Sunday, 8 February 2009

Yes, letter writing is serious business. The person entrusted with this task must be able to produce a well written document using the best calligraphy. Of course with computers it is much easier, but people who demand quality still insist on a handwritten letter.


What is this letter all about you ask? Actually there will be two. The first one is from the groom’s family to the bride’s family. It is the official proposal of marriage stating all the details like full names, date of birth, place of origin etc. of the groom as well as the details of the girl, signed by the head of the groom’s family. The second letter is the official acceptance of the proposal by the bride’s family, equally detailed. These letters are a work of art in themselves. Usually large, at least an A4 size, they can take different outlooks, such as a scroll on parchment or a big fold open card with the letter affixed inside. Whatever style is chosen, in each case they are highly ornamental. But this is not all! Each letter will be encased in some way to make it more presentable. That could be a wrought iron carriage or a beautiful silk flower arrangement, the options are endless.


Next a date is arranged to receive the proposal letter. This entails a larger contingent from the groom’s family, together with their alaga. And they do not come empty handed. Baskets with fruit, wine or other drinks and biscuits, sweets and chocolates are presented. After snacks and refreshments are offered and taken, the letter of proposal is read out and handed over to the head of the girl’s family who will tell the visitors that a reply will be sent to them in due course.


When a date for the reply has been fixed the girl’s family will pay a return visit to the groom’s family equally with their alaga and the obligatory baskets of fruit etc. The procedure is much the same as the previous one.


Generally, these two occasions are much fun. But in all of this neither bride nor groom are present. Once I asked why this was so and I was told that it does not concern them! That the marriage was for the families and not just the two individuals involved!


After the letter carrying to and fro has been accomplished another date is fixed for a final meeting between the families before the big day. This is called “Introduction” and takes place in the girl’s family home. An agreement is reached on how many members of each family should be present, often not more than twenty, making a total of forty, but usually this number is exceeded because nobody wants to feel left out.


Preparations for this event start early in the morning. Seating has to be arranged, food has to be cooked and drinks chilled. Finally members of the household need to get dressed up in time to receive first their own family members and then those of the groom’s family.


When the groom’s family arrives, several female members of the girl’s family will go out to meet them to find out the purpose of their visit. They have to state their case but cannot enter yet. A wrapper is spread before them on the ground which they may not cross until some money has been placed on it. All is done in good humour because it is the tradition. After finally being allowed to enter, everyone is made welcome and seated according to seniority and importance. Drinks are served to start with, small chitchat is made for a while and then the visiting family start to introduce themselves, again in order of seniority. Then the girl’s family will do the same. Generally by this time everyone is much at ease, especially if the visitors brought along traditional drummers to liven up the occasion. Food is served and now the conversation becomes lively and a good time is had by all. Eventually the guests must go, but the extended family members of the girl stay on a bit to discuss a little more before finally taking their own leave.


What a long day! Now its back to the chores; tidying up, put furniture back in the proper place and get out of the finery, not necessarily in that order.


I forgot to mention that this visit too is accompanied by more baskets of fruit and what have you. As you can see the toing and froing is much. In the last few years the letter carrying, the reply and the introduction have been done in one go to save time and money, which is a good idea because life in the city is pretty stressful and hectic. So instead of three separate events only one is held. But to compensate this one event usually becomes a bit more lavish as to the hospitality offered as well as the gifts being brought. The main intent is for everyone to have an enjoyable time!


Now the big day is approaching and I will tell you all about it next time.

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