Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Matebeto








One of the coolest things about living in Zambia is that we learn about and sometimes even experience unique traditions. Recently I (Tricia) was invited to our teacher, Violet’s, “Matebeto” event. Violet is getting married in October and the Matebeto is part of the families’ marriage traditions. (Violet is in the red shirt on the far left in the group picture.) Now, please remember that there are something like 76 different languages and peoples represented in Zambia and many of these people groups have their own very specific traditions. So not every Zambian will celebrate a Matebeto. Also, I’ve noticed some confusion about this event in Lusaka. Some people say that Matebeto is a Bemba tradition that happens years after a woman has been married and that what Violet was actually celebrating is another event called something like Chilanga Mulilo. I don’t know what is accurate but I am just reporting on my own experience.

I asked Violet about it and here is how she explained it:
"Matebeto is where the bride's family and friends prepare different kinds of dishes for the groom's family; Cilanga Mulilo is where only the bride's family prepare just a few dishes for the groom's family. These ceremonies are performed to show the groom and family what the bride can cook and the kind of food they expect to find or eat when they visit the home. During the ceremony, the bride is kept inside where the elders teach her things about her new home and what is expected of her. These include taking care of her house, looking after her husband, her attitude towards her husband and in-laws, and even her movements (have to change)."

So what was this event all about?! Well, to sum up, this event is a chance for the bride’s family to cook, cook, and cook some more. The women spend all day cooking up their favorite dishes and then they carry the food over to the groom’s family’s house (on their heads) where the food is presented and all of the dishes are explained. From a foreigner’s perspective a Matebeto is a lot of fun though I didn’t understand a lot of the symbolism behind different aspects of the ceremony. The cooking was all taking place in the Sakala family’s backyard which is right on Ciyanjano property; so I just wandered over there around 8:30 in the morning. Many women were already busy cooking on braziers, which are like little outdoor grills that use hot coals. Braziers are what most Zambians cook on.

Anyway, I spent the morning peeling carrots and cassava just trying not to get in the way. I asked questions about the dishes the ladies were preparing; many are different varieties of cooked greens with ground nut (peanut) powder mixed in. Zambians use a lot of tomato and onion to create “soups” which they eat with rice or the main staple food which is “nshima” made from maize porridge into large lumps. They also eat dried fish, a lot of chicken if they can afford it, and other vegetables. The most interesting dish in my eyes was made from roasted pumpkin seeds that were pounded into a paste and then made into little balls which were then boiled in water for a long, long time.

Female relatives and friends came in and out all throughout the morning and early afternoon and the women would take breaks to play drums and perform traditional dances. Zambian ladies love to dance. I resisted for as long as I could but the ladies really will not tolerate a guest just standing by and watching, so I had to give it a shot. Of course it was to the GREAT amusement of all the Zambian women there and the ladies were very encouraging. If you want to make friends with Zambian women, well you’ve just got to shake that booty.
Strangely enough, Violet herself was not outside cooking any of the food. She only came out of the house at specific times to take part in different parts of the ceremony. When I asked what Violet was doing all day people said she was “resting” but I don’t buy it. It sounds like she was learning all the secrets of Zambian womanhood.

At one point she came out of the house on her hands and knees with a woman in front of her and a woman behind, both on their hands and knees. They were all covered in a long piece of citenge fabric, giving them the appearance of a large caterpillar I would say. They crawled along and people threw down money on the ground. They crawled over to a large wood fire where a big nshima pot waited. Violet knelt before the pot and had to add water using a cup that she held with her teeth and then added mealie meal to the pot also using her teeth to hold a plate. I must say it was a bit odd.

One of my favorite parts of the day was when the big pot of nshima was cooking and all the ladies there took turns stirring the nshima. They gave me a turn and I honestly felt very honored. My turn lasted literally three seconds but then everyone congratulated me on doing a fine job. Zambians are very polite!

There were a couple different times during the day where things were done with the mouth instead of with the hands. Especially by one woman who was the family’s representative. She holds a special title and gave a lengthy presentation of the foods as well as marriage advice when finally at the groom’s family’s house.

So let’s get to the main event. After walking down the dusty Kasupe road a bit in our citenge dresses and suits (with all the food!) our group of around 30 ladies turned down to the family’s house and stopped at their gate. The representative from Violet’s family put down a citenge on the ground and then the groom’s family threw money down on the citenge. Our group only moved forward when a satisfactory amount was thrown down. We moved a little further and stopped again waiting for more cash and this continued for quite some time until we were all in the home. Relatives in the groom’s party continued to throw down a little cash as all the dishes were presented and they looked forward to the feast that awaited them.

Then what? Then all of us walked back to the house while the groom and his family enjoyed the banquet that was prepared for them. Some of Violet’s friends and relatives had stayed behind to cook even a little bit more food to feed all of the women who had worked hard all day cooking. Unfortunately I missed out on that celebration because I was hot and tired and had to go check on my own family. All in all it was a very educational day and a nice chance to support Violet and meet some of the ladies that live around Kasupe. I can't help but wonder if I am going to have to throw a Matebeto for one of my own little Bemba girls someday!

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