July and August are the months of engagements and marriages in Burundi and these are almost always accompanied by feasts that are as lavish as the families can organize. This is the first of 3 blogs on the topic and several celebratory recipes will be given at the end of the blogs.
Why July and August? First, we have two ‘seasons’ – wet and dry. Temperatures vary more between night and day than they do between wet and dry seasons, although there is higher humidity during the rainy months, from mid-September through May or June, than there is during the dry season, from approximately June through September.
In the middle of the rainy season – December/January – there is also a ‘little’ dry season, following which certain crops can be planted. But the majority of crops are planted just prior to the rains in September and then agricultural work continues throughout the rains.
The second reason that celebrations take place during July and August: The dry season is a time to relax a bit, to enjoy the fruits of the harvest, and to put away money from the crops for important expenses – especially education of the children – and also for celebrations, especially engagements and marriages.
It is also a time of making sorghum beer and banana wine, which especially for women in rural areas are important money-earners – indeed, most people have their favorite producer of these beverages. Sorghum beer is traditionally consumed as part of engagement or wedding ceremonies.
Engagements and marriages almost always take place on Saturday afternoon or evening. They are the most important family ceremonies and even the very poorest will save for months – and may borrow heavily if it has been a bad year for crops – in order to organize the largest affair possible.
Whether photocopied or specially designed, invitations are de rigueur and are sent to all possible friends and family.
It is common to receive several invitations for celebrations that take place on the same day – and in this case, people will drop in from one ceremony to the next throughout the afternoon and evening. These are considered the major social events of the season.
The wedding includes both civil and religious ceremonies that take place in the morning. Thereafter, the couple with their guests proceed to the place of celebration, which may be a home, a hotel, or one of the many places that specializes in organizing these celebrations. If finances are sufficient, the party travels in a motorcade, with a pickup truck in front on which someone with a video camera takes pictures of the procession.
Depending on wealth of the families, the celebration can include – in addition to drinks – dancers, drummers, singers and perhaps a separate meal at a later time, for specially invited guests.
Who pays? The groom and his family! For everything! (At least, officially that is what one is told.) In addition, a present must be given by the family of the groom to the family of the bride. In the past, this could be a cow or other item of value, but now generally is a sum of money or it may just be a symbolic gift. Additionally, gifts are often exchanged between the new couple and the bride’s mother as well as from the bride’s mother and father to the new couple.
I will write three blogs on the wedding and engagement celebrations, the first (below) representative of rural weddings – of a farmer, who worked with our goats as a herder and paravet; the second being the engagement of the daughter of a cook – ‘sort of ‘ middle class, and third being several ‘upper class’ weddings.
A rural wedding
Inhabitants of this area have suffered tremendously during the years of war and raiding – being robbed by rebels while also being placed in regroupment camps by the government, which feared they were aiding the rebels. We have had a number of persons from this area work for us, and the stories they have to tell are often dreadful.
Still, there is always been time to enjoy the finer parts of life –especially marriages!
The next post in this series will be for a ‘middle class’ engagement celebration.
Post updated from 2011
Articles – reflecting conditions in 2011, when these celebrations took place. Now, security conditions in the country are so much improved! The killings described in the following links took place not far from our area.
- At least 36 killed in Burundi attack (telegraph.co.uk)
- Burundi Pub Massacre: Congo Gunmen Kill 36 In Bujumbura Bar (huffingtonpost.com)