Last weekend I attended several local celebrations in the village--a funeral, a tombstone unveiling and two weddings. Each of these events are very important in Tswana culture. (The area I live in is predominately Tswana. While there are some similarities between the various tribes in South Africa, they definitely all have their own distinct culture and origins.)
When I say that I attended the funeral and the tombstone unveiling, it was more that we stopped by to pay our respects and give well wishes to the family. But before we left both homes, we were offered a plate of food. The sharing of meals and food is very important. Very rarely do I visit someone's home without being given something to eat. The offering of food is more than just a welcoming gesture, but a chance for the person you are visiting to share a portion of what they have with you. It goes back to the idea of Ubuntu that I discussed in an early post--I am because you are also means I have and so I give.
After we paid our respects, we moved onto the home of the bride's family to help prepare the food for the wedding celebration. Thankfully it is the duty of the men to slaughter the cow and prepare it. My contribution was peeling and grating a ten pound back of carrots. At almost every celebration, a cow is slaughtered. Cows are a sign of wealth in the Tswana culture. Slaughtering a cow is a way for the family to share their joy or share their sorrow with their friends and neighbors.
After we had finished preparing the food, we took a portion of it to the house of the groom as an offering to the groom's family and the couple themselves. The mothers loaned me a traditional skirt that all of the female members of the brides family wore for the wedding. Everyone got a big kick out of the American in the traditional garb. We sang and danced all the way to the groom's home and then took part in more traditional songs and dances that the bride's family does to announce the arrival of the bride and their blessing. After which we sat and watched the proceedings and waited for the groom's family to give us the head of the cow they had slaughtered. The cow's head would come back with us to the bride's house.
We left the bride with the family of the groom, and the bride's family returned home to continue the celebration. The family of the groom and the bride only celebrate together for a brief amount of time.
Upon our arrival back at the bride's home, we dished up more food--I had eaten six times that day by this point--and continued the celebration.
The wedding on Saturday was a similar format but a much bigger wedding. The couple on Saturday had actually been married for about ten years but had never thrown a celebration for their friends and family. Sunday's wedding was a young couple who actually went through the full traditional wedding on that day. It was a much bigger celebration complete with a traditional dance group and lots of alcohol. At each celebration I have attended, I've noticed that there is always a circle of old men who by the end of the celebration are very, very drunk. It is custom here for men especially to drink a lot more than most of us would drink in the US. Alcoholism is definitely a huge problem that is enforced by so many factors like the high unemployment rate.
By the end of the weekend, I was very, very tired and didn't want to eat again for days. But I am glad that I had the opportunity to share in such a way with my community, and I enjoyed every minute of it.