Most of us have, at one point or another, attended weddings, engagements and other such events, either by invitation or one where you just show up. Before events like this can take place, organizers have to decide on what invitation approach to take, be it a strictly by invitation, or indeed allow guests to just show up.
The typical Malawian wedding, as an example, flows with the free-for-all approach; allowing for not just close family and friends to attend, but also a friend’s friend, or a relation’s buddy, or indeed the whole team from the mother’s bank nkhonde to attend, even if they really do not know the two people getting married – all the while singing along to the song “Izizi zachokela kwayani? Nza Yahwee eh nzaYahwee”!
The Bride and Groom, as they plan for their wedding, have no idea how many people will come to their wedding reception, which makes it tricky for them to be definite as they plan for chairs, food, and the like. The newest couple-to-be-in-town is therefore left with only one certainty in their planning, and on which they stand firm, quoting many generations of other couples that have gone before them; “You cannot feed all the guests!”. They prepare what they can, and thereafter are at peace that some of the guests might not be fed, or might not find a seat – but this is no longer their problem now, as it is left in the hands of fate, with guest-outcomes on food and seats being down to how early one comes to the reception, how close they are (in relation, and also in seat proximity) to the high table, how well known they may be in society, and how pleadingly their look will be towards the ushers, among other such factors. And this goes even for a small engagement (chinkhoswe-cha-mnyumba…) how many times have you seen one like that quickly graduating to chinkhoswe cha panja?
Recently, though, more and more couples are going with the strictly by invitation approach for their weddings and engagement ceremonies; where there is either a fully developed guest list, or where you can only attend if you have an invitation card.
This approach allows the organizers to be fully prepared in terms of seats, and also food that is to be served for the invited guests, so that no one is left either standing for lack of seats, or indeed left hungry as food run out. This set-up at times tends to be more expensive because of logistics.
For the most part, in Malawi especially (because we are not used to invite-only events for most ‘communal’ happenings such as weddings, engagements, and funerals), this setup tends to create some divisions, as those not invited feel not only left out, but also less important to the family that they think should have invited them. This at times results in not just bruised egos, but also (true – is there false?) resentment. Because we are a communal society, we believe that if our paths crossed at some point, then we have a standing invite to the most significant events of our lives.
I wanted to take a bit of time to speak especially to the person who may not have made the invitation list of invite only functions like these, to help them deal with any feelings of rejection that may be developing.
In such moments, one ought to firstly remind themselves that there are most likely a whole lot of other factors that were considered that led to a person not being invited, and not being important to the person who should invited you is likely not one of them. The function organizers may have been more concerned with the costs of food, seating spaces and also ensuring that guests would have the best experience of the function – as much as they would have wanted to invite everyone, those factors would have placed restrictions on them that would translate to inviting just a select number of people. Your value as a human being cannot be, is not, and should not be tied to a function, regardless of how good you think the function is.
Secondly, remind yourself that the invitation list is simply a representation of the couple’s community at large; in the earlier example of the mother to the bride or groom’s Bank Mkhonde, which may have upwards of 15 members, only the Chairperson will attend and represent the group. If it was the parents who should have invited you, remember that the full invitation list was not up to them, as guest numbers are split amongst the new-couple-to-be and both set of parents, for a start. It is not easy to choose who to leave from such invitation lists, so extending grace to the family ‘for overlooking’ your invite is the way to go. It is not necessary to make a mountain out of a molehill by speaking ill of those that were supposed to invite you, or indeed holding grudges against them.
We must accept that life is continuously evolving, and the free-for-all approach to what have traditionally been viewed as communal events can no longer be the default approach for such functions. Remember that function organizers have a whole puzzle to solve when coming up with such lists, such as having just the right balance between inviting people from the village, the neighbors, workmates, cousins, church, school mates, grooms and brides friends, friends to the parents. Do not assume that someone was happy when they decided that they could not afford to include your name on the invitation list.
In any case, even if you are not there, you can still send through your gift (whether in cash or in kind) to the new couple, through the person that you think should have invited you to celebrate them. And, in your own time at home during that day, you can also play, on your most wonderful speakers at home that timeless “Izizi zachokela kwayani? Nza Yahwee eh nza Yahwee” song, while enjoy a good dance in honor of the newest-couple-in-town!
Ulemu Nkhoma UN-Photography