I must confess, on the odd occasion when I sit down in front of the TV, it’s not to catch up on my favourite soap opera (unless you count Downton Abbey, as some people dare to do). The over-complicated love lives, hyper-drama, and one-dimensional characters just don’t do it for me anymore, and all the dramatics give me stress, which defeats the purpose of relaxing in front of the television. For me, the final straw with soaps came when Grant Mitchell slept with his mother-in-law. And I haven’t looked back.
But when my South African sis who shares my wedding voyeurism habit showed me some pictures of a wedding celebration that took place on the popular South African soapie, ‘Generations’, I couldn’t help gawping. But I also found myself appreciating how true the wedding was to the typical cultural elements of a real African wedding; and I thought the soapie’s producers probably wouldn’t mind me sharing some here.
So here’s the backdrop in a nutshell (‘Generations’ fans, don’t shoot me if I get bits wrong, I’m relying on second-hand information from someone who gets snippets from hubby and daughter’s post-watch conversations).
The setting is the cut-throat world of the Johannesburg advertising industry where the heirs to the Moroka dynasty are the central characters. The soap presents a glossy, aspirational and ambitious picture of the new South Africa, which is a big part of its appeal to its millions of followers in Southern Africa and as far afield as the UK.
The stunning bride is called Dineo and the groom is Penyo. She’s had a somewhat colourful past and a dodgy love life involving affairs with a father and son…or was it the son first then the father? Whichever it was: Gasp! I reckon this new fella’s her chance at a fresh start.
But enough about that and onto the culture bit. He’s from the Zulu tribe and she’s a Sotho girl. And if there’s one aspect of African life where tribal origins and culture come into prominence, it’s at a wedding. I hate making generalisations about anything ‘African’ because they’re generally wrong, but I’ve spoken to Africans from various parts of the continent, and even though other elements of our cultures vary significantly, this is one thing that’s common about Africans from North to South. We like to do weddings the traditional way.
At an African wedding, age-old traditions play a huge part, and families faithfully observe rituals passed down from their ancestors. So to pay homage to each newlywed’s culture, weddings may involve several different ceremonies, creating one beautiful, extravagant, multi-tiered celebration lasting for days, where everyone gets to participate in the colourful and often lively cultural rituals, dress up in a traditional costumes, learn something new and have a good time – several times over. Which is what makes African weddings so interesting.
And so to our soapie wedding, which took place over 2 days. On Day 1 the groom’s family come to negotiate a dowry at the bride’s parent’s house. Because hers is a Sotho household, the wedding party and relatives are dressed in traditional Sotho garb. The fabric on the bride’s dress is a signature Sotho print, called Shweshwe (read here for the fascinating history of the Shweshwe fabric), a common feature in Sotho costume alongside the familiar colourful blanket shawls and woven hats.
Having agreed the dowry, they then proceed to bring the bride to the groom’s house – symbolic of past times when the bride would move from her homestead or village to go and set up home at her new groom’s. He’s Zulu, so for this part of the celebration, they change into Zulu traditional clothing.
The gentlemen put aside their contemporary clothes and don outfits made from animal skins – mostly fake fur these days, unless handed down through the generations or using cow or goat hide . In the old days, these would have been skins collected from the men’s hunting. The women wear beaded costumes (which in the past they would have crafted for themselves for such occasions).
Over her shoulders and chest, the bride wears a cover decorated with beads with a love message understood only by her husband. The most impressive adornment is the hat which is constructed with grass and cotton and adorned with more beads.
I’d have loved to have been in the wardrobe department on this show. I can imagine the festive buzz that must have been in the air when the actors were dressing up for this wedding, even though it wasn’t a real one. The attention to detail is simply amazing.
On Day 2, we then see the couple at their ‘Western’ wedding (morning and evening receptions of course. This is after all, ‘Generations’!) and the festivities continue into the night.
I simply love the flamboyance of each outfit and when I saw these pictures, I was reminded of the anticipation, excitement and energy families share in preparation for a wedding. This is a time to put aside worries and disagreements, and to be merry. It is more than a union of bride and groom, but an occasion for everyone to meet and celebrate the marriage of two families, people they will share the newlyweds’ journey with every step of the way.
And also I love the fact that the soap’s depiction of this wedding is such a good likeness of the real weddings I’ve seen in a country where multi-culturalism doesn’t just mean racial harmony between Black and White, but also between the different tribal groups that make up this rainbow nation.
Contributor: Daphne Kasambala
Photographs courtesy of ‘Generations’, SABC1. See more of Dineo and Penyo’s wedding pictures here.