Saturday, October 3, 2015

The "Frivolity" of "Forever"

In his now 27 years of existence, the author has never been to a proper wedding.  To him, the pompous ceremony is cringe-worthy in its underlying meaning beyond all the obvious pomp.  The cheesiness of exchanging vows to be side-by-side forever always have that fearful element of a permanent contract between two people, one that requires enforcement through changes in circumstances and personalities.  A wedding is, beyond ceremonial symbolism, a real symbolism of newly required maturity, one that the author is be no means ready to accept.

For him, marriage, or even a step before that, a committed relationship that supposed to end up as a marriage, does have a sense of sacredness.  And a wedding is supposed to be the confirmation of just how sacred the publicly acknowledged, religiously affirmed, and legally bound tie-up of two people can be.  It can be the community's stamp-of-approval for two loving people who seem so happy together, or a seal of alliance between two families, whose children are given no personal choice in being designated as tools of diplomacy.  

It is with such prejudice that the author was informed of the wedding reception of a local Tanzanian coworker.  At first, he did not think of it particularly highly, especially given that the formal ceremony was already completed elsewhere.  Casual drinks in a casual place deserved casual dress and casual attitude, he assumed.  But the reception quickly proved itself to the contrary.  Arrival at a specially rented event hall at the local university, he was surrounded by locals in tuxedos, bow-ties, and colorful gowns, the likes he has not seen since special events of earlier school days.

But the atmosphere, as the clothes themselves, was more fitting in a dance party than the sacred ceremony that the author expected weddings to be.  Between speeches by the newlyweds and friends (of which significant percentage is coworkers from this small organization), dance music blared.  Upon hearing the music, attendees casually left their neatly lined-up seats, and danced their way in front of the empty stage where the newlyweds are supposed to sit.  The newlyweds, in their shyness, was surrounded every few minutes by masses of smartly dressed but progressively tipsy dancers.

In the few moments that the music was not blaring and people actually sat (somewhat) still, the newlyweds were busy introducing the attendees in turn rather than speaking of themselves.  It is as if the day belonged not to them, but the community, of which they just happened to be the vocal organizers for this one night.  The community's members, with their dances in response to the newlyweds' introduction, made no efforts to conceal their happiness with the night's arrangements.  No one made emotionally gushing speeches about the newlyweds, endless dancing was enough.

Such phenomenon should not just be a case of a local population capable of finding fun under any circumstance.  It probably says more about the local society's attitude toward marriage as an event for the community, and not for just two people.  It is a displayed of the community's forward progress, either through welcoming a new member, or increasing internal ties with tie-up of two existing members.  The wedding, then, would be understood first and foremost as an achievement for the community, and not for the bride, groom, or their family members.  

To put such conclusion in slightly more morbid terms, "community-first" attitude toward marriage may also reflect a sort of social contract between the newlywed couple and the community, where the community takes responsibility in case something unfortunate happens to the newlyweds.  In contrast, in weddings where family members make the most important guests, and friends only bear witness, friends have little obligation to care for the newlyweds as more than just friends (unless god-parenting is involved later on).  But if community members are the VIPs, then its a whole new story.

Indeed, a wedding the author participated in may be one that is between not the bride and the groom, but one that is between the newlyweds and the community at large.  In a society where misfortunes to individuals happen in shockingly high frequency, and financial resources are often less than desirable even when aggregated across extended families, being able to depend on the larger community's support may be indispensable for the newlyweds and their future descendants's very survival.  For this, the endless group dances at the wedding serve important social functions.  

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