Sunday, December 5, 2010

Wedding (pt. 1): Collecting your wife

[note: now with photos! 13/12/10]

A Nepali wedding, like most things in Nepal is exuberant, has the appearance of being shambolic, involves a large, complex web of relatives and takes on an organic life of its own. I've split this post up over a couple of days, partly because there's so much to mention and partly because I'm still recovering.

The basic format of the wedding was like most in Nepal. First, the groom's family walk from his family's house to the bride's family's house. There is a ceremony and then they return to the groom's place, or a party destination, to celebrate. As it was a country wedding, the walk from the groom's village to the bride's was a 6 hour walk up and down hills and the whole wedding went for two and a half days.

We joined the celebrations as the groom's party passed through our village at 4:30 in the afternoon. It was quite easy to tell when they arrived given they came with their own processional band:

There is nothing quite like a Nepali band. Comprising of a variety of woodwind instruments and percussion the noise is distinct. To the Western ear here is something distinctly atonal about the melodies – which meander around to a never-ending improvised tune. The party had left at 11 am that day, and there was much drinking and merriment along the way:

That guy clearly isn't drinking Sprite... it's like the guys hold the buck's party on the way to the wedding.

And so we set off with them. There was something distinctly magical about walking along the edges of terraced mountains as the sun set and the band played on.

The descent into the bride's village is one I've made before – it's steep, and the stairs are small and prone to slipperiness. Factor in that the sun had just gone down at there were few flashlights and it actually became a rather stressful walk. People who know me well know that I'm not great with stair-based situations (which is, of course, why I work in Nepal) and while I've gotten better negotiating paths around here this was particularly stressful. It amazed me that people were capable at negotiating the path and they weren't even sober.

We arrived at the bride's village at 6 pm. Several of the terraces had been given over to a massive mass-dining area, where people lined up and were fed in batches from giant pots. The process went on for over an hour, and was repeated again the next morning by the bride's family and again that evening and the following day by the groom's. I was surprised that I flummoxed them by not eating meat. It appeared that I was the only vegetarian among 300 Buddhist guests – but thankfully someone rustled up some daal for me. This was repeated for every meal for the rest of the wedding, and most people were mystified by my strange dietary preference. Most people here can't afford to eat meat more often than once a week or fortnight, so to pass up the rare opportunity seemed to them a folly.

While we were eating there were some formalities that were taking place. The groom and his family entered the bride's house, where the local Lama was waiting to bless them all. This happened again at the groom's house, and I got to watch that time. It appeared, on the whole, that these proceedings weren't actually that important to anyone but the immediate family and everyone else was much more interested in eating, dancing, singing and drinking.

Which is what we busied ourselves with too. Impromptu groups of singers would strike up a tune, and happily sing along to the same song for up to an hour. Some men and women would get up to dance, and they received money from the other guests. I'm not sure what the money was for, or where it went.

A friend had found a place for me to sleep, and given that there were several hundred people and not many beds I took the offer gratefully. I fell asleep to the sound of singing, and woke up throughout the night as singing gave way to drunken singing and then was joined by the crowing of roosters. They had partied all night and when I woke at 6 am some were drinking morning tea while others were starting the morning with more home-distilled alcohol.

We sat around, sang some more, visited friends in neighbouring houses, ate once again at the mass serving area and then took our leave ahead of the main party. They would catch us up in our village on their way back to the groom's house, but the kids needed to be sent to school and some of us needed a nap.

While that would be the end of a great party at home, it was only the first half of proceedings. The wife still needed to be taken to her new house, which will form the second part of the story tomorrow.

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