Having grown up in sunny South Africa, when I was contacted by Viga who hails from Kenya, and her husband-to-be Des who is also from South Africa – I knew that we would be speaking the same language (so to speak). Yes I learnt some Swahili too…
I initially met with Viga at their venue Hampton Manor in Solihull, for an informal no-obligation chat about their wish for a personal ceremony with an African influence. We clicked straight away! How lovely it was to talk about ‘pap en vleis’ (maize meal & meat – a staple part of an African diet), biltong (jerky), circles & robots (instead of roundabouts & traffic lights). We giggled, we reminisced and we eventually started talking about their ceremony, but not before we agreed to meet up for a home cooked meal – Viga offered up Des (not as a sacrifice I must add), but as the chef in the house – their kitchen is the heart of the family and he is at the core.
Without getting too deep, Viga & Des touched me even more so because of their perceived cultural differences, which for some, may be considered worlds apart, or even historically impossible. I’ll say it as it is: Viga is a black Kenyan, Des is a white South African. In putting together their love story, I came across a powerful and thought provoking Zulu proverb that we included in their ceremony:
“Love, like rain, does not choose the grass on which it falls.”
What does that mean? It means that love knows no reason, no boundaries, no distance. It has a sole intention of bringing people together to a time called forever….
Enough of the deep stuff already – what about their ceremony?!
Oh my – it was awesome – even if I say so myself! Bright colours, the bridal entrance to Game of Thrones (the groom’s choice of music), hymns, a rose ceremony, a heartfelt blessing by a family elder, a string quartet and Kisii tribal wedding traditions that included crowns, anklets, shells, a spear and a shield, plus more.
Excuse me – did you say a spear and shield?
Yup. I sure did – or in African terminology as we like to call it – an ‘assegai.’ If the pointy, shiny, sharp part that hurts is facing the ground – run like hell – that means war. If it is facing the sky – you’re OK – that’s a good thing and it means peace.
Care to elaborate?
In the run up to the wedding, I was very generously invited to join Mr & Mrs Mogere (the bride’s parents) who had flown in from Kenya, along with the happy couple and their delightful little girl for afternoon tea at Hampton Manor (which by the way – if you haven’t enjoyed the delights of this Michelin Star venue, then you are seriously missing out – their Afternoon Tea is an experience in itself). Anyway – back to the ceremony..
Viga & Des had a surprise Rose Ceremony planned for the two moms, but Viga’s parents had a surprise for the bride and groom too. They wanted to incorporate some Kisii tribal heritage & deep-rooted symbolic wedding traditions, but the happy couple were not to know the extent of the content. A wedding is naturally a celebration, but the fusion of husband and wife is a serious affair that demands lifelong commitment and responsibility, and in Kisii culture, it is a rite of passage, a change in social status, a new role. And it needs to be celebrated as such.
Viga & Des were evicted from the room; the parents and I continued in earnest.
Kisii Tribal Wedding Traditions
During this part of the ceremony, Viga & Des were asked to sit on separate chairs across the room, and the bride was the first to be addressed. Her mother, aunt and sister stepped forward while I had the honour of explaining the following Kisii customs:
For the bride:
- Viga was adorned with necklaces and bracelets to represent beauty, respect & dignity; love, generosity and a clean heart.
- A traditional leather crown was placed on Viga’s head. As a married woman she takes on a new status and role as the Queen of her household.
- A traditional leso/kanga is a vibrant piece of material that can be worn as a top, shawl, belt, cape or even as a headpiece. The most traditional method is worn like a skirt wrapped around your hips (compare it to an apron if you must). Symbolically it represents cleanliness and self-respect when working around the house and protects you from dirt.
- Traditionally, as a homemaker, Viga must prepare food to nurture her family, so she was presented with an ekee, a traditional woven bowl that represents food and wealth, but is also a sign of class and prestige.
For the Groom:
Then came the groom’s turn; he was dressed by his father, assisted by his father-in-law, and his best man.
- The groom is adorned with chains of shellsthat represents wealth and status.
- The placement of the Ekgore(crown) is a moment of true pride and dignity between father and son. This is the moment that the son is promoted to a higher status accompanied by responsibility and leadership. He is now permitted to sit amongst the elders and voice opinion.
- The groom is presented with a shield and spear, symbolic of protection, defence and a tool for hunting so that he can provide food.
- The groom is invited to sit on a traditional wooden three-legged stool, a seat of power from which he can now counsel and guide his family.
I know right?! Just how AWESOME was that?! And it was all captured on camera by Jonny Barratt. But there’s more! While Viga presented Des with a traditional wedding ring, he placed an anklet around her right ankle – comparable to the traditional Egetinge that a Kisii wife would wear – a permanent band of heavy decorative jewellery.
In a final symbolic gesture the new couple were wrapped in a blanket by both sets of parents. The blanket is symbolic of warmth, comfort and of two becoming one.
How lucky was I to be picked as their celebrant of choice and to partake in such a wonderful day? To top it all, I was gifted a beautiful dress to wear for the ceremony that indulged my inner African.
Once the ceremonial part of the day was over, the new Mr & Mrs Owens together with friends and family from the world over (including Aussies and Liverpudlians) continued the afternoon and evening with a lesson in Swahili (which you had to learn to find your table and place setting), much love, laughter, and a conga.
To Mr & Mrs Owens:
Thank you for making me a part of your journey, for making me feel like a part of your family, for your kindness, generosity, subsequent African hospitality and for becoming what I hope will be long term friends…. x
Fabulous Suppliers (that I know of):
Venue: Hampton Manor, whose flexibility as a wedding venue is second to none.
Photographer: Jonny Barratt whose creativity knows no bounds
String Quartet: Nero String Quartet who it is always a pleasure to hear; can adapt to any style and can knock out Game of Thrones, A Kiss to a Rose by Seal, Amazing Grace and a Whole New World without so much as a second thought.
Décor & Styling: The Bride and Groom
Cake:The Cake Spa
Dress: made by a dear family friend in Kenya, who I met at the wedding and who made my dress too. I felt like an African queen.