Roars of laughter echoed the hall as the bride and groom awaited their holy matrimony. The minister spoke of love, but not of the couple to be wed. Instead, he gently spoke of the mental illness known as “homosexuality.” Eruptions of applause followed each bashful sentence about the family values and lifestyle choices of Americans. Twenty minutes went by, and a return of events resulted in the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Nantwi.
I don’t even know Mr. and Mrs. Nantwi, nor how Ghanaian weddings operated. All I know is… when Mr. Hanson invites you to a wedding, you go.
My friend Erin’s boss, Mr. Hanson, invited her to a wedding with no details except to meet him at a tro tro (a rideshare minibus) stop in an unfamiliar part of town at 9:30 am. When she asked if anyone wanted to come, I couldn’t say no – this was an adventure waiting to happen.
On Saturday morning, we left at 8:00 am to account for the time spent walking to and from the tro tro stop and getting lost on the way. We arrived at our destination at 8:50 am. On American terms, we were early. On Ghanaian terms, we were a few hours early. Luckily, her boss was promptly on schedule, and then we were off. The five of us weaseled into a taxi, where the tallest of our group suffered through the ride sitting on the center console wedged in between the driver and Erin’s boss.
Walking into the chapel, we quickly realized the number of guests outnumbered the number of tables and chairs outside. Hundreds of people were dancing to the sounds of gospel music – hands were in the air, feet were moving and everyone was “hallelujah”-ing. The energy didn’t stop there.
The diversity in the patterns and colors of the outfits brought a familiar energy I’ve only felt while in Ghana. Men’s outfits ranged by casual polo and jeans to traditional Kente cloth wraps to patterned smocks to tuxedos. Women dressed their best and brightest, and this didn’t go unnoticed. The vibrancy of the women’s outfits alone is a story for another time. Point-blank: Ghanaian patterns are beautiful.
Gospel dance parties consistently took place in between intervals of the ceremony. Whenever the bride and groom did anything, iPads, cell phones and cameras appeared from every direction to capture the moment. Guests ran up to the front of the chapel to get the photo – it was worse than a teenager at a concert… well, any event.
Prior to the exchange of rings is when the minister managed to squeeze in a 20-minute rant about gay marriage and values in America. How this happened still baffles me. As the only three oburonis (foreigners) among the hundreds at the wedding, it was the first time we felt isolated among the welcoming crowd. Hearing jokes about Americans while being the only Americans was awkward to say the least.
The couple never made eye contact while sitting together. The lack of enthusiasm from the two in responding to the minister pained me. There wasn’t even an exchange of vows. Before he lifted her veil, he leaned back, crossed his arms, hand on chin, gave her an exaggerated up down and then waited for everyone to cheer him on. If this wasn’t such a Christian, conservative society, I would not have been surprised if he slipped in a “DAMN GIRL!” They exchanged the rings, and he instantly looked into the crowd for another wave of cheers and applause. There wasn’t even a kiss, let alone a hug. I have asked Ghanaians about whether they kiss at weddings, and they usually do.
Public displays of affection (PDA) may be unacceptable in Ghanaian culture, but the lack of intimacy and affection between the bride and groom went beyond the standards. I may be interpreting this wrong, but what I saw was a constant objectification of the bride in order to boost the groom’s ego.
Running on Ghanaian time, food wasn’t ready until two hours after the ceremony. As we waited for our buffet-style lunch in line, a random man pulled us up to the front because we were oburonis. Hundreds of guests watched as we were getting food on our plate before everyone else – I have never felt more uncomfortable. It was the only moment I’ve ever truly experienced “the oburoni privilege” that I read about before arriving in Ghana. Ghanaians treat the oburonis better than they would their own people.
I consistently find myself in unusual situations, but attending a stranger’s wedding in Ghana has ranked among the top of the list. I have only attended one other wedding in my lifetime. I don’t have many experiences to compare this one to, but I am positive it wasn’t like any others I would experience.