Picture a traditional American wedding. The bride walks gracefully down the aisle with her father to join her husband-to-be at the altar. Close family and friends watch silently with joyful tears in their eyes, waiting for the couple to say, “I do.” After the kiss, the 100 or so guests applaud and the couple leaves together, waving out of a decorated car that declares “Just Married” on the back windshield.
Now, flip that scenario entirely on its head, and you have a Ghanaian wedding.
Last Saturday, when Morgan, Shirley and I waited anxiously for Mr. Hanson, my boss, and his wife to pick us up and bring us to a traditional Ghanaian wedding, I had no idea what to expect. We had heard countless tales of epic weddings from previous students, but now we finally had the opportunity to see one with our own eyes.
When we walked up the stairs to the church, saw the doors overflowing with dancing Ghanaians, and heard the roar of upbeat gospel music, I knew the stories were about to live up to their hype.
Stepping into the crowd, I couldn’t believe my eyes. What must have been 300 people swarmed the aisles and looked down form the overhead balconies, all jumping, shimmying and swaying to the beat.
As we made our way to the front, I could see a large group of men to the left of the altar dancing in a circle and swinging handkerchiefs above their heads and a group of women performing similar actions to the right.
Morgan, Shirley and I looked at each other with wide eyes, knowing we were in for an interesting day, to say the least.
When we got to our seats, we remained standing and tried to dance along with the other guests around us, although I’m sure our lack of rhythm drew more attention than anything else. As I looked up at the altar, I expected to see the groom awaiting his bride as he would be at an American wedding, but instead I saw several pastors and dozens of guests dancing about.
Finally, all attention turned towards the back of the church, and the bride and her father slowly began making their way down the aisle. The upbeat music and cheers of the crowd did not subside, however. On the contrary, shouts of joy and praise echoed even louder through the building, and the bride danced her way down the aisle with hundreds of dancing family members, friends and strangers surrounding her.
The groom joined her in another 30 minutes, similarly dancing down the aisle with his best man. Personally, I don’t know how they all danced for so long; by the time the bride and groom were seated beneath thier heart-shaped arch and we were allowed to take our seats, I was wiped out.
(Although, now that I think about it, that might be a comment on my physical health and obsession with bufaloots – Ghanaian donuts – more than anything else.)
Of course, throughout the next hour and a half of the ceremony, we stood up several more times to dance, clap, and show our enthusiasm for the bride and groom.
When the preacher began to give his sermon, he spoke much of the word of God and gave blessings to the couple. However, I was shocked when he mentioned the recent Supreme Court rulings in America that made same-sex marriage legal nation-wide. He mocked the ruling, claiming how lucky we were to be in a church where men could not marry men. The entire crowd laughed, and Mr. Hanson even shook my arm, thinking the entire situation to be hilarious.
I have struggled greatly to accept the intensity of the religious beliefs here, but I was completely caught off guard when these politics were brought up in the middle of a joyous marriage ceremony. At least, if it were my wedding, I would want to focus on the positivity and love in life rather than disagreements and judgement.
After several further comments against America, including one random bit against KFC (I’m telling you, these weddings get weird), the couple agreed to a life of happy marriage and said, “I do.”
However, the couple did not kiss, and, in fact, did not seem as excited as I would have thought. Throughout the entire ceremony, they rarely looked at each other and never made any physical interaction. Although I am unsure whether this was a personal decision or the norm for this conservative country, I found the entire relationship somewhat odd.
Nevertheless, we eventually jumped back on our feet and danced for what seemed like hours as the couple grooved back down the aisle.
Several huge tents were set up outside of the church with dozens of tables underneath, allowing guests to sit, relax and converse with each other after the wedding. As we sat with Mr. Hanson and his wife, we finally got up to stand in the enormously long line to get our food.
After about 10 minutes of waiting the line had barely moved, but we were distracting each other with comments on the elaborate clothing of the guests of the wedding when, suddenly, a man came up to Morgan, Shirley and I and told us to follow him. Confused, we brought along Mr. Hanson’s wife. This man brought us to the front of the line, told us to take a plate and ask for food, and then he vanished.
The guests who had waited patiently to get their food glared at us, and even the servers were hesitant to give us food. To make matters even worse, the man failed to give Mrs. Hanson a plate, and she was yelled at for trying to cut the line and forced to take her place at the back.
Never before had we been more embarrassed by the ridiculous privilege we received simply because of the color of our skin. We tried to argue and return to our place in line with Mr. and Mrs. Hanson, but the servers refused to let us leave and reluctantly gave us food.
I was completely ashamed and embarrassed as I walked with my food back to my table and felt the gaze of the other guests on my back. Never again did I want to feel so pretentious and undeserving, even if I didn’t bring it on myself.
Finally, after Mr. and Mrs. Hanson sat down and ate, we listened to the speeches from the wedding parties and departed. I have to say that this Ghanaian wedding is among the weirdest events of my life, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see how another culture celebrates marriage, however strange it may have been.