Engagement Party

While Steven was visiting, we were invited to an engagement party by a relative of Dorothy Njeuma. Steven has recorded the experience for you:

The master of ceremonies welcomed everyone to his house by saying (paraphrase): I want to welcome all of you to my house to partake of food and drink--no questions will be asked beforehand as to the intentions of your visit.  After completion of the feast, then you must allow me to inquire upon your intentions as to why you have come to my house.  After a feast of fried chicken, ndole, yams with spicy sauce, chicken and rice, fried and boiled plantains, a bitterroot vegetable dish, and maize, the traditional Bakweri ceremony began by having the man and his representatives seated on a make-shift dais.

The groom-to-be had two female and two male family members seated around him.  They served as his liaisons for the "evaluations" to come. The "skit" opened with the man's family announcing that they had traveled long distances in their search for a bride.  In their travels, they had seen many pretty girls, but that there was one in particular they would like to take home with them as a bride for their son.  The "matchmaker" said that she knew of many pretty girls, so she would bring each one out individually for them to inspect.

A procession of girls started, where the "matchmaker" brought out each woman for inspection and evaluation by the groom's representative(s).  Historically, the groom did not always know the bride in advance, so he and his representatives needed to choose the one they thought was the best.  In our case, however, the groom- and bride-to-be knew each other in advance.  There were many important actors for this skit.  The particular "matchmaker" for our ceremony was quite elaborate in her acting.  Since in traditional times travel was often involved in order for her to present bride candidates, our "matchmaker" would come back complaining about obstacles that required money to overcome--taxi fare, buying a car, buying an airline ticket, a car accident requiring her to see a doctor, etc.  The show continued for about an hour; it was often interrupted/inspired by comments and encouragement from the audience.  In fact, on a few occasions the "matchmaker" was getting tired from all of her travels, so she needed to be inspired with song and dance -- which the choir and audience gladly provided.

Finally, the "matchmaker" was able to find a suitable choice for the groom and his entourage.  At this time, as a thank you, the man's family presented the bride-to-be's father with a bottle of whiskey.  This was delivered by the daughter so that they could discuss the engagement.  After father and daughter mutually decided that she would be happy in her new settings, she returned with the "matchmaker" with a list of other items that would be required in order to finalize the agreement.  Such items in the past often included new clothes, purse, watch, etc so that she would be completely self-sufficient in her new household.  The "matchmaker" could then "seal the deal" on the bride-to-be's behalf since she would be able to report back to the family that all the conditions had been met.

At this time, our ceremony came to a close.  Historically, such a show could continue for several hours, and it would always end with much food, drink, singing, and dancing.  It was quite an enjoyable experience to witness the entire sequence of events and learn about the cultural history.  On a final humorous note, since Tom took many pictures of the actors during the skit, some would often pause in dramatic thought or repose in order to wait for the photographer to properly document the proceedings.