Thursday, April 4, 2013

Zulu Wedding

This weekend, I was honored with a rare invitation. One of our guides was getting married. The wedding ceremony was on Easter Sunday. Many of the volunteers were leaving to return to home or go on to their next adventure somewhere. Only four volunteers were still here, so we were invited, along with the staff, to attend the wedding. The festivities began at our guide’s home where his pre-wedding ceremony was being performed.

As soon as we arrived and got out of the vans, we were surrounded by a crowd of people. The guide’s entire family came over and gave us greeting hugs. I couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was. They treated us like celebrities. I realized that we were the only white guests. People were talking videos or photos of us with their phones or cameras. I instantly fell in love with these people knew immediately that it was going to be a very special day!

I haven't been to a lot of weddings but this ceremony was very different from what people do in the US and, for all I know in Africa outside of South Africa. There was lots, lots, lots of dancing. It went on for hours! First, the women were dancing and leading the bride to one of the huts. The men led our guide to meet the bride in the hut to prepare for the ceremony. Our guide cut the center out some kind of skin and placed it over the bride’s head so the skin acted almost like a poncho. The hut was very hot because so many people were inside singing and dancing. When I left the hut to get ready to photograph people coming out, sweat was pouring off me!

Then the guide and his bride were led back to the open land with more dancing and singing. I don’t think the guests ever took a break from singing and dancing! The guide and his best men (I’m assuming) got front row seats so they could enjoy the dancing and singing the women did on the open land. The bride and bridesmen would dance toward to a group of people and throw their sticks or spears down into the ground in front of them.  Then they danced back to where the rest of the women were dancing. The bride got down on a mat on her knees and waited. The group with the sticks and spears in front of them picked up the sticks and spears and walked over to the bride to place money on the bride’s hat. This ritual was repeated over and over. There were many groups, so giving these gifts took hours.

With the permission of the people, I was taking many many many photographs of the ceremony. At one point, I was saying to one of the local women that watching the women dance was very addicting. It made me wants to join and dance with them. I tried to learn the traditional Zulu dance by paying close attention to their moves. One of the members of the team told me to try the dance. I noticed people watching me and I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t want to offend anybody. But the local woman and my friend kept encouraging me so I finally decided to do the Zulu dance for the first time. Whoops. It turned out to be the most embarrassing and funniest moment of my entire life.

 The traditional Zulu dance is very simple and yet very hard to do! You take steps every time there’s a beat. Then when there’s a loud beat coming up, you throw up one leg up in the air and slam it down at the same time as the loud beat. Some of the women dancing could throw their legs up so that their knees touched their shoulders. I tried to throw my leg up and bring it down as hard as I could to make a loud beat. As it turned out, I simply wasn't wearing the right clothes for Zulu dancing.  When I threw my leg up, I somehow lost my balance because my dress went up with my leg and pulled the other leg out from under me. I fell right on my ass and made a big boom. Everybody stopped and looked over at me. They were all laughing at me. I was so embarrassed, but I was also laughing so hard, I knew everybody would be telling this story for the rest of my time here. I got up, dusted off my dress, took a bow and waved at everybody who was watching. I figure about 300 people saw me fall on my ass while doing my first Zulu dance. 

Everything else about the ceremony was epic. Watching everybody dancing and having the time of their life was mesmerizing. I don't know this culture well but I felt its power and its pull. Later, one of my friends told me that she was watching me take photographs of the ceremony. She could tell that I was really into the moment and the dancing. Even though I was taking pictures, I didn't feel like an observer. I felt like I was being drawn into the lives of these vibrant, generous people. I feel very honored and humble to have been invited to the Zulu wedding ceremony. It's an experience I will never ever forget.

There’s still a lot I do not understand about the culture in South Africa, but I love the open-heartedness of the people. I may not understand what they are saying, but what I have seen with my eyes are people who are friendly, colorful, full of life and always smiling. Everywhere I go, people wave and give me a thumbs-up.  All of this goodwill has an effect on me. I find myself being more friendlier, waving or giving a thumbs-up to other people. It's like a chain reaction that generates good feelings, and I love being part of it.  

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