Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wedding bells

Editor’s note: stories about the trip to Mole National Park will come later this week when I’ve had time to write them up.  Until then, I hope you enjoy this post about a Ghanaian wedding.

Weddings and funerals are both occasions for celebration here in Ghana.  Funerals are advertised with posters and even billboards all over town to honor the deceased.  Coffins have become elaborate artworks that represent the personality of the one who has passed on, as described in the post by my GSK co-worker, Kirby, on his blog.  I have not yet had the opportunity to attend a funeral (not really a phrase I would ever have expected to use), but I was fortunate enough to go to a wedding a few weeks ago on Halloween.  (In case you were wondering, Halloween is not celebrated here.) 

One of the teachers at Opoku Ware JHS, Marfo, runs his own photo and video studio called Glory Be to God Photo and Video Production.  Seeing how much he enjoyed shooting with my Canon 7D at the Basic ICT Skills Workshop, I asked him if I could accompany him to a wedding sometime.  The following weekend, he had a wedding to shoot and was happy for me to join him.  He originally wanted me to be his assistant but I didn’t want that kind of pressure.  I promised him I would share any good pictures with him, but I wanted to go for my own experience, not as a paid/professional gig.  But showing up with him meant I was allowed to take any/all pictures I wanted.

I caught a cab to his studio, which is housed in a small building (more like a shed) not far from the school where he works.  The church for the wedding was a short walk up the street from the studio.  Since this wedding was on a Sunday morning, it was combined with the usual Sunday worship activities, starting with Sunday school and followed by the service.  Sunday school was still underway when we showed up.  Marfo is part of the church choir, which practiced behind the church before the ceremony began.

The lucky couple were Thomas and Diana, or so I guessed from the “Thomas [heart]’s Diana” sign above the altar.  The bride and her maid of honor (I think she’s still called that here), along with the adorable flower girl, showed up in a shiny new SUV of some variety with ribbons on it.  The women’s group, dressed in matching white blouses and blue skirts and hairwraps, held up white poles with blue stripes to form a tunnel through which the bridal party and the choir passed.  The bride and groom were seated next to each other, with the maid of honor and best man seated behind them.  Much like the US, the wedding definitely had a color theme, in this case gold and white.

The entire ceremony contained plenty of singing and dancing throughout the whole 3.5 hours.  (And you thought a Catholic wedding with a full mass took a long time.) In fact, the first hour was spent allowing various groups of people to come up and dance around at the front of the church: men, women, and children all in separate groups.  I was very entertained by the antics of a number of the 20- to 30-something-year-old men, who turned out to be the groom’s co-workers. 

Much like most American weddings I’ve attended, the father presented the bride to the groom.  I’m not sure if he actually gave her away because this part, as well as most of the ceremony, was in Twi, the local language.  The bride and groom exchanged rings and the preacher blessed them, after which the newly married couple had their first kiss.  Well, not quite married, as they had to leave the main room to go into the church office and sign the marriage certificate… two copies…with duplicate signatures on each copy… with signatures from fathers, maid of honor, best man, bride and groom.  After the signing, the wedding party returned to the main hall for more dancing, this time with the bride and groom and wedding party up front.  There was more discussion in Twi by the ladies group and the elder males of the families.  Since I don’t understand much Twi, I was much more interested in watching the flower girl and her friends play in church.

Then there was a particularly Ghanaian part to the ceremony.  First all the gifts and their givers were announced to the congregation.  Then the arch of balloons at the entrance to the church was moved to the front of the church and the bidding started.  Guests were asked to donate “200,000 old Ghana cedis” in the old money (described as second cedi in this Wikipedia link), equivalent to 20 cedis in the current money, for popping a balloon.  The rate kept dropping until it reached “20,000 old Ghana cedis” (2 cedis) where it remained until all the balloons were paid for and popped.  The money was collected as a nest egg for the happy couple.  After this part, the bride sang to the congregation (she had a stunningly beautiful voice) before the recessional began. 

At the end of the service/wedding, drinks and snacks were handed out to everyone in attendance.  From what Marfo said, this wedding did not have a formal reception afterwards.  Then again, they had so much dancing at the wedding service that they didn’t really need another party.

The wedding party gathered on the church steps and took the obligatory group photos with the various families, co-workers, ladies church group, and any other organized bunch of people.  I found it interesting that the wedding photographer (Marfo’s assistant) took a single shot of each group.  The general rule I’ve heard is that the number of photos needed to get all the people in a photo to look at a camera at the same time grows exponentially as the group size increases.  But when you’re still shooting film, taking that many pictures would be prohibitively expensive.  I was very careful to stand directly behind the official photographer so that I wouldn’t be drawing attention away from him and inadvertently cause more problems with people looking at the wrong camera (in this case, mine).

Oddly enough, rather than singling me out as an “obruni”, the people at the wedding seemed to accept me as nothing more than another photographer.  Even the kids were able to keep a lid on their enthusiasm for the fairer skinned visitors.  I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that I did not be attract attention away from the bride and groom on their special day.

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