputed for their love for big parties. Like most African societies, mine is also one of extensive ceremonies and symbolisms. There is, for example, a compulsory engagement ceremony in which the groom must present an elaborate selection of pre-specified items (such as 42 tubers of yam, palm oil, clothing and other things). The groom must also perform the symbolic ceremonies of prostrating to greet his wife's family, and physically carrying his wife (which according to tradition proves that he is man enough to take care of her).
Then, there is the showoff, otherwise known as "owambe". Families (especially the parents of the couple) see weddings as the perfect excuse to display their wealth. Many literarily take huge loans- sometimes equal to years of accumulated income- just to have elaborate ceremonies. While I was planning my very unusual type of wedding, I got to realize that we (my fiancee and I) were just lucky to have family members who could reason with us. I was stunned that many other families would not have taken lightly, the attempt to deprive them of the opportunity to show off and spend their money.
Anyway, I went through the ceremonies which I had cut to the barest minimum, preserving only the compulsory parts and the sections we were genuinely looking forward to. Within one hour, I was carrying my wife. About two hours later, we were saying "I do" in church. Before long, the day was all over and then, I knew we had made a very wise decision.
It had dawned that the wedding was for a day and there was a marriage, which would be a lifelong affair. It occurred to me that without a crowd, I had had a memorable wedding ceremony, surrounded by close friends and family and not an unknown, rowdy crowd. It also occurred to me that we had spent far less than we would have if we had done it the "normal" way, and voila! We are married!
Africa is blessed with beautiful customs and traditions. Weddings can be especially beautiful, or on the other hand, stressful such that the customs and traditions make the couple the least important of considerations! I am not necessarily advocating for more quiet weddings like mine. I do think, however, that at the end of the day, a wedding should be a strong moment for the groom and his bride. So intending African couples; have fun, and do not let the society take that away! And remember to save some money for post-wedding life too!