The marriage proposal

by Georgette Florence Koyt-Deballé

Poorest nation, richest nation (Issue III+IV/2018)

During the first holiday that Nago visited his grandmother’s village, he noticed a pretty girl at the healer’s. The girl was really attractive but because he was on foreign ground there was nothing he could really do about it. Bad behaviour had always ruined his chances.

He resolved to speak with his grandmother, who gave him valuable information as to how one went about proposing marriage in this village. He had not come to the village planning this so was clueless and didn’t know what he was supposed to do.  But if he didn’t make a proposal now, another suitor might have caught her before he was able to return next year. He advised his parents of his plans, so they could make an appointment with the family of their potential, future daughter-in-law. On the day of the appointment, he accompanied them but he did not say one single word.

The girl’s father asked: What was the purpose of this visit? One of his uncles rose to speak and said: “We would not have come here today without having a good reason. There is a beautiful young woman and our young man is creeping around her all the time. He cannot seem to make himself leave here. So we thought it was smarter to fetch her, so that he has no problems and can finally return home in peace.”

“Just like you, we are of the opinion that it’s better to prevent problems – they can cost a lot of money in maintenance.”

“We thought about those who brought her up and we want to know how to compensate you. We will come later to talk about the dowry but for now we would like to have a promise of marriage.”

“For that, you will have to ask her what she thinks. Her answer is also ours.”

The girl came forward. With eyes cast down, she said she couldn’t see any disadvantage to the idea, if her parents were also agreeable. And so her parents accepted the gifts and money that had been brought to seal the engagement.

The following year, Nago returned to the village. This time he had the right to visit his fiancée and he did not forgo that right. The couple used the time to get to know one another. As a single child, Nago discovered the joys of being surrounded by younger children. He had wonderful moments playing with his fiancé’s younger brothers and sisters. She was the second daughter of her father’s third wife in a family with 25 children. Nago treated the older siblings with respect, and accompanied them hunting, fishing and onto the fields.

As soon as he arrived, a date was made for the dowry-transfer ceremony. On that day members of his family came to his father’s fiancé, where they were welcomed by the whole family. After an exchange of courtesies, the oldest of the group said: “We left our treasure with you last year and we have now come to fetch her.”

“We have taken care of her.”

“Thank you for that. We have also thought about our obligations to you.”

He turned around and the other family members came forward with the expected gifts, placing them on a mat under the watchful eyes of the youngest uncle on the bride’s father’s side, who would pass them onto the family head. There were fabrics, a scarf and shoes for the mother, shoes and a suit for the father, a machete, a hoe, a spear, an axe, a bowl filled with smoked meat, smoked fishes, various vegetables, a box of matches, salt, sugar, coffee, a sack of manioc and another bowl with crockery. Other than that, they had also brought a goat, two chickens and a wicker bottle of palm wine.

After this, Nago’s uncle came forward and gave the head of the family an envelope filled with cash. He in turn gave the envelope to the oldest member of the family, who openly counted the money. “A hundred thousand CFA francs,” he stated before putting the money back in the envelope.

The women put their hands over their mouths and began to ululate with joy. “Yeeleelee, leelee, leelee, leelee!”

“Many thanks,” the head of the family said. “You may take your bride.”

The future bride, hidden in her father’s hut, was nowhere to be seen though. Her new sisters-in-law hurried into the house to get her but the room where she was being held was locked and guarded by an older woman, who would not let the bride to go. As is the custom, the sisters-in-law paid the female guard a bride price and she freed the way. And with this, the marriage was finalised.

The girl’s paternal aunts accompanied her to her husband’s side and drinks were served. In return, the bride’s family offered grilled kid, two large pots of food and various bottles, that the groom’s family took back to their own hut because his family and the bride’s family were not supposed to eat in the same place.

Both families celebrated separately. There was abundant food and drink. It was not long before the drums and the xylophone struck up and the dancing began. The bride celebrated with her new family. Nago’s grandmother was so happy that she even managed to dance a little, leaning on her walking stick. And Nago’s young bride danced so well, her soft shoulders had such rhythm that everyone said it seemed they had no bones in them. 

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