I am still in Blantyre city centre. This was the answer I gave one Saturday morning when my wife asked my whereabouts as she was waiting for me to attend to an emergency back home.
I was driving through the Blantyre city centre, I was suddenly caught up in slow moving traffic and was, therefore, only able to make slow progress through the streets of the business district. The cause of the traffic build up was a wedding. Some couple had just tied the knot and decided to turn their wedding into a public function.
A slow moving convoy snaked through the streets of Blantyre, with many of the vehicles flashing hazard signals. The newly-weds could be seen standing in a topless vehicle and waving to the people they hardly knew.
I have seen people doing all manner of funny things in their excitement as they celebrate weddings. Some drive in a zigzag manner on public roads, as if they owned those roads. I have also seen young people sticking out of moving vehicles through windows to show off their excitement.
There is no denying that a wedding is a memorable event to those getting married. They spend months on end to prepare for this grand day. Huge sums of money, which the couples can ill afford in most cases, are spent on things like dressing and decorations. Every effort is taken to make sure the day will be a great one. In the majority of cases, people go through a wedding only once in their life and they, therefore, feel justified to do everything possible to make it a memorable one.
Formerly the traditional marriage, which is termed as the engagement, was held indoors, with only few family members from both sides present; however, the wedding ceremony was open to everyone.
Over the years, would-be couples are inundated with the choice of having a ceremony on the low or giving it all the hype, which is estimated to cost a ‘fortune’.
From attire, decoration, reception, which covers rental of venue, food and drinks, accessories, make-up, photography, and video, would-be couples who will even want their ceremony low key are expected to spend not less than K200, 000.
For those who are fans of lavish ceremonies, anything less than six figures mean that their dream ceremony will be a mirage.
Malawi24, on a fact-finding mission in Blantyre came across some new and interesting trends in the organisation of modern marriages.
The online channel (Malaw24) realizes that while couples are spending huge sums of money for a beautiful wedding ceremony, others are not left behind to make cash killing out of it.
Event organisers and reception managers make huge sums from those who want a “high-key” wedding and less from couples who want their low key.
Information gathered also indicated that those who want the low-key wedding – the simple wedding, opt for simple decorations which cost no more than K200, 000.
Those who want the modern flashy weddings opt for decorations on both their engagement and wedding, which cost not less than K1, 000,000.
Additionally, couples who want a low-key wedding just buy normal wedding gowns and suits. Some even rent those items for the ceremony at a relatively lower cost.
Not much make-up is applied on the face of the bride.
However, those who desire the high-key wedding spend over K1, 800 on wedding gowns and veils.
Also, the grooms spend huge sums of money on expensive suits.
Would-be couples who are fans of lavish wedding ceremonies buy expensive accessories, including wedding rings which could cost more than K500, 000 for a set of three rings.
An average of K1, 000 is spent on wedding clutches and shoes, among others.
Brides spend an amount ranging from K700 to K1, 200 on make-up while bridesmaids spend an amount ranging from K1500, 000 to K25, 000 per person on make-up.
The modern marriage ceremony also sees couples who want to keep copies of their photographs spending much on pre-and-post event photo shoots normally termed exclusives.
It is estimated that couples spend about K2, 000,000 on photos and videos which are taken from reception and officiate venues.
The new trends of wedding ceremonies have receptions where parties are thrown for family members and friends who show up at the ceremony.
There were no such receptions whatsoever after weddings some time back; the couple only refreshed both families of the bride and groom as well as few other friends present, few photographs were taken and the ceremony was over.
Now, couples who desire beautiful and luxurious receptions spend on rentals of venues, food, drinks and decorations.
An estimated K5, 000,000 is the average expenditure for organising receptions after wedding ceremonies in the country.
But it is nothing strange
A weekend hardly passes without the pomp cars left and right, where they are going and where they are coming from that sometimes distracts traffic along our highways and roundabouts as newlyweds force their attention on people who don’t really care. The fleet of fancy, hooting cars with flashing lights and made all over are all too good to be true for the bride and groom, especially brides who dream of a fairy tale wedding. Who doesn’t love good things?
On Saturdays, nearly every hall in Blantyre town is booked for wedding.
And with so much comparison, competition and an attempt at a ravishing event, couples go too far sometimes to stretch meager budgets for the sake of a wedding to remember. Their hope for shortfalls usually lies in the goodwill of guests who are perpetually bombarded with perekani perekani, to the extent of auctioning food meant to fete them.
There is a new trend that has come up where couples wear customised shirts and accessories for pre-wedding photo shoots.
Would-be couples now wear customised shirts that match their shoes, watches, earrings, bracelets and go to luxurious places for photo shoots.
There is also a make-up shoot for bridal teams where they wear their bridal robes, customised shirts with their names embroidered in them, as well as similar customised shoes.
Wedding hats and bridal fans have become part of the new trend.
For Chirimba-based secondhand Japan made cars seller, Mr. Vincent Mbewe the best memories of his 2-year-old wedding said, aside from the cost of his wedding suit and honeymoon, he spent K2, 500 on organising wedding.
Another couple who spoke to Malawi24 said they spent over K4, 000,000 on their wedding.
Photography, videos, reception and decoration constitute over K1, 500 of the total expenditure.
“Gone are the days; when marriage ceremonies were restricted to just a few family members and friends with less pomp and ceremony,” he recalls with noticeable nostalgia.
That was in 2000 and Mbewe was only 14 when his fishing family initiated him into the day-and-night business that helped them send him and his 3 siblings to school and garments.
Some of the people who were interviewed said they had regrets for opting for expensive wedding ceremonies.
Several regretted spending so much money on their wedding dresses which they had never worn their wedding dresses after the event.
Pastor Visage Mfune of Christ Worship Center International Church in Blantyre says modern trend of wedding ceremonies, the money spent on honeymoon is unnecessary and needs to be stopped.
But this new trend has been in this fast down for a long haul since inception of democracy in the country.
“You are married to your sweetheart and that should be enough since you are going to have fun with each other for the rest of your life.”
He, therefore, urged would-be couples to desist from spending so much on their wedding ceremonies, especially expensive accessories and receptions.
“Don’t spend so much on that ‘shining rock on your finger’ because half of the married people who cheat on their partners wear them during the act,” he said.
There will be huge sums on the budget list for the disc jockey (DJ), master of ceremonies (MC), decorator, venue, food and drinks without the availability of funds, but dependent on the attendance of guests and their generosity. While it has been tradition for the newlyweds to be showered with gifts, cash or otherwise, I find it absurd and a lack of integrity, leaning more towards professional idiocy for anyone to bloat a budget based on someone’s pocket. Why assume that the guests have enough to supplement a handicapped budget only to reel from the consequences later?
Those alms from guests should not be overestimated to force couples into debts they cannot offset in the end. When people don’t give according to expectations, the results can be disastrous.
I know of a couple that fled its marital home soon after a lavishing event because of failure to pay individuals for services rendered. They got tired of giving excuses after the perekani-perekani collections failed to sum up the loan. They became prisoners of their own making and their supposed marital bliss turned messy.
I say, stick to a modest budget and simplicity in situations where affordability is a big challenge. The God that unites couples doesn’t mind how much one has, but appreciates couples entrusting themselves to Him through holy matrimony. What is the use of getting into debts we cannot afford to repay? Are we really to force our guests to cough more than they, too, can afford? I will not be surprised one of these days to see guests locked up at a venue by a maddened couple over ‘failure’ to cough enough towards their financial rescue.
This reminded me of last year when another cousin was getting married. The young man came to my house in the night, just like Nichodemus, and told me of his intention to marry. Good intention indeed.
He wanted the wedding to be at Lilongwe Golf Club and planned to use a Toyota Fortuner on the big day. I looked at him with admiration. The young man was ambitious and rightly so—after all this is an event that usually occurs once in one’s life time.
“So how much have you saved so far?” I asked the cousin. “I have around K300 000,” he responded with all the innocence. I laughed my lungs out but not for long because he stared at me in wonder.
“Will the wedding not cost you more than that?” I asked him. “Of course, that is why I have come to you, cousin. I will need your help.” Oh! My foot. This was ridiculous.
This young man desired a wedding that would cost over K2 million and all he had was not even three percent of it.
The couple started off their wedding with no pressures of debt baggage. They are now living happily in town.
If not planned properly, weddings can be a drain on resources not just for the couple but even the entire clan and friends. Like donors, relations are now getting wedding-fatigued when it should actually not be so. Let us make weddings a pleasure not a pressure.
Regardless of the amount of money spent on wedding ceremonies, some marriages still go down in controversies which sometimes end in divorce.