“Introducing the newest couple in town…”

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…

wedding 1So 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.

Beautiful Chaos

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?

wedding 4It may have missed out as my choice of what’s most memorable about Nigerian weddings, but food remains hugely significant. Here are 3 reasons why:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

if you must eat a frog

Meet Jide, a company executive, who works in Lagos. He is in his early thirties and is happily married with two kids. Jide travels to Nairobi on business. He gets to meet Rahel, a tall, beautiful Ethiopian woman at a meeting and strikes a conversation with her during a tea break. They find out that they are both staying at the Crowne Plaza. They meet up for drinks at the hotel bar later that evening. She’s wearing a short dress that shows off her svelte figure and slim legs. The banter progresses into very engaging conversation. Jide thinks there’s something flirty about the way Rahel intermittently brushes, away from her face, her dark, lustrous hair. He orders a second bottle of wine. We can all tell where this ends.

Before we go any further, let’s establish some ground rules: we would leave morality out of this conversation. I took off my moral hat before penning the first word, and I expect that – if you subscribe to any moral values – you’d put them away for just a bit. This is going to be a purely rational enquiry into infidelity.

If you ask me, I’d say I perfectly understand why Jide cheated on his wife. If the circumstances – the person, the place and the time – are right, any man OR WOMAN (deliberately emphasized so that we can immediately discard that silly notion that men have a greater predilection to infidelity) would cheat on their partner.

But whilst I get the randomness and spontaneity of anonymous sex with an attractive stranger, there are some types of infidelity that I struggle to comprehend. One such example is Wedding Eve Infidelity. Stories abound of grooms-to-be that bed anything from their fiancée’s best friend to a stripper on the night of the eve of their weddings. Like a testimonial match, such rendezvous are supposed to be a Player’s farewell to the Game; the final act before the curtains fall – a swan song of some sort. In reality, such guys would probably only last their honeymoons before they cheat again. In my view, there’s something fundamentally wrong – and by “wrong” I do not mean a moral wrong – with a groom-to-be shagging, the night before his marriage, someone other than the woman that he is to marry. I mean, what’s the point of entering into a legally binding monogamous relationship when you have no intention to ever be with one woman? You might as well stay single and free. Why complicate things by getting married? It’s plain stupid.

That’s why I have a certain admiration for players and hustlers in their purest forms; the ones that are self aware enough to accept that they are not cut out for monogamous relationships and do all that they can to avoid them. Joe Player who is upfront enough with the naïve, beautiful girl that has been crushing on him by letting her know he’s only after a good lay, and ravishing Tina Hustler who would screw anything if the buck was right. I love such folks for their honesty. Next to them, many of us cut poor, pathetic figures: the analyst who lies unashamedly – going as far as swearing by his forefathers – that he does not have a girlfriend just so that bedding the Youth Corper recently assigned to his office is less complicated; or the businessman who religiously removes his wedding band the instant he boards a plane on a business trip and stows it away. Really, how low should one have to go in order to get laid?

Another variety of infidelity that bewilders me is that which does not discriminate. It is true that some folks have unusual levels of libido, but even that cannot be explanation for the Company MD that sleeps with everyone from the front desk officer to the service girl at the beer parlour across the road.

There should be loads of women (and men) in the world every man (and woman) should find not even remotely attractive. And their zero sexual appeal should have nothing to do with them being your fellow chorister, a friend’s husband, your girlfriend’s best friend or falling into any of those other categories of the opposite sex that are by social norms ordinarily out of bounds. It should be because they do not – and simply cannot – appeal to you. Finish.

I went for a friend’s bachelor’s party sometime last year – I have since decided it is the last I’d ever attend. Everything was fine until the girls that had been organized for the bash arrived. I have seen a lot of ugliness in the world, but never in such numbers all at once. I made a quick exit. I don’t think the other guys shared my sentiment. For many of them, not taking a girl – any kind of girl – home from that party meant a night wasted.

Indeed, there is evidence that not all men or women possess the capacity of being able to discriminate in their attraction to the opposite sex. I sympathize with the women who are unable to feel completely safe leaving their boyfriends or husbands with any other woman and the guys that are constantly worrying over who their trophy girlfriends might be screwing. It must be quite distressing to a wife when even Comfort – the housemaid who you can tell from the lingering body odour where in the house she’s been – is a potential threat.

Similar to infidelity that doesn’t discriminate is that which involves a downgrade. I’d share with you a friend’s philosophy on adultery: she must be such a babe that if my wife ever runs into her, she (my wife) would be like hmmm, I see. In other words, he or she must be such a hottie that your spouse wouldn’t have to struggle to make sense of why you done it. If you can manage to rein in your self-righteousness for just a second (can I hear indignant protests of cheating is not justified under any circumstances already?) and not burst a vein, you too would see the beauty in this principle, which I’d brand Thou Shalt not Lower the Standard.

As much as we are led by music videos and fashion runways to believe that there is an infinite supply of beautiful women in the world, in reality there are only so many of them. Thus, if (i) your spouse is a dead drop beauty herself and (ii) you are faithful to the commandment Thou Shalt not Lower the Standard, your chances of being unfaithful to her are as limited as your options. And that, my friends, is why you should marry a Halle Berry. Admittedly, there are some things that rank higher than physical attraction in the choice of a spouse, but if your reasons for marrying him are nothing more than that he is caring, or you had to console yourself with “well, she’s the homely type” before you could pop the question, then you’ve signed up for a lifelong struggle against flesh.

So was there any other way Jide’s night could have ended? Certainly. At the end of the day, everything – including whether or not to walk away from the titillating prospect of a one night stand – is a choice, and we are responsible for the choices we make. The easiest way was to never have suggested hanging out in the first place. From there on, it was only going to get more difficult.

Now do I expect this commentary would result in one cheat less in the universe? Of course not. That was never the object of this piece and it is fantasy to imagine that a half-serious take on infidelity would turn a serial cheat into Guy Faithful or make Miss Slut turn from her easy ways.

I only ask one thing: if at all you must eat a frog, pick the juiciest of the lot, okay?

I am on twitter @bellanchi