The idea of a wedding, to some people and in some parts of the world, is a private and intimate event; two lovebirds surrounded by their closest family and friends. Not so in Naija, where a wedding is a sheer spectacle – in Nigeria, a couple is fortunate if they know up to half of the guests at their wedding. There is no amount of words that can describe the flamboyance and flair or the energy and exuberance that characterize wedding ceremonies in Nigeria, so we wouldn’t even try. As is our custom on Bellanchi, our focus is mischief: an examination of some of the more quirky aspects of Naija weddings.
Introducing the newest couple in town…
So what aspect of a Naija wedding party is most memorable? I don’t begrudge peeps whose flat answer to this is: when the food gets to my table; you’d understand why a little later in this write up. Although there are quite a few to choose from, my high point of Naija wedding parties is when the couple dances into the venue. In many wedding programs, this aspect of the wedding is titled the Arrival of the Couple, but don’t be deceived by the blandness. The Arrival of the Couple is a big, big deal. The Nuptial Dance and the Toast are interesting parts of a wedding, no doubt, but they aren’t half as exciting as the Arrival of the Couple. The sheer euphoria that accompanies the couple’s arrival at the wedding party is, in the case of a church wedding, perhaps matched only by the delirium that follows the introduction of the couple to the congregation as the “newest couple in town”.
The Arrival of the Couple is highly anticipated for two reasons. First, it affords the vast majority of guests their first opportunity of seeing the newlyweds. I’d explain. One of our unwritten rules in Naija is that the only people that are expected to attend the religious ceremony at which a couple is married, if there is one, are the couple (for obvious reasons), the officiating ministers (for similarly obvious reasons), the choir and ushers (if the marriage ceremony is at a church), the couple’s family (both nuclear and extended) and a handful of their closest friends. Oh, and of course the photographers. For everyone else, the wedding party – or the “reception” as it is called in Naija parlance – is the soul and essence of the entire event.
Secondly, for some reason I don’t quite get, Nigerians are hung up on who, between the bride and the groom, is the better dancer. In essence, the Arrival of the Couple is a keenly contested, publicly judged battle between the bride and the groom. As with most contests in life, there is incentive to seek an unfair advantage, and I know of grooms that have taken a variety of substances ranging from a few shots of whisky to performance enhancing drugs shortly before they and their brides were ushered in. More often than not, such cheat moves are an utter waste of time. Here’s why: dance is an expression of inner emotions and it is a rarity for a groom to be happier than the bride on the wedding day – don’t ask me why. How then can a slightly intoxicated groom be any match for his ecstatic bride?
The Arrival of the Couple is as big a moment for the DJ as it is for the couple. That is when the DJ has to be at his scratching, turn-tabling (or should I say table-turning) best. God help the DJ whose equipment messes up whilst the couple is dancing in; if he hasn’t been paid in full already, he might as well kiss goodbye to the balance.
Chaos is an integral aspect of weddings in Nigeria, but ours is of a beautiful kind – a rioutous mix of people, colours and attires. The large number of guests –– is only half of the story. Chaos, it seems, is part of the Nigerian DNA. If there’s no chaos, it’s not a Naija wedding.
Where on earth did all the food go?
- 1. There’s no guarantee whatsoever that you’d get anything to eat at a Naija wedding. This is not about having more guests than anticipated. It is Naija economics at work here. Naija economics is a theory that seeks to explain the impact of peculiarly Nigerian behavior on market fundamentals. Through Naija economics, we can understand why, at Naija weddings, even when there is more than enough, a combination of our ingrained scarcity mentality, hoarding and a lopsided allocation of resources results in there not being enough to go round. That it’s an expensive, big society wedding seldom makes a difference. The assumption, from the onset, is that the food wouldn’t go round, so even before the first pots and coolers are opened, some food has already been stashed away, probably never to be seen again. Every savvy Nigerian knows the first rule of enjoying a Nigerian wedding: ensure you’ve had a good meal at home before setting out. That way, if the food gets to you, it’s a bonus. If it doesn’t, you’re irritated but not angry.
- The quality, quantity and variety of the food you are served at a Naija wedding is a reflection of who you are or who you know. I can bet my life that you too have attended weddings where you’ve had a plate of bland tasting jollof rice shoved at you, only to look on in quiet rage as steaming bowls of goat meat pepper soup or platters of grilled fish and chips are handed out to other guests around you. There’s nothing unusual at our wedding parties for a few guests to have second or third helpings whilst others do not even smell small chops. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that you are as important as any other guest. If you do, you’d be taught a quick and unforgettable lesson in humility.
- Nothing illustrates the chaotic character of Naija wedding parties better than when refreshments are being served. There was a time I used to think this chaos was the mere result of poor planning. I now know better. You and your caterers can plan to the last detail. All it takes for all the meticulous planning to go right through the window are one or two Big Aunties that get impatient with the seemingly slow pace at which refreshments are being served and so decide to visit the service points to find out what is going on. From there onwards, it’s chaos.
Plastic bowls! You could have saved us the trouble
Once upon a time in Nigeria, newlyweds received nice, fancy items as wedding gifts. These days, except the bride is Goodluck’s daughter, the cash a couple gets sprayed whilst dancing is likely to be, in aggregate, the most valuable thing they get at or from their wedding. It beats me why MCs still insist on asking whether any guests have gifts with them that they wish to give to the couple. Trust me, half of the beautifully wrapped parcels that guests deliver to the foot of the stage where the couple are seated are pots and pans. The other half are food coolers. Again, a free tip for about-to-weds: don’t expect to receive many valuable gifts; the vast majority of them wouldn’t be worth the trouble of transporting them from the reception venue to your home.
Oh my gosh, is it Christmas?
No Naija wedding is complete without the distribution, by family and friends of the couple, of memorabilia. A wide range of freebies are handed out to guests; everything from cheap plastic wares to customized, gold plated iPhones. I have not been fortunate enough to attend a wedding where iPhones have been handed out, but considering the pandemonium I have seen associated with the distribution of handkerchiefs and plastic pens, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the scramble to get such iPhones often degenerates into brawls.
And finally, the Vote of Thanks
For soon-to-be grooms, a quick word of advice: don’t waste your time preparing a speech or thinking up some witty lines for the Vote of Thanks. No one listens to these things. Everyone’s too busy eating, or taking pictures or hustling for freebies. At my wedding, I thought I’d pre-empt the audience by opening with a remark about how no one pays any attention to what the groom says; I doubt anyone heard that too. It’s the same with the Chairman’s Remarks. Honestly, other than the prospect of using this as a clever way of extracting from the Chairman a wedding gift that is better than he would have ordinarily given, why does anyone still bother with having a Chairman at a wedding?
There’s no end to the oddities of wedding parties in Nigeria. This much we all agree on: there’s never a dull moment. I’m sure some of you have even better stories to share.
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Photo credits: Ayede Film and Photography. To check out their website, click here
PS: It has been a struggle, amidst the depressing events in Nigeria in the past few weeks, to find the inspiration for lighthearted stories, which are the essence of this blog. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the abducted schoolgirls and their families #BringBackOurGirls.