Fransfontein Marriages

(Francois Dawids)

Introduction: Marriage Rituals in the Fransfontein Area

Marriage is generally associated with a coming together of two different people; two different worlds coming together to form a sense of oneness, unity, a unit. However different they might be, this coming together signifies a new unitary beginning for these two people, binding them to walk as one, talk as one, breathe as one. I am myself a happily married man. Here, I want to introduce you to how marriages are conducted in the Fransfontein area, between all the different groups of people. I want to ask in how far there exists a sense of unity in how people conduct their marriages.
Given the complexities of the marriage process we have changed the order of the columns for the following table 13. Unlike the other tables in the book, for a description of marriage processes it seems more comprehensive to start with the indigenous languages.

Khoekhoe Herero English-Explanation
!Gameb Orukupo Marriage
!Game-#gans Okuningira-orukupo Marriage-asking
!Uri-!heib Otjikaiva-otjiapa White-(head)cloth
Abba-gomas Katjivereko Cow given for being carried on back (to “abba” is to “carry-on-back”)
Reng-#nûis Okuvareka Engagement
//Âudib Omukandi Celebration
!Game-taras Omukaendu-uorukupo Bride
!Game-aob Omurumendu-uorukupo Groom
Strei-aon/ Mâ-!gâ-aon Ovakura menepo Best-men and women
!Hae-om #nûis Etuoromukupua Put in dark-room
!Gameb-#as Okuzepa Marriage-slaughtering
Kierierie-#gas Omahitiruo uomukaendu mondjuo Process by which woman is put in house through cheering and ululation (kierierie = ululate)
!Nau-i Otjize Red-powder from stone used as cosmetic-product, usually smeared on face and other parts as protection against the sun
#Gan-#ûis Omanyingiro uomukaendu The Asking-out
#Gui-/hamises Ombumba Referred to as “blaar-pens” in Afrikaans, intestines of the animal
#Gaus Otjiti tjevango Piece of bone from animal
/Hui-eis Okuizako otjikeriva Taking off the veil
Table 1: Marriage rituals in the local languages

As with most indigenous groups in Sub-Saharan Africa, the people of Fransfontein usually have rituals that precede the actual wedding. These rituals are a way of ‘testing’ the future husband and wife, so as to ensure a lasting ‘happily ever after’. These rituals can vary from rich to poor. During these rituals, the two people thinking of getting married are put through sometimes rigorous activities, tasks bequeathed unto them by their respective in-laws. In the Khoekhoe-language, marriage is referred to as “!gameb”, and in the OtjiHerero-language is called “orukupo”.
In the Khoekhoe-language, we have a proverb about marriage. It says: “!Gameb ge ha-//ama tama. !Gameb ge #ôure tama, !gameb ge #aroreba.” Directly translated, this means: “Marriage is not like buying a horse. Marriage is not an easily-picked fruit tree. It is like a thorn-bush.” What is meant by this? Buying a horse is usually a fairly easy process, anybody can do it but this process cannot be compared to marriage; marriage is a very tough process. The ‘#ôure’ bush is a small bush filled with little edible fruits that one can get very easily but the ‘#aroreb’ is a thorn-bush, usually called a 'wag-n-bietjie-bos' in the Afrikaans language that is filled with many little thorns. Eating the little fruits from the thorn bush is very difficult. By the time one has acquired those fruits one has gone through a very painstaking process; much like picking roses, but even a little harder! Similarly, one elder compared marriage to working leather: “This is like when you work leather, you stretch it and press it and rollit up again, then roll it out again, smoothen it, then you know that it will be the best leather in the world and it will make very long-lasting shoes for you.”
Table 14 describes the different marriage stages, their location and their timing. The paragraphs following table 15 will describe the various stages in detail.

Event Ideal point in time Location
The Asking-ritual and Handing-over of the woman The starting day for this would, according to tradition, usually be during the beginning of the working week, ideally a Monday; but most Asking-rituals these days have shifted to Wednesdays and will last until Saturday. Woman’s family’s house
The Engagement This is usually done on a Saturday evening, so the woman can be put in the house on the following Sunday (seldom practiced). Woman’s family’s house
After the engagement some families wait for several months with the wedding celebration
The House-sitting/ “Kierierie-#gas”(putting bride in the house with ululation) Sunday Woman’s family’s house
The Slaughtering Usually done very early on a Friday morning. The slaughtering usually takes place at both houses, with the man bringing his cow to the woman’s house, and vice versa.
The Wedding Always on a Saturday Church
The Reception Always on a Saturday Usually done in a big hall-like building so as to accommodate all the invited guests.
Taking off the veils Saturday Woman’s family’s house
The Asking-out Always on a Sunday Woman’s family’s house
Table 2: An exemplary order of marriage events

Rituals Events preceding the Wedding

The Asking-Ritual

The Asking-ritual is often referred to as the ´opening-the-door´ process. In Khoekhoe, this process is called the ‘!gameb-#gans’ or just the ‘#gans’, loosely translated meaning ‘Marriage-Asking’ or just ‘Asking’. In Herero it is ‘okuningira orukupo’.
This is where the husband’s family will ask for the wife’s hand, to marry her off to their son. It might be a different process for other groups in other areas, but for the people living within Fransfontein, things are done much the same way, whether it is a Damara/Nama wedding, a Damara/Herero wedding, a Herero/Nama wedding, or just two people from the same group getting married, the process follows much the same pattern I am describing here. It is as most Herero people I interviewed put it: “We also have our own traditions and cultures, but since we have been living for so long amongst the Damara/Nama people, we have also adapted to their traditions, and we do the same things they do. We also use some of our own traditions, but mostly we do things as you do them, so as to bring a sense of uniformity.” To me, this is a sign of a compromise.
Fig 1: Elders during the asking ritual
The reason for the Asking is given by one local grandmother, Mrs. Emma !Aebes, maiden-name Pienaar: “For these two different families, the man’s family and the woman’s family, to get to know each other, so if there are problems in the future, the people will know whom to go to. It is also for the man and the woman to show remorse for living in sin with each other, and for the couple to ask for forgiveness for this sin.“. The asking-ritual is an initiation ritual for the soon-to-be-married couple.
It starts with the man’s family coming to the woman’s family’s house. If the couple has been staying together, the woman must be returned to her family’s house. In the old days and sometimes today, when the woman is returned to her family, the man’s family will usually bring a sort of ‘peace-offering’, so as to appease the woman’s family and to ‘open-the-door’ for the process to start. This ‘peace-offering’ consists of a white-cloth called the “!uri-!heib” in Khoekhoe and “otjikaiva otjiapa” in Herero. Inside this white-cloth, the man’s family will put some basic necessities such as sugar, tea, coffee, maize-meal, candles, matches, salt, tobacco and some alcoholic beverage. The tea/coffee and the sugar is later used to ‘test’ the woman, in the sense that she must prepare some hot beverages for her future in-laws to demonstrate that she is a worthy house-wife.
After this, the man’s family goes back to their house and returns to the woman’s house the next night. The Asking is held in such a way that on the next Sunday following the Asking, the wife should be put in the house. However, many families separate the Asking and Engagement from the Wedding by several months. I will elaborate on the ‘house putting’ in more detail below.
In the past, the Asking would take as much as up to a whole month. Amongst some Herero people, this is still the case. But the Herero and Damara/ Nama people from Fransfontein have watered-down the process a little bit. Now it only takes a week or half a week.
After returning the woman, the man’s family will return the next night. They come to the gate of the woman’s family. They may not enter the yard without permission from the wife’s family. They will stand outside, begging and pleading to be let in for up to as much as three hours, but they will not give up. Sometimes this might also affect the man, as he will get impatient, but the elders from his family will encourage him to be strong and to persist. While all this is happening, the woman is usually sitting in the house, concealed in some part of the house so as not to be seen by the man’s family, or anyone else for that matter. When they are finally let in, the man’s family will go into the yard (very cautiously, because they don’t know what other surprises lie in store for them), and go and sit in front of the woman’s family, on the ground. Sitting in front of them, on the ground, is a way of subordination, a sign of humiliation. This, the man’s family believes, will ease the process a little. The woman’s family will them douse all the lights in the house (that were on the whole time until the man’s family arrived). They will ask the man’s family to provide light to be able to start with the Asking process. The man’s family will have a big problem if they don’t have some sort of light, be it some candles and matches, or any other sort of lighting! They will be sent home immediately and the process will only continue the next day. After they have provided the light, they will then go and sit in a circle, on the ground, before the woman’s family. The woman’s family will then sit in a circle around the man’s family. The asking will then start in earnest.

As I have mentioned, for the Herero people, this process might take up to as much as a whole month, but for the Damara/Nama people, it only takes a week, or half a week. During the asking, the man’s family will plead their case, but the woman’s family will refuse their demands. The woman’s family will mention all the risks involved for them handing over their daughter to total strangers. They will even go as far as saying that their daughter is not worth being a house-wife because she does not even know how to cook, how to clean a house etc. Sometimes, it can get out of hand a little, with some unnecessary comments from the woman’s family, humiliating the man’s family, but all this is just for the sake of tradition. Through all this, the man’s family will not protest, they will endure, and say things like: “Besides all that, we still want your daughter, dear elders and family of ... (woman’s name.)”. This process will repeat itself for the whole week, the man’s family coming during the night and the woman’s family refusing them.
In the old days, people would hand-over the woman on a Friday, so that, on the Saturday, the Engagement-party can take place but most Asking-rituals I have attended, the woman is handed-over Saturday evening.
On that Saturday, there is usually a happy, festive mood amongst the ‘givers and the askers’, because both parties know that this is the last day, the day that the woman will be handed over. However, none will show the other that they are happy. They will just keep to themselves. During the last two days, Friday and Saturday, the asking-process can last until midnight. They do not sit inside a house or some form of protection from the cold, but outside in the cold, under the African skies.
When, usually on a Saturday, it is finally time to hand-over the woman, the man’s family will arrive again at the woman’s family’s house. After they have begged, again for hours on end, the woman’s family will then say: “OK, you are looking for (woman), we will now send (one member from the woman’s family) to go and look for (woman.)”. This person from the woman’s family will then go into the house. She might come out (deliberately) two or three times with the wrong woman. The man’s family will then say; “No, that is not (the woman) we are looking for. Give one person from us (man’s family) a chance to go and look for her inside the house.” The member, usually a woman, from the man’s family will then go into the (woman’s family’s) house and search for the woman. This person will then come out with the woman, and the man’s family will ululate and cheer in joyful unison, celebrating the fact that their sweat and pleadings have been so graciously rewarded (and also sighing with relief.)
The woman will then be seated in the middle of the two parties: i.e. the 'givers' and the 'askers'. She will then be asked many questions, like a test, with questions like: “(Woman), these people have come looking for you, they are claiming they want to marry you off to their son. Do you know these people? How do you know them? Are you willing to (serve) them? Will you be capable of doing this? Will you not tire later and run away? Will you stay with this man? Will you take care of his family? His old mother, grandmothers, sisters, brothers etc.? Are you ready to get married?”
Of course, the woman will answer ‘yes’ to all of the above, with the man’s family encouraging her to be strong through all this. The woman’s family will then ask: “To whom must we give (the woman)?”. There has to be a specific person to whom the women must be handed over (so as to know who to go to when problems surface within the marriage). Usually, an elder, married woman will be given this task, and she will stand up and take the woman and hug her. The same process is then done with the man. After this, the man’s family will be given a chance to make a final statement, and they will proceed by thanking the whole family of the woman for entrusting them with their daughter.
Then, and this is also something that has come a long way in our tradition, the woman’s family will go and take a new enamel cup, with no marks whatsoever (bought specially for this occasion and preserved), and give it to the woman from the man’s family who has been entrusted with the soon-to-be-bride. They will then ask the elderly lady: “Do you see that cup you are holding? How does it look to you?” The lady will then describe the cup, using words like ‘new’ and ‘no marks’ etc. The woman’s family will then say: “Picture (woman) as that cup. We have handed her over to you with no marks whatsoever, without being damaged. The day that you return her to us, let her be as that cup is now; without marks (not being damaged).”.
Then there is also the process of giving the ‘abba-gomas’, as it is referred to in Khoekhoe. 'Abba' means to carry someone on your back in Khoekhoe. As a child, the woman was carried by her mother or another family-member on the back. ‘Gomas’ is a cow. The man’s family is then told that they must hand-over a cow to the woman’s family for all the years that she has been ‘abba’ by her family, or been taken care of. This is a compulsory process for every marriage in the Damara/Nama/Herero set-up. In Herero they call it “katjivereko”. People who are familiar with the South African cultures, traditions and norms, will recognize this practice, because in isiXhosa this is referred to as “lobola”. Usually the cow has to be given before the wedding takes place; otherwise there should be no wedding. But the chains have come a little loose on this process. A cow costs about N$3 000 (exchange rate to one US Dollar December 2006: 6.9 Namibian Dollars).This is very difficult considering that the man and his family are in charge of providing everything for the Asking-ritual and the Engagement-party. Nowadays, the ‘abba-gomas’ can even be handed-over after the wedding, whenever the man has gotten together enough finances to acquire it. Also, when the man and the woman have had children during their living together (out-of-wedlock children), the man must hand-over one or more goats, to ‘wash-away’ this ‘stain’ that he has put upon the woman. Some people say that the ‘abba-gomas’ is also used to maintain the children that were born before the marriage, the children then living with the family where the cow has been left. This would allow the man and the woman to ‘start a new life’, without the ‘interference’ of the children. In the past, the children would be put as previously mentioned, but nowadays, the children just stay with the newlywed couple, even though the ‘abba-gomas’ has been delivered. During one Asking, one person remarked: “But why doesn’t the man’s family also get an ‘abba-gomas’? He has also been carried on the back and been supported by his family!”.
After all these negotiations have been finalized, the next day, or even on the day of the ‘handing-over’, the food and drinks that have been prepared will be brought out, with some tables and chairs and decorations for the table. Now, the Engagement-party will begin.

The Engagement

The Engagement-party is important for many reasons, but two specific reasons stand out: The date of the wedding is usually set at the Engagement and during the Engagement the soon-to-be-bride will be ‘marked’ by her future husband, i.e. the Engagement ring will be put on the woman’s finger. In Khoekhoe this process is called the “Reng-#nûis”, meaning “putting-on-the-ring”.
Fig 2: Putting the engagement ring
After everything (food, drinks etc.) has been prepared, the Engagement commences. At the beginning, a Master of Ceremony (or Mistress) will be selected to head the program for the night. It is his/ her duty to see that the event is done in an orderly fashion. He/ She will then proceed by asking selected choirs to sing and dance for the happy couple. The respective families, or anyone else, will be asked to say a few encouraging words to the couple. The couple is usually seated so as to face the crowd that has come to witness this happy celebration. The couple will then be asked to stand up, and the man will be handed the ring, and some other accessories, such as ear-rings, a bracelet, a watch and a necklace, depending on what he has been able to afford. The man will then proceed by putting these items on the woman’s body. He will start with the ring, then the watch and then everything else. While the man is putting on these things, it is compulsory that he says something. When he puts on the ring, he will say
something like: “(Woman), with this ring, I mark you as my wife, so that you can be mine only, and so this will be a sign to other men (or anyone else) that you are already taken.” With the watch, he will say something like: “(Woman), this watch signifies time in our marriage, that we have to be on time with things in our marriage, go to church on time, come home from work on time, prepare food on time etc.”. And with the rest of the accessories, he will just remark that he is beautifying the woman, so she can look beautiful always. Then he will kiss the woman.
After each item’s placing the crowd will usually ululate and cheer in celebratory mood. Once this process has been completed, the Master of Ceremony (MC) will ask someone to deliver a song or message, so as to give the two people time to calm their nerves (because by now they are very nervous, hell, my knees were rattling when I did this.) The MC will then ask the couple to proceed by opening the champagne. The couple will do this, with the crowd cheering them on. There is also a sense of competition during this ritual, because it is widely believed that whoever gets out the cork first, is a winner in all respects. When they have opened the champagne, the couple will then drink from their glasses in reciprocity, with the woman letting the man drink from the glass she has poured, and vice versa, simultaneously. Usually the couple has to be very careful during this. Otherwise the fancy clothes they are wearing for this special occasion will have a permanent stain. It’s not an easy task to let someone drink while you are also drinking from that person’s glass at the same time. This is only for people who are good at multi-tasking. My wife still has a stain on her Engagement-dress, and every time she opens the cupboard and looks at that dress, I make sure I get out of the room as fast as my two (short) legs will allow.
After the champagne, the couple can now finally be seated (and calm their nerves), with the food being served first, and thereafter the drinks. The people will now go into full celebratory-mode, with singing and dancing, ululation and cheering. Meat plays a very integral part in the lives of the people from Fransfontein, so it is befitting that meat makes up the main course. When finally the party is finished, the people from the woman’s family and the man’s family will stay behind, so as to decide on a date when the wedding will take place.

The House-Sitting

In Khoekhoe, this is called the “!hae-om #nûis”, meaning to put-in-a-dark-room/house, or also referred to as the “kierierie-#gas”. “Kierierie” is when the women ululate in joy when they have finally found a woman for their son, and “#gas” means “to put in (side)”, hence the name. After Sunday church, the man’s family ululates in celebration, they take the woman, place a veil over her face so as to cover her, and then bring her out of the church, after which, more ululation, singing and dancing before the woman is put into a car and driven to her family’s house. The reason why the man’s family brings out the woman and prepares everything for her is because the woman is now their responsibility. The woman has been ‘handed-over’ to the man’s family during the last stage of the Asking. This process (“kierierie-#gas” or “!hae-om #nûis”) usually takes place one week before the wedding, on a Sunday. However, as time goes by, things also change. According to Fransfontein tradition, the woman has to be put in the house on the Sunday preceding the wedding on Saturday. She should sit for one week but nowadays, the woman is sometimes put in the house on Wednesdays. Why Sunday and Wednesday? A majority of the weddings taking place within Fransfontein are done in the Evangelical Lutheran Church which usually conducts its services on these two days: Wednesday the prayer and Sunday a mass. Since the wife has to be put in the house from church, only these two days can be utilized.
In the old days, after the Engagement, the couple had to wait at least three months before the actual wedding. This was another test. Its main aim was to test the man and the woman to see if they are strong enough to go through with their initial decision to get married. It was a test to see if they would fall victim to any temptation during this period and whether they would stay faithful to each other.
Fig 3: Escorting the bride into the house
Now, bearing in mind the above-mentioned one has to remember that during the Asking and the Engagement, the woman has been handed over to her own family. The man goes back with his family, and the couple has to stay separate before they get married. Nowadays, not every couple keeps to this timeline. Some get engaged on a Saturday and the next day, Sunday, the woman is put in the house, thus keeping them apart only for two weeks at the most, i.e. the week of the Asking and the week that the women sits in the house.
The reason for the House-sitting according to one married woman, Mrs. Lorraine Nerongo, is “to keep the woman in a safe place before her big day, so no harm can come to her. It is also to make the man long for her.”
During this period, the woman is put in a dark-room in her family’s house. During my research, I attended the wedding of Mr. Simon /Uiseb and Mrs. Theresia ''Amatite'' /Uises, born !Aebes. One of the ladies from the man’s family, the woman to whom the future bride had been handed-over to during the Asking, stepped on the woman’s feet and said: “So, Amatite, now you must sit at home, with these two feet of yours, you must not go around and make trouble, you must put these two feet of yours to good use.”.
If the room is not dark enough, it will be arranged to make it dark, by way of putting up suitable curtains in the room, so as to darken the room. The room is also decorated to give it a more feminine feel. The woman then sits in this room, in the dark, without coming out and no one is allowed to see her during this time.
The only persons allowed inside this room will be an elderly lady from her family and one member of the man’s family, usually a sister of the man. This particular sister is tasked with coming to see if her future sister-in-law is in good condition, prepare food for her future sister-in-law, and bathe her. She is responsible for the overall well-being of the woman during this period. The woman’s family may not lift a finger to help the woman, though sometimes they do help the woman with some things. This ritual is observed as a test towards the man’s family and siblings whether they will be able to ‘bear’ the woman, whether they will not get tired of her easily and quickly.
This ritual is usually started on a Sunday and ends on the Saturday of the wedding. After the woman has been put in the house, the man will go back to his family’s house. Each house will start preparing for the wedding now.

The Slaughtering

During the week that the woman is put in the house, there will be music, singing and dancing at the two respective houses, the man’s and the woman’s. The woman will be visited everyday with food from the man’s house. When the lady that takes care of the woman arrives at the woman’s family’s house, the women (from the bride’s house) will ululate and cheer, so as to alert the house that someone has arrived. Even if a car pulls up, it will blow its horn and the people will ululate.
On Friday morning, it is time for the big occasion to start. The cows from the respective houses will be slaughtered, one cow for each house. This process is referred to as “!gameb-#as” in Khoekhoe, and in Herero it is called “okuzepa”. The people will wake up as early as 5 o’clock in the morning and start preparing. In the old days, the people were used to slaughter that early, but as I have said before, things change so much that these days some cows are slaughtered even when the sun has already come out. This is something that the old people did not practice. Their belief was that they must do everything before the sun comes out so that other people cannot see what they are doing.
After tea and food has been prepared and eaten, the man’s family will be the first to take their cow to the woman’s house. To control the cow its legs will be tied together. It will then be led to the woman’s house, amid cheering and ululation. Until arriving at the house, the process is much the same for all the ethnic groups in Fransfontein. Then things vary slightly for the different ethnic groups. In the Damara/ Nama setup, when arriving at the house, the man will run, stab the cow and run into the house, all this happening whilst the other men are holding the cow down. The reason why the man must run into the house is that the woman’s family will be standing in a line through which he must run, all the while avoiding the jokingly hitting from them. The Herero man, however, has to strangle the cow with his knees, as in push in the throat of the cow.
Fig 4: Hanging the meat up after slaughtering
The rest of the men, who had been holding the cow, will then proceed by slaughtering and cutting of the different parts of the meat, hanging it onto hooks that have been especially prepared for this occasion. More dancing and singing and joyous celebrations will follow, while the cow is being slaughtered. After the meat has been put up, the people will gather again, and two women will be chosen: one from the man’s side (who brought the cow) and one from the woman’s side. They will be handed the insides of the cow, usually the belly or the intestine with many “pages”, called the “#gui-/hamises” in Khoekhoe and “ombumba” in Herero. Their task is to pull apart this particular intestine. The one who has the biggest part in the end is the winner (no prizes though, just pride at stake here). The dung that has come from this is then trampled on and danced on by the people present. After this, the people will then gather at the tree/place where the meat has been put up, and the man’s family will present the meat to the woman’s family by describing piece by piece every single meat that is there. Sometimes goats are also slaughtered, whether alone if a cow has not been brought, or together with the cow. The man’s family then returns to the house and waits for the woman’s family to come with their cow. The woman’s family will then bring their cow in the same fashion as the man did, although the woman will not stab the cow or run into the house. A brother will stab the cow for her. He will not run inside the house. No one is allowed to see the woman until the day of the wedding.
After the slaughtering ritual has been completed, the ladies from the respective houses will take all the food that has been bought for this special celebration to prepare it. The soft-drinks and alcohol will be put in a large freezer, together with the meat and the different salads that have been prepared. Friday comes to an end and the next day will be the big, big day.

The Wedding

The Church Wedding

Feeling very happy on this day, although they have a very hard night of partying behind them, everyone will now start to prepare for the big day. At the man’s house one will hear a lot of sounds, cheering and ululation. At my own wedding, I had to wake up at five in the morning, so as to prepare sufficiently. Everybody was running around here and there, this one looking for his trousers, that lady over there wanting the beer that she put in the fridge last night so she can recover from her hang-over (and headache), my brother looking for his iron so he can iron his clothes. My brother is one of the many best-men that I have picked to walk behind me. These people, walking behind the bride and the groom, are called the “strei-aon” or “mâ-!gâ-aon” in Khoekhoe and “ovakura menepo” in Herero. After getting dressed in the very best attire they could lay their hands on, the families and guests will then move to the church grounds.
At the woman’s house, the bride will get up and food will be prepared for her (although most of them don’t even touch the food because of all the butterflies in their stomachs or due to one or another diet that they have been keeping to, so as to fit into that beautiful dress). She will then sit and wait, because the things she is supposed to wear, the dress and everything, is usually bought by the man’s family and kept with the man’s family. They will come, dress her and make her beautiful. The ladies, who are the “strei-aon” of the woman, will also be getting ready. Usually, and I am saying this from own experience and from attending a lot of weddings, the man is the first one who is ready and the first one at the church grounds. I was playing photographer at one wedding, when the bride was so late, the priest and I had to go to the house and make her sign the marriage register there. The register was needed at another service. As one of my aunts put it during my wedding when I got a little impatient: “We have to wait, Francois, otherwise no wedding will take place without the bride.” Very true indeed, the bride is the most important person that day. And she is the prettiest, too.
When the bride finally arrives, the guests and other people will be ushered in and the service will start. The couple is usually seated in front of the whole congregation, facing the altar. There is always some confusion as to who must sit on the left or right hand side. The pastor will then give his/her message, bless the couple, read them their rites and join their hands. There are usually a lot of cameras flashing and video-cameras rolling. The couple will then be asked to place the rings on each others fingers and say few words as accentuation, while doing this. They will then be asked to sign the marriage-register and will again sit in their places. They will then be asked to stand and face the congregation and introduce themselves. The woman has to use her new married surname. It is usually a very joyous atmosphere, a very spiritual and happy one, filled with love. The man will then be told: “You may kiss the bride.” They will now be declared husband and wife, or as in Khoekhoe '”!game-aob” and “!game-taras”. In Herero they are now declared “omurumendu uorukupo” and “omukaendu uorukupo”.
Fig 5: Putting the wedding ring
Mass will then be concluded, and the pastor and the rest of the congregation will leave the church first. Then, the two newlyweds will come out, followed by their entourage. When coming outside, they will be bombarded with rice or confetti. The couple will go to a special car, with a chauffeur, followed by their entourage. The next stop will be to take photos of the happy couple together with their entourage of “strei-aon”, usually at a very scenic place. Here in Fransfontein, if pictures are not taken at the fountain, then it will be at Traditional Councilor Festus !Aseb’s house, which has a very beautiful garden. If you look at our wedding pictures, you will see the proof.
After that, the couple will walk all the way to the man’s house. The reason for this is that while they are walking, the people must throw money on the ground if they want the couple to get moving. If not, the couple will just stand there. The little flower-girl and her partner are tasked with picking up the money and put it in a special basket.
When they come to the man’s house, food and drinks will be served to the guests. Then the same process will be repeated for the woman’s house. Meanwhile, while the people have been at church, the rooms and houses have been specially taken care of and kept neat and tidy. After they are finished at the woman’s house, the guests will then go and get themselves ready for the reception. Most receptions usually start from 6 o’clock onwards.

The Reception

The name of this process in Khoekhoe is “onthals”, derived from the Afrikaans word “onthaal” meaning “reception”. The starting time of the reception depends on how much time the photo-shoot and the “money-throwing” take. The longer these last, the later the reception will start.
Fig 6: Main table at the reception
The reception is always held in a hall that should be big enough to accommodate guests that can number up to approximately 60-100 people, depending on how many guests have been invited.
When one approaches the hall one can see that the guests have already arrived before the couple. They are sitting outside, chatting, their neatly wrapped presents in front of them. Usually on the invitations it is clearly stated that no children or dogs will be allowed inside the hall. However, this rule is seldom followed. The hall has been decorated beforehand while the couple is still attending their weeding mass. Most of the foods, especially the salads, have been prepared the previous night. The rest of the food is prepared during the wedding day morning. Two entrance guards are then appointed, one from the man’s side, and one from the woman’s family, their task being much like that of the bouncers you find outside clubs: only people with invitations are let in, although at many a wedding this rule has been cast aside. Almost everyone is now family to each other. You cannot let a family-member stay outside on this special day.
Finally, the couple arrives. The guests are now signaled to step inside. They clutch their presents in one hand and the invitation in the other hand. They are queuing up with their partners. Every invitation allows for two persons: you and your partner. One entrance guard is looking very strictly at the invitations and the faces, and the other is registering everyone. The guests now enter the hall, their eyes bedazzled by all the “glitz and glamour” inside, the lights blinding them, because they have waited for so long outside in the dark. As they enter, they see that all the tables have been put up on opposite sides of the walls, and in the middle there is an opening. At the end of this opening, we can see the beautifully decorated main table. There, the newlywed couple and their entourage will be seated. In front of this table stand the wedding-cake and other accessories. The guest tables are also beautifully decorated, with sweets, other delicious snacks, serviettes and toothpicks.
When all the guests have come in they are asked to stand up to welcome the newlyweds. The couple then enters the hall, and everybody starts cheering and clapping and singing and ululating, a very joyous, organized-chaos kind of atmosphere. The couple comes walking through the middle of the tables, along this special opening that has been created for them. There is a variation of styles concerning the entrance of the couple: some couples come in dancing, others just come in ordinarily and a third group will come in serenaded by choirs or cultural-groups.
The couple and their entourage then move to their table and sit down. Nobody sits down before the couple has taken its seats. Then the entourage follows and finally the guests sit down.
Fig 7: Party food
After the couple has sat down, the Master of Ceremony (MC) takes over. A prayer is said, usually done by a church-council member. The guests look into the faces of their fellow guests sitting at the table. One can read the anticipation there, be it for the evening’s proceedings, be it for the refreshments that will come, be it for the newlywed couples antics. The ladies who will be the waitresses for the evening are then asked to come and stand in front of the guests and introduce themselves. After the introduction they go into the kitchen to prepare the cutlery and everything else.
The MC then asks several people to say a few (and I emphasize few, because by now everyone is very tired of all the speeches and just want to party hard) encouraging words to the couple. One can hear loud music in the background, ranging from traditional music to kwaito to hip-hop. The couple is then asked to perform a dance for the guests. Music is then played and the couple shows its best moves, much to the amusement of the guests. At Mrs. Theresia /Uises’ reception, for the first time I saw a detachable wedding-dress. When in church, you could see that the dress was just an ordinary wedding-dress, long and flowing. But when she had to dance at the reception, the lower part of the dress was taken off, and there she stood: dancing in a knee-high wedding-dress. Well, I thought I had seen it all, but this took the cake (not the wedding-cake though).
After showing their (not so agile) dancing-moves, it is time for the champagne. By now, the food has already been served to everyone, and the guests are munching away while witnessing all of this. Depending on how rich or poor the marrying couple’s families are champagne will be served either on every table or only on the main table. Like at the engagement, during the opening of the champagne there is always a competitive spirit. The couple is cheered on by the guests, as they start opening the bottles. The couple has to drink the glasses of champagne in reciprocity, with the man letting the woman drink from the glass that he poured, and vice versa.
After this, a performance is given by a cultural-group or choir. The couple is sitting and eating. You can barely hear anything above the noise and the clatter of the cutlery against the dishes and the loud conversations. After the food is finished, the drinks are brought in and handed-out to the invited guests sitting at their respective tables. The handing out of the drinks usually signifies the beginning of the end, in the sense that it is usually the last event on the program for the guests. As the people start enjoying their various beverages, the married-couple will then prepare to leave. They will be cheered and ululated at as they make their retreat. The guests will then be left to themselves as the couple will go home to the woman’s house to engage in one more ritual before the end of the evening.
What is one of the most important things about the reception is to find a suitable venue that can accommodate all the invited guests comfortably. Regardless of all these problems (ask me, I had a lot of them), everything always turns out perfectly. Writing this, I think back to my wedding, when all these problems were almost too much for me to bear, Dr. Julia Pauli would always, and every time, reassure me and say: “Don’t worry Francois, everything will turn out fine, and you will look back at all this and smile.” . These were very true words indeed, because today, I look back at all these things and really do smile, now that it is a distant memory only, but also a very pleasant memory in retrospect.

Taking off the Veil

After returning from the reception, the couple will then proceed to the man’s house. They will be seated at a table prepared especially for them. The elders will sit around them, and they will be asked questions and given advice on life in general. Although the veil has been taken off during the reception, the whole contraption will now be removed from the head of the woman. She will then be asked questions, e.g. what her new surname is and who her husband is.
All of the elders will then be given a chance to say something to the couple, be it encouragement or criticism. The couple will listen attentively, with the aim being to build a strong foundation for their married life. This is called the “/hui-eis” in Khoekhoe, and “okuizako otjikeriva” in Herero.

The Asking-Out and Cutting of the Cake

The next morning, on the Sunday, after the wedding on Saturday, the couple is woken up early in the morning. The families come together at the woman’s house. This is the day that the woman will be asked to come and stay, formally, with her new husband at their home. This process is called the “#gan-#ûis” in Khoekhoe and “omanyingiro uomukaendu” in Herero. “#Gan-#ûis”, directly translated, means “asking-out”. It is called thus because on this day, the man’s family, for the last time and formally, has to “ask the woman out” to come and stay with their son. This is also the day on which the presents for the couple will be opened.
There is a certain piece of the two slaughtered cows that is cooked especially on this day, called the “#gaus” in Khoekhoe and “otjiti tjevango” in Herero. The bone from this piece, which connects the front and the back part of the animal, is kept just like that, with only the meat being taken off from it, until it is “bare to the bone.” This bone is then smeared with some red powder that has been extracted from a red stone mixed with some fat. This red-powder, called “otjize” in Herero and “!nau-i” in Khoekhoe is usually used as a sun-screen and beauty-product by the local women. Only people who are married are then allowed to eat from this meat when it is ready to be eaten.
While all this is going on the man’s family will be seated together with the woman’s family. The woman will then be asked to prepare some tea or coffee for her new in-laws, to test if she will be able to handle this task. During this process, it is also observed who she will give the first tea-cup that she has prepared to. If she hands this cup to her future husband, a cry of ululation will erupt from the on-lookers, as this will prove that the woman is worthy of marrying this particular man, and that she puts him first in her life. Then she will hand the rest of the cups first to her in-laws and then later to her own family. This will prove that she has accepted her in-laws as her new family. During our wedding, because I am also from the Riemvasmaker group, which is originally from South Africa, my wife and I had to also cut a piece from the rib of a goat. This signifies the rib which was taken from the man to create the woman, as described in the Holy Bible. This is part of the Riemvasmaker tradition.
The wedding-cake is then brought out to be cut. Like the “#gaus” only married persons are allowed to eat from the wedding-cake. The cake is served with some tea. After they have finished with eating, the couple is then taught about the ways of life and the problems they will encounter and how to deal with them. After this, the presents are opened one by one and the names of the people giving them are read out. The couple is then taken to its new home by some elderly women, and the wife is shown how to make a fire and care for her household. According to Mrs. Lorraine Nerongo, she was taken together with her new husband to their new home: “You (the woman) are hit (gently) over the feet with something and then the elders would say things like, ‘With these two feet, you must stay at your house, and not go around and listen to gossip and cause trouble, you must be dignified and respectable.’”. Lastly, the couple is congratulated by everyone and wished strength for their new lives ahead.


Marriages, according to what I have witnessed during my research of the subject, is becoming, and this I say with all due respect to all traditions and cultures, similar for all people, everywhere. Therefore, it is imperative that traditions are also maintained by our future generations, to give them a unique identity in this ever-changing world. A wedding is usually the most beautiful day for a couple, the day that their planning and hard-work over the years and months finally bear fruits for them. On one of our wedding-cards, which was a present from friends of ours, the message reads, and I quote: “One usually says that a wedding-day is the most beautiful day of ones life, but we believe that you will have many beautiful days in your joint life together.” The card with very beautiful and inspirational words indeed, was given to us by Dr. Cornelia Limpricht and her husband, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Lang. These words should be true for each and every couple who want to walk this long road together. For me, personally, the sacrifice has been worth it. When I look at my beautiful wife, my (very naughty) but very cute little boy, I smile and thank the Heavenly Father for this blessing he has entrusted unto me so graciously. As the elders would say, “marriage is not like buying a horse”, but rather something that needs effort from both individuals who have undertaken this task.

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