Thursday, July 10, 2014

welcome to the amatebeto

This week we had the privilege of attending an amatebeto with some of our neighbors. The Malisawas were celebrating 35 years of marriage and the family had arranged a special amatebeto presentation for them. An amatebeto is, in short a massive presentation of traditional foods. Historically, amatebeto’s are given on behalf of a bride’s family to the groom’s family. Overly simplified, it is a way of saying “See? We can cook really, really well. Your son will not starve.” Better explained, it is also a communication of respect, deference, admiration, and commitment. Because food is so deeply significant in this culture, a beautiful presentation of all the foods of the land is like saying, “We give you our best, we give you our all.” It is touching and significant.

In recent years, amatebeto’s have been given as a way of honoring couples that have remained married for many, many years. And it was for this reason that we all gathered together with the Malisawas. I desperately want this tradition to be introduced into American culture. (I’m pretty sure the Colvins would love a spread of all of Mama Rawson’s delicacies.) And so in case you are planning a 35th wedding anniversary celebration for someone near you, or maybe you want to hold on to the idea for yourself, I’ll share the whole day with ya’ll right here.

The ceremony was held in a shell of a building (the one we hope to rehabilitate to make a second preschool – but that’s another post for another day.) The couple entered in looking sharp. And serious – because just like in Zambian weddings, the couple is not supposed to smile. (Every once in a while you’d see their lips turn up but they obediently tightened them back down.)

And then entered in the food. Dishes piled on top of each other and wrapped in fabric, carried on top of the ladies heads which they sang and danced their way into the gathering area. The drummers beat wildly and the audience hollered with delight.

One by one, family members stood to give tribute to the couple. Their messages contained words of gratitude for the example the couple has set over many years of marriage. For staying together through thick and thin, year after year. And for giving the clan nine children.

I just have to pause and explain how fascinating these tributes were. Every single person that stood and spoke thanked Mr. Malisawa for the nine children. An alien would have thought that men were the ones to birth and raise children because not a single person addressed Mrs. Malisawa in their  praise of the full quiver. From my “good wife training” I know that women are supposed to kneel and clap and tell their husbands that they are hard working stags after a round of love making. All of the male-centered congratulations during the program only confirm the cultural conviction that children are born of sperm and manliness and the women’s contribution is really not all that. (All the more reason why we are pushing for more men to be present in the delivery room. It’s time they knew the truth.)

The other interesting thing is that all of the members of Mrs. Malisawa’s family told Mr. Malisawa that after 35 years of having him in the family, they have decided he is a good man and can now call him brother. To any one in the States dealing with in-law tensions: you have no idea. A young groom basically lives in fear of his in-laws for decades as he proves himself a worthy man. He lives amidst the bride's family never speaking directly to his in-laws, never eating in the same room with them and constantly watching his mouth and actions lest the in-laws hate him, expel him or end him. For 35 years this man has been on the chopping block and finally the cleaver has been laid to rest and he can breathe.

Jeremy and I also gave a tribute of which there is no picture but suffice it to say that we never fail to entertain, particularly because when we dance, people roll on the ground like hyenas. (I credit all of this to Jeremy who looks like he’s driving a large tractor when he dances. It’s epic.)

After all the talking, the family comes to present the food to the couple. The women displaying the food must lay on their sides on the ground before the presentation as a symbol of respect. The dishes are brought to the front, unwrapped and one by one and presented to the couple while everyone sings a delightful rendition of “See the food! See the food! See the food!”

Chicken, fish, beans, vegetables, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, mushrooms – the works – it’s all laid out until the couple has seen it all, everyone has rejoiced and the whole village smells like delicious. And then we eat. And everyone is happy.

Bronwyn was deeply moved by the ceremony which is why she slept through half of it and spent the rest of the time hanging out with Timo and asking people for beans.

I'm pretty sure she's trying to talk him into running away with her. forever.

I’m telling you. Our five year anniversary is in a few weeks which means Jeremy only has 30 more to go before he is in good with my family and we can present him with Mama Rawson’s cinnamon rolls and pork tenderloin and super supper skillet. And Ya’ll are sure to be invited.

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