A Big African Wedding

My neighbor and friend Harouna Gouem got married yesterday to Mina Yaméogo. The families put together a celebration of truly astounding proportions. Basically, a whole-day affair with a cast of thousands.

First thing in the morning, at 9:00 a.m., the couple was down at city hall for the civil ceremony. Like in France, all marriages have to be conducted by the mayor (or representative) in order to be official – none of this business we have in the States of priests and so on acting as delegates of the government for the purpose of performing marriages. Normally, the religious service follows immediately after the civil one, but in this case Mina and Harouna had gone to the mosque a couple of days before for a quiet family event. The civil ceremony kicked off the public celebration.

Leaving city hall in a huge stretch limo, followed by several hundred of their nearest and dearest friends in a couple of busses, private cars, and a host of motorbikes, the cortège wound through town for a couple of hours, honking and cheering incessantly. I could have ridden in one of the busses – in fact, given how slowly they were going, I probably could have followed on my bike – but I decided to make my way to the big hall where the reception was to take place.

Gouem wedding 6

It was a big hall. Hundreds of tables, which by the time the lunch began were all full, with extra chairs being brought in to accommodate the overflow. The happy couple arrived in their limo and, after a bit of anticipatory patter from the MC, entered in a procession, followed by their groomsmen and bridesmaids in baby blue and pink outfits.  There were a number of bands that played throughout, an MC, and buffet tables all along the wall. Buffet tables staffed by official-looking people, though I think many of them were friends and relatives as well. These two young women seemed somewhat unclear on the point of hairnets for food service workers:

Gouem wedding 3

The food was good, and plentiful, and the drinks were good and extremely plentiful. In fact, heavy drinking seemed to be expected as a sign of full participation in the happy event. The brother of the groom stopped by my table and wanted to fill my glass with Jack Daniels’. Eight ounces of whiskey at noon is the start of a serious bender for me but apparently a mere aperitif for my companions.

The reception went through the familiar stages – food, speeches, toasts, cutting the cake, giving presents and congratulating the happy couple, dancing. I sat with some other older guys from the maquis towards the back where we wouldn’t be expected to dance and commented on the music. Some fairly famous Burkinabè musicians sang, including one guy who also sang at the choir Christmas party.

After the reception, I went home for a bit of a nap. Waking up about 5:00, I went over to the Gouem family residence, right down the street. The party had not stopped for an instant. Those tumblers full of whiskey were still making the rounds. There was also still plenty of food. The groom was, to the American mind uncharacteristically, still present:

Gouem wedding 9

There was dancing here, too, with a DJ playing music I was totally familiar with because it was mostly from the 1980s. Georges Decimus and Kassav’, Alpha Blondy, and so on. The little kids in the party pulled me out to dance and I managed not to embarrass myself or spill my liquor.

Finally, the last stage of the wedding was picking up the new Mrs. Gouem at her parents’ house and transporting her formally to her new family home. While the groom and his friends were partying down at his family’s home, a few blocks away at the Yaméogo home there was another party going on. We, that is the friends of the groom, all piled into cars – myself after making sure that we weren’t going to be driving on any main streets since everybody was pretty plowed – and went over there. Meanwhile, the groom was ceremonially packed off. Then, the bride’s family grabbed her trousseau and schlepped it back over to the Gouem home, chanting and singing all the while:

Gouem wedding 10

Notice the stack of empties to the left – they had apparently been amusing themselves while awaiting us. I walked back with the women rather than getting back in the car. And that was that. The women arrived at the door to the house, which was closed, demanded admission, were admitted, everyone cheered, and we staggered off home. I awoke this morning without a headache so it must have been good booze.

In other news, while rolling around town the last week or so, I have noticed a bunch of new billboards praising the new president. Here’s an example:

Roch billboard 2

“Together to relieve our difficulties, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, President of [Burkina] Faso. Thank you.”

I particularly liked this one with the juxtaposition of the sign for “les élus” (the elect) child care and the Kaboré billboard:

Roch billboard 1

The billboard says “Burkina is proud”. The question is, are Burkinabè proud of Kaboré as such or of having successfully negotiated a transition to an elected civilian government. What are Burkinabè being thanked for? The message could be the beginning of a classic developing-world cult of personality or a real attempt to forge unity faced with a host of real problems. Let’s hope for the latter.


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