Kumal e Senegal (Wedding in Senegal)

This past weekend has been full of excitement.  Our brother Ibou married a woman from Mbour.  A half-week before the wedding, my youngest brother Ali brought two cows home, one female and one male.  Then a goat appeared.  The women one by one combed out their braids and went next door to have them re-braided (sometimes with hair extensions braided in).  There were relatives everywhere, women and children and men sleeping on every surface possible.  Samba and I bought a bag of onions as a gift to the family for the wedding.

The wedding here is two days long.  Saturday, they spent the day at the wife’s home feasting and celebrating.  All the men of my household went to help serve food.  Our house was bustling with activity, cleaning and cooking, preparing the place for the bride’s arrival. It was amazing to see the women come together.  They sat in huge groups, cutting onions, carrots, beans, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes into large two-feet diameter metal bowls.  Then there were huge cauldrons of simmering fish or goat or steamed rice over open fires.  At one point we had seven fires going at once.  It was a grand communal making of all meals.  Beautiful.  The women sat in their colored cloths, chatting with each other.  At one point, I was cutting onions, just listening to the women tell jokes in what sounded like Wolof.  They were taking turns, adding and elaborating, laughing so hard that all of them were wiping tears away with their dresses.

They killed the goat Saturday morning for our lunch.  And then the male cow later that night.  We ate dinner and then napped before the arrival of the bride.  We woke at 1:30 am to the sounds of girls chanting, singing, and drumming.  The friends of the bride were welcoming her to her new home.  The car pulled up into the house, and she got out wearing a pink head-scarf.  My neene was sitting on a mat in front of the building waiting to receive her.  The bride sat down in front of my neene and they were both sprinkled with gawri (millet).  Afterwards, the bride was shown to her room where she and Ibou sat under a blanket/sheet on their bed and shared a meal of niiri (balls of millet) and kossam (sweet yogurt milk).

Sunday was full of cooking and dancing.  Samba and I both helped cut onions, carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes.  Usually men do not help with the cooking at all, but the women did not seem to mind.  They just laughed and asked questions in Pulaar.  A nani Pulaar? Mi nani Pulaar seeda. I know how to speak Pulaar a little.  Alaa, a nanani Pulaar. But, I’m doing pretty well for only having been here for three weeks?  Right?

The guests started showing up around late morning.  The men sat in the front of the house in plastic chairs.  They chatted and made tea.  The tent was set up outside our house, blocking the entire dirt intersection that my compound sits on.  The women were cooking, cooking, cooking.  After lunch, the dancing started out under the tent.  Tam-tams set-up and beating out complicated rhythms.  The younger women were sitting on the border of the tent, surrounding the drummers and a dance floor.  And one by one, three by three, the girls danced.  They were beautiful.  When Senegalese dance, they dance without inhibition and so naturally.  In America, there is this awkwardness and self-awareness that make us uneasy.  I lose the beat and find myself staring at my toes, wondering how those legs can possibly be attached to the rest of me.  The women here dance the way we would dance when no one is watching—the door locked to our rooms.  Raising their skirts with their hands, they beat their feet against the sand perfectly in unison with the drummers.  They follow the beats, shaking and gyrating their hips in chaotic harmony.  After the women danced, the men danced a little.

The bride arrived later in a taxi.  She went to get her hair redone and touched-up.  She got out, shimmering in her blue and gold dress.  The make-up was dramatic with blues and golds.  Her hair was pulled away, curls draped around a bun with gold ribbons interwoven.  Ibou was in a beautiful bright white wax fabric bubu trimmed in gold embroidery.  He was beaming with joy.  The bride was led into the house, through the throngs of older women who are all sitting in chairs outside the buildings.  They have finished cooking, changed into their new wedding clothes, and are sitting to welcome the bride.  The women of Senegal usually change into their nice clothes during the late afternoon.  And then they wear the same dress the following morning before changing again the next afternoon.  After this welcoming, the bride returned to watch her girlfriends dance under the tent.

The evening continued until around 10 pm when guests started to go home.  Juices and salads were served.  Slowly, the guests wished us a peaceful evening and returned home.  We ate a very late dinner and stepped over guests laying down to sleep on mats outside our room.  The cleaning was left for the next day.  My neene was so extremely exhausted and she had no voice as she wished us goodnight.


9 responses to “Kumal e Senegal (Wedding in Senegal)

  • Janine

    How beautiful! I loved the description and the pictures (except the meat harvesting of course). Get Paul to take a picture of you, please! Dancing with no abandon – we could all use demonstrations of pure joy. Lots of love, J&B

  • Sonal

    Maddy, you write so beautifully. Thank you for sharing these stories with us. I love your description of your toes. 🙂 And yes, you are doing pretty well for 3 weeks! With warmest wishes,

  • Linnea

    It is now Maddy’s birthday, although very early in the morning.
    Love, Linnea (Grandma)

  • Janine

    Happy happy birthday Maddy! Have an awesome day!

  • Wendy

    Happy Birthday, Maddy. We love you!

    Hugs and kisses,
    Dad, Mom, Mikey and Louie

  • Amelia

    A very happy belated birthday Maddy!

    I enjoy reading your posts and learning of life in Senegal. You’re a very gifted writer!

    I look forward to the posts to come. Thank you for sharing!


  • Jason Kong

    HAPPY LATE BIRTHDAY! I love reading these updates!

  • Evan

    Hi Maddy! (and happy really-late birthday). Now that I have more time (and that I finally remembered that this blog exists) I can start following along! Seems like it’s going nicely and you all are doing well. Sounds like an exciting wedding! I would help cut veggies too, yup.

  • Jon

    Maddy! Evan mentioned that you guys have quite a bit written up and that looks to be the case. You have some really fantastic pictures and stories. Sounds kike you’re all having fun and learning a ton.

    A super belated Happy Birthday to you! Say hi to Samba for me.

    I’ll try to keep up more frequently now.


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