Friday, 2 October 2015

A Zambian Hen Party!

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to a ‘kitchen party’, which is a type of Zambian hen party. Although I didn’t actually know the engaged couple, my friend Holly works with the groom and had been encouraged to bring a friend. It was a very interesting and fun experience.

Apparently kitchen parties are usually held before the wedding, like hen parties are in the UK. However, sometimes they are held during the actual wedding day. On this occasion, there was a church service in the morning followed by a kitchen party in the afternoon and then a ceremony in the evening. I was told that the church service and evening ceremony are more similar to wedding celebrations in the UK, whereas the kitchen party is quite different.

This type of event is called a Kitchen Party because guests are expected to bring a gift for the bride and groom’s new kitchen. Guests are informed of the colour scheme beforehand (black, white and apple green in this case) but not which particular item to buy. I think the bride at the party I went to received at least five kettles and four crockery sets! Bringing and presenting a present is a big part of the event. People are very generous, and spend a large amount when you consider local salaries. Some guests at the party gave the bride kitchen units, tables and chairs. At a kitchen party there are usually several opportunities to give money. We had been advised to empty our purses of all but small notes before we went!

Gifts to stock the couple's kitchen

We arrived at the party two hours after it was due to start, to find that the location had changed from the original details on the invitation. As the only white people at the party, we were ushered to seats in the front row, which I felt was rather crazy considering I didn’t know the bride! We then waited another hour before the party started. The bride had a particular dress which was especially for the kitchen party, and it matched the green and orange colour scheme of the party. Ladies played the drums whilst other guests stood and clapped as the bride entered. In fact, her entrance involved her crawling in on her hands and knees with two members of her family, concealed under a large piece of fabric!

The bride's entrance!

There were at least 200 ladies gathered at the party. Imagine having all your female friends and family together dancing, eating and generally having a good time, yet not being allowed to smile! That’s what is expected of the bride here in Zambia. Someone told me it is a tradition that shows she is taking it seriously. It must be quite a challenge. I struggled not to smile when I was part of a group photo!

Lots of guests gathered

Large helpings of meat, rice, potato and salad for lunch

Presenting the gifts took a long time. When a present is held up, the person who brought it takes it to the bride and explains what it is (whilst she continues to keep a serious, straight face!). It is unwrapped by the lady leading the proceedings, rather than the bride. After handing over the present, the person giving it then has to dance in front of everyone! Zambians of all ages seem to be natural dancers, so Holly and I must have looked pretty ridiculous attempting to dance like them. There was a lot of laughter. We noticed that following the dancing, the person who had given the gift would then lie on the floor and turn over to lie on the other side. Apparently this is a sign of respect, so we joined in when it was our turn, which all the ladies found hilarious.

Dancing after giving a gift

Holly and me

Unlike traditional hen parties in the UK, the groom has a role to play in the kitchen party. Towards the end of the party, he proceeds in to meet the bride with a group of friends or family gathered closely around him. Holly and I were also persuaded to join in with this bit, even though we had no idea of what was going on or what would happen next. Fortunately it meant just walking in as part of the group and then a bit more dancing at the front.

The groom meeting the bride

The groom then meets the bride (still not smiling) and their mothers are invited to sit at the front. The bride and groom greet the mothers, and this is followed by respectfully lying on the floor in front of them and then more dancing all together. 

As well as being lots of fun, the kitchen party was a completely different experience to anything I've been to before. It was a great introduction to some of the cultural traditions that form part of a Zambian wedding.

Mothers of the bride and groom

The bride caught smiling!

No comments:

Post a Comment