Monday, September 3, 2012

Week 2 - A Wedding in the North

Post by Leah Rosenstiel

On our second morning in Namibia we left for a wedding in the North and a trip to Etosha National Park. Most groups hear about the North before they visit it. We, on the other hand, went there knowing almost nothing and got to learn from what we saw and experienced. From what we saw, the North, everything above Etosha, is a mixture of rural farms, suburban housing and small metropolitan areas. We were staying near the city of Oshakati at the Ongwediva Rural Development Center.

We were told that about 50 percent of Namibians either live in the North or consider the North their home, even if they are living somewhere else for work. The wedding that we attended was between our history professor Romanus and Katarina. I was surprised by the fact that even though both of them live in Windhoek, they still have very strong ties to the North as they opted for a traditional Oshivambo wedding eight hours away from Windhoek so that their communities would recognize the marriage.

Though we only got a small glimpse of life in the North, I noticed a very strong sense of community and tradition. But there were also aspects of the wedding that felt very modern. The wedding took place over the course of two days. The first day was spent in the bride’s village of Okatana. The day began with a Catholic ceremony followed by the wedding reception. The wedding party looked like the wedding parties I have seen in the United States. The bride wore a modern white dress and her bridesmaids also wore very modern dresses. The groom and groomsmen all wore suits. Many of the older women attending the wedding, though, wore traditional Ovambo dresses or skirts. Though the service was not in English, it seemed similar to a Catholic Church service in the US.

The reception afterwards was also a mix of modern and traditional. The bride’s family had to allow the couple to come into the reception. This tradition suggests the important role that family and the community play in weddings. It is not just about the bride and groom but many people in the community have to accept the marriage. They were greeted by a parade of women dressed in traditional clothes, all of whom seemed very excited about the wedding. Once the bride and groom were welcomed in, members of the bride’s family talked about why they approved of the marriage, similar to toasts people might give at weddings in the US.  Then everyone moved into large tents for dinner.
Presentation of the wedding gifts during the reception

The next day there was another reception in the groom’s village. One of the big things I noticed during the receptions was the number of different people that participated. Even the bridal party helped serve drinks and get everyone seated. The participation of all of these people really made the wedding feel like a marriage of two communities and two families. That led me to believe that community is a large part of people’s lives in the North.

Overall, I really enjoyed attending this wedding. I think that many of the traditions we observed will provide a good background for the topics that we will cover in class. I also like that now when someone says that they are from the North, I will have a better idea of what that means. Being at this wedding gave us all a taste of how some people who live modern lives in Windhoek still have strong ties to tradition. I am not sure what other Namibian weddings are like but the combination of these two things seemed harmonious. I was also struck by how similar parts of this wedding seemed to American weddings. Going to Etosha National Park, where you see wild animals that only live in zoos in the United States, it is strange to think that there are so many cultural similarities.

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