Friday, July 30, 2010

An African Wedding In West Texas...

Linda Bailey wrote the following article for ACU's on-line edition of The Optimist. Linda does a great job of capturing the wonderful spirit of hospitality, love and family that flowed throughout the weekend of Serge and Esperance's wedding. Katie Lea is missing from the picture (above) that ran with the article because she was looking for an umbrella to shade us from the sun.

The gymnasium at South Side Baptist Church was transformed into an African village on Friday afternoon, the first day of the traditional African wedding ceremony of ACU student Serge Gasore to Esperance Namuseke Gasore.

The entire wedding spanned two days and incorporated both American and African traditions.

In August 2005, Serge came to ACU from Rwanda to study and run track and cross-country. Now in graduate school, Serge is studying global information technology. Esperance will attend Cisco College in the fall. Originally from the Congo, she and her family later fled to Rwanda. Two years ago, the family moved to Abilene as refugees.

Serge wanted to have the wedding in Africa, but Esperance’s family thought it would be best to for the couple to travel back to Africa only after they were married. To keep everyone happy, Serge agreed to have a traditional African wedding ceremony in Abilene.

"I love her so much so I said I’ll do everything I would do back home," Serge said.

He said they will move back to Rwanda in two years after he finishes his schooling in the U.S.

Serge's father wasn’t able to make the trip to the U.S. for the wedding, but his aunt traveled to Abilene from Rwanda. An uncle and a close friend, both originally from Rwanda but living in Haiti, were also able to join Serge’s other family and friends for the wedding ceremonies.

On Friday, the two-day wedding began with a dowry ceremony. Caroline Conwell, senior business management major at ACU, said this is traditionally the most important ceremony in the entire wedding. It is during this ceremony that the bride’s family officially gives her to the groom, Conwell said. Through a series of role-plays, the two families barter for the bride. Serge’s family gave the Namuseke family 12 cows as a dowry.

Conwell’s family has known Serge for about five years. Serge spent a lot of time with the Conwells during summer vacations and holidays because he couldn’t make the long trip home. He eventually became part of the family, Conwell said. Because of their close relationship, the Conwells attended the ceremony as part of Serge’s family.

The dowry ceremony was performed primarily in Kinyarwanda, a tribal African language. A translator was present to translate both the words and traditions to English speakers. Participants in the ceremony wore mostly traditional African apparel, but some of men wore more western-looking suits.

It wasn't until the end of the ceremony that Serge finally saw his fiancée. After Esperance's family had officially given the couple permission to be married, four female dancers, several children and a group of girls walked into the middle of the aisle. The girls surrounded Esperance as she sat in a chair, then moved out of the way to let Serge greet his bride. She gave him a traditional headband, and the couple sat at the end of the aisle. The ceremony concluded with a traditional African meal for everyone in attendance.

On Saturday afternoon, the wedding took an American turn when the couple was married at Southern Hills Church of Christ in a short ceremony complete with tuxes, bridesmaids, groomsmen, and an elegant white dress. The American customs continued during an afternoon reception at Southern Hills following the ceremony. The reception included hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, and a tiered wedding cake complete with a bride and groom cake topper.

"I like the way America does their things, and that’s why I’m going to do a little bit American, and I like the way they do it back home. It's kind of like half-half," Serge said. "When you read a book about communication, you have to adapt to that culture to be able to be in both cultures."

After several speeches and a few traditional African dances by Friday’s four female dancers, the party moved to the 6th Street Center in downtown Abilene.

At the beginning of the reception downtown, guests entered the dimly lit room in single file carrying gifts for the bride and groom. Traditionally, the bride's family leaves near the beginning of the ceremony to tell their village about the wedding. In keeping with tradition, Serge’s family escorted the Esperance's family out of the reception. After a quick outfit change, Serge and Esperance rejoined the party, where family members and guests of all ages danced to traditional African music to celebrate the newest addition to Gasore family.

"My favorite thing was the dancing on Saturday night," Conwell said. "The celebration was just so fun and everything was just so different from American culture. You could tell it was a celebration of them coming together and the families were so excited."

Even after the weekend’s celebrations, the ceremony isn't quite finished. When he and Esperance move back to Rwanda in two years, Serge said, there will be another ceremony to introduce Esperance as his wife.