How to Thrive in a Malawian Wedding
When I moved to Malawi three months ago, I never imagined a situation where I would be hung-over, exhausted and totally jubilant to be throwing all my money at other people. But this was the crowning moment of my epic weekend. I went in with very little advice on what to expect, and it turned out, I really could have used a heads up. So here are a few tips on what to anticipate during a Malawian wedding celebration:
You’ll stick out
Malawian people are known for their warmth and generosity of spirit. As a muzungu (white person) you will be welcomed and watched. Although the groom was a work colleague who I admittedly don’t know very well, my friends and I were honored by the welcoming nature of his family and village. We were even given a spot directly behind the bride and groom in the parade. By simply being white and foreign, we were automatically honored guests. This is an incredible and undeserved honor that can feel a little strange, but this time, we embraced the full experience, including some time in the spotlight. My colleagues and I laughed, danced and clapped our way through the streets just like celebrities!
You’ll need some prep-time
Even as an attendee, there is some prep and training that we had to do.
Chitenge is the Malawian name for glorious and brightly colored multipurpose fabrics. For a wedding, it is critical that you wear your brightest and best. Often the bride and groom choose their own wedding chitenge pattern, but if you aren’t able to get ahold of this specific fabric, you can easily get your own dress or suit made by the local tailor for just a few dollars. I had a beautiful two-piece dress made in a western style for the equivalent of $6 USD.
Pelikani in the local language of Chichewa means, “share it.” The tradition of Pelikani may be the most famous and funny stereotype of Malawian weddings. For the 6+ hour reception, different groups of family and friends showered the couple with cash. An announcer called each group up to dance around the couple and throw their bills. Heads up: the largest bill in Malawi is 1,000 Kwacha or roughly the equivalent of $2 USD. My advice is to exchange your 1,000 KW bills for all 20 KW or 50 KW bills. This makes your purse feel heavy and your generosity limitless!
You’ll need some stamina
I suggest a rigorous training schedule of drinking copious amounts of alcohol in 90+ degree weather. Dancing all night long and then doing it again the next day.
In our case, the partying started the night before the wedding. Without electricity in the village most people are usually in bed by 7pm, but not this night! All ages danced provocatively in the dirt road and played drums in the pitch dark. Our group retired around 2am but heard car horns, drums and afro-beats throughout the night.
Against all odds, the entire village rallied for the 8am church ceremony. The packed-out and sweaty congregation never really stopped celebrating even during the 2-hour sermon. The main role of the best man during the ceremony is to wipe the perspiration off his friend’s brow – this was was no small task, and by the end, we had all sweat through our fancy dresses. The couple then exchanged vows and the whole crowd erupted in dance. We barely made it out the door as the dancing crowd rapidly pushed us out of the church to escape the heat!
After the service, the bride and groom were paraded through the village on the back of a pick-up truck. The silky baby pink and blue bridal party was a stark contrast to the baobabs and baboons that lined the dirt road. As the cars snaked back and forth, music played and people in the street cheered – the village felt as if it could burst from jubilance.
In the end we all survived this radical event and loved every minute of the exhausting weekend.
Top Photo By Skip Russell