Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Saying “I do”

Pastor /Priest/ to the bride: Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and protect him, forsaking all others and holding only to him forevermore?
Bride: "I do".
There’s always a season for everything under the sun, says the Holy Bible. Now that the fasting time of the year is over, the big season is already well underway, once again – the period where many budding couples desperately waiting for … that day when this special bond between the two souls is instituted through tying the wedding knot after promising to become companions for a lifetime… the day when they would be able to say “I do”, witnessing to public. There’s no doubt about it, wedding ceremonies are in full swing and you can observe this at any corner of our major cities, specially, on weekends in the month of April. Indeed this is the season when the words “I do” are heard in churches all over the country and the weight of the promise resonates in the hearts of happy couples who want to devote themselves to a lifetime of love and happiness. Since most folks in Ethiopia are religious (or, at times, desire to be seen like other pious ones…you know, this is a culturally approved relationship) marriages are very commonly conducted in churches. Somebody said that marriages are made in heaven and celebrated on earth. I think this is true as it signifies the physical, mental and spiritual unison of two souls…the reason why most of the bonding ritual should take place in these shrines.
The institution of marriage is valuable to society as a whole, because it is the foundation of the family, which in turn is the fundamental building block of society. Many agree that marriages seem to be common across various cultures, ethnic groups, different colors, and religious boundaries with some possible variations here and there; hence, the underlying notion of marriage remains the same all over the world: it plays a crucial role in transferring the culture and civilization from one generation to the other, so that the human race is prospered. However, way of solemnizing it differs widely, depending on traditions and ways of life of that particular community. Despite some pecularities and ethnic distinctions, Ethiopian marriages are mostly a family affair in most cases and, therefore, involve the merging of two lives, two families, and sometimes even two communities! Therefore, they are often very elaborate, involving feasting and dancing for weeks, if not for months.
Alas, gone with the days for the unadulterated traditions of Ethiopian matrimony, except, of course, arranged marriages in most ethnic groups and major cities of Ethiopia, thanks to modern education (I don’t mean they have altogether disappeared, though). The number of early marriages, too, seem to have somehow declined in the last 10 years or so, according to recent reports, which is also a good news. Nevertheless, I believe a lot of advocacy work has to be done to bring about significant changes in these directions. Originally, arranged marriages, so they say, were meant to bring about “perfect” matchmaking, though, later they took different forms and I think it’s good that they’re gradually out of the picture, at least in our major cities. By the way, I wonder whether there’s any difference in our arranged marriages and the modern-day high tech ‘computer-dating’ or ‘love connection’ TV programs,… except that the latter are based on written high-tech data collection…otherwise, all seem to focus on kind of matchmaking, don’t they?.... Food for thought!!
Anyway, a marriage ceremony represents one of life's greatest commitments, and is also a declaration of love. Our efforts to part from this traditionally arranged marriage as well as the practice of early-age matrimony is totally laudable. In other words, it's encouraging to see a progressive transformation over the years in the Ethiopian wedding culture…I don't mean we should absoulutely opt the modern forms…(may be a little too early for that). Yet, I still have qualms as to whether we have seriously taken drastic steps in certain areas. Among these, the extravagant expenses that some squander for a single wedding day (which may later bring about discord and sorrow) is one concern; the respectable culture of sending shimaglewoch (elderly men sent by the groom to the bride’s parents, kith and kin, to inquire their willingness to accept the groom for marriage) has now become a superficial drama and, in fact, unnecessary. This is because it’s a foregone conclusion that nothing changes the scenario now even if parents disagree, unlike before. Yet, the practice is deeply stamped in people’s mind and they do this rite knowing that it’s not worth doing. I mean I don’t see why we shouldn’t leave that part altogether. I don’t want to throw cold water on the moment of bliss, but I must say we should have a sense of balance of our cultural rituals if we are to keep moving from the old to the modern ways.
Did I hear somebody say, “I do” …?
Pastor/Priest “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance unto you, and give you peace.”
Congratulations, you may kiss your bride!

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