A Cameroonian Wedding

We were invited to the wedding of  Zédou and Julie in Foumbot on Nov. 19, 2011.  Zédou (a branch manager of Advans Cameroon) and Julie are based in Yaoundé, but they both hail from Foumban and Foumbot (West Cameroon), hence the wedding ceremony was held there, 5 hours away by maniacal car-driving from Douala, where we are living. I say “maniacal” because that’s how Frank, my frustrated-Formula-1-driver of a husband, drives!

On Friday, we drove for 4 hours to Banjoun where we stayed at our friends’ house for the weekend. Our gracious hosts, Bart and Christine, welcomed us in their lovely home. It was my second visit to their house and each time, I’ve been impressed by how big yet cozy it is. Banjoun has a lovely cool climate and their garden is such a refreshing oasis of greens and a variety of colors from the different flowers that Christine grows. And they have a very nice terrace that look out to that lovely garden!

On the wedding day itself, we took our leisurely breakfast on the terrace, not really hurrying knowing from past experiences in Congolese weddings that the ceremony would never start on time. The invitation was at 10:00 so we had planned to leave at 9:30 to be in Foumbot at around 10:30. But we received a phone call that the mayor who was going to officiate the marriage was going to respect the time as he was a busy man and had a lot of other appointments for the day. So we thought okay, we should go and avoid being fashionably late.

Fashionably late we were not! In fact when we arrived we were the first guests. At least the groom and his best man had already been there to meet us! The ceremony started one and a half hours late (not bad by Cameroonian standards), and guess who was the last to arrive? Yes, the mayor himself!

The wedding pagne (traditional African tissue/cloth of various colors and designs)

As guests began to arrive for the ceremony, my eyes feasted on the different creations of the wedding pagne that was provided to everyone joining the ceremonies. It is a Cameroonian tradition for guests to wear clothes made out of pagnes of a single design, specially chosen by the couple as a motiff for their wedding. The same tradition applies to almost all important occasions such as funerals and special events and holidays (e.g. International Women’s day, Labor day, Teachers’ day, inaugurations, company activities, etc.). The design chosen by the couple is a beautiful mix of colors: orange, green, blue, brown and white. Frank’s long sleeved shirt, Jolie’s little dress and my almost mini-dress (because the pagne barely made all three attires!) were made out of 6 yards of the wedding pagne. I was lucky to find a good couturiere who made our dresses appropriate for the day-activities of the marriage. Her creations highlighted the main shapes in the design and drew out the nice green color with an addition of another plain green material for Jolie’s dress and mine. I was very satisfied with her handiwork.

To differentiate themselves from the throng, the bride wore a beautiful ivory gown embroidered with hues of brown. The groom donned a traditional long-sleeved shirt and trousers also made out from the same material as the bride’s gown, but embroidered in another style yet taking the same brown colors. Their wedding costumes were simple yet elegant.

The ceremony

Zédou and Julie are Moslems so they got married by civil rites officiated by the mayor at the Hotel de Ville of Foumbot (town hall). Unlike other weddings I’ve been to, there was no “Here comes the bride” music to accompany the short march of the couple. They simply came into the wedding hall, arm in arm, the groom with a big smile on his face, the bride looking a bit disoriented and unsure. As they entered, the crowd of a hundred or so started to chant and make a strange happy noise to welcome the couple. As everybody settled down, the mayor started his job of making the marriage official. The mayor made the ceremony a little bit interactive by asking some of the guests to give out some advice to the couple. Only women-guests were brave enough to dole out pieces of advice: fidelity; patience; servitude; etc. Already the mayor was giving a sermon of what the bride must do and become which was making me cringe, that hearing these women heap more advice of the same kind had me whispering to Frank that what she’s becoming is a slave and not a wife! I was more confounded when asked by the mayor in which regime they wanted their marriage to work, and both groom and bride replied “polygamy”! Of course it was none of my business what happens to their marriage so it was good just to listen and to learn of an entirely different marital custom. After an exchage of vows, rings and a few kisses, the mayor pronounced the couple husband and wife with wishes of a good happy marriage!

The motorcade and reception

Part of the day program of the wedding was a motorcade of the bridal entourage and guests around the town of Foumbot.  Led by the bridal car containing the newlyweds, we followed the queue of cars driving at 10km/hr. Foumbot is a small town thus the motorcade didn’t last very long. It was also coordinated very well by the master of ceremony such that the motorcade did not cause any traffic jam in the highway. 500 meters before the end of the motorcade route the newly weds and all the other guests, got out of their cars and started a dancing march towards the Hotel de Ville  – under the sweltering heat of the sun at 41 degrees Celcius! Not to mention that the road was an uphill climb and the bride was walking/dancing on 5-inch heels! No, we didn’t join the street dancing; we drove on past the happy crowd to wait for them at the town hall.

The reception was held also at the town hall where the couple was just married. A simple fare was laid out for everyone to partake. During the reception, a group of local dancers, singers and drummers provided the entertainment. The singers were chanting well wishes to the couple and the guests. Some guests participated by dancing to the rhythm of the made-up songs and while doing so, other guests were slapping CFAs (Cameroonian money) on the forehead of the guest-dancers. The CFAs would eventually go to the singers and their group. At some point, one singer was egging on my husband for some francs and persistently so! Frank dutifully took out a 5,000 CFA-bill and slapped it to the singer’s forehead. The singer then had a huge grin on his face 😀

Finally it was time for FJJ to leave as we had planned to make a quick tour of Foumban to visit the Sultan’s palace, art museum and the artisanat. I discreetly told the master of ceremony that we wanted to leave but before that we wanted to give our present to the couple. We had wished to disappear quietly and unnoticed but with my husband being the DG of the company where the groom worked, going away could not be done inconspicuously. Instead the MC announced to the whole group that we were leaving and for this exceptional time, we could give our present to the couple (instead of giving it in the evening party as tradition dictates). So amid so much fanfare and cheers, we prodded our little girl to hand our present to the delighted couple. And to end a memorable day for them and for us, we had our photographs taken, each one with silly grins and smiles on our faces, except for Jolie who was looking not too happy with the task we just made her do.

Until the next Cameroonian wedding!

(Note: This article was contributed by Joy who has been living in Douala since Dec. 2009)

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About DWIG

The Douala Women's International Group (DWIG) is composed of English-speaking women living in Douala, Cameroon. DWIG aims to provide a social network for its members, whether newly arrived or those who have been in the country for sometime. The group is mostly composed of expatriate women, but it is also open to Cameroonese ladies. If you find yourself in Douala, don't hesitate to contact us at douala_women@yahoo.com.
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