Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sorry I got your daughter pregnant… Ceremony

I probably laughed for half an hour after hearing about this. I would have never thought there was a formal ceremony for asking forgiveness from an impregnated girl/woman’s parents!  But it’s real!!
            The Feirra family was my neighbor before I moved into my uncle’s house the next street over.  They have become like extended family to me. There is Tio ( Uncle ) Yano and Tia (Aunt) M’boby and they have 3 children named Ruben, Hilha, and Nuh. Hilha is the middle child and she has become a great friend of mine. Nuh is the youngest and she lives with her aunt on the other side of town. Ruben, the oldest, is 28 or 29 now and getting ready to start a family.
            After 3 years of being with his girlfriend, Ruben got her pregnant. I didn’t even know he had a girlfriend until she had been living with him at his parent house. After a month of seeing her around I finally I asked who she was and they explained the situation. When I asked why she was living at their house they said that the financial situation at her house is fragile, and there are often times where there is nothing to eat. At least at Ruben’s house she would always have a meal to feed herself and her growing baby.
            Since he got her pregnant out of wedlock, there is a traditional ceremony that is done to ask for forgiveness from the parents of the girl. Ok, so its not actually called “Sorry I got your daughter pregnant Ceremony”, but that’s essentially what it boils down to. It’s called “Ceremonia de Leba Cabas” or “ Gourd Delivery Ceremony.”  
            And it’s exactly that! The mother of the boy, in this case Tia M’boby bought a gourd and Ruben filled the gourd with drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcholoic) in pairs which represent the union between him and his girlfriend, N’ten.  He also put in some money, several buttons and thread, some cigars, and other small nick-nacks.
            Each item has its own meaning. The cigars are surprisingly for Rubens dad. In the event that Ruben’s dad goes to visit N’tens family, they will have cigars at the house to offer him. The buttons and thread are for N’ten to have if Rubens clothes ever need to get fixed.  
            On Saturday they had the  “Leba Cabase” Ceremony.  N’ten took this cabas filled with things that Ruben had bought and presented it to her family. Ruben’s family sent friends, neighbors and other family members to represent them at N’tens house which was filled with her extended family, friends, and neighbors for the arrival of the cabas.  
            The opening of the ceremony was a presentation of Rubens family and the cabas they had brought. They opened the cabas, which was tried by a traditional cloth, and presented the contents to the attendees. After the cabas was unloaded N’tens family presented their “wish list” to Ruben’s representatives.  The list was read allowed and included things like money, alcohol, candy, a goat, cigarettes, and things along these lines.
            After Ruben’s representatives were presented the list, they were given some time to discuss the contents of the list with N’tens step-mom. N’ten’s mother was present, but didn’t say a word the entire time. Everything was done by her combossa ( her husbands other wife /N’tens step-mom ).  N’tens dad was not present because he is currently in Portugal, but he did send his own “wish list” for the ceremony.
            N’tens family was asking for a lot of money! Almost 1,000 USD, which is a lot in a place where a schoolteacher makes 200 dollars a month. After lots of negotiation, Rubens family was able to bring their demands down to 600 dollars. I thought the money was for N’tens family, that they were just going to use it as they wanted. But the money they are asking for is actually for N’ten, so they can buy her a bed and other household items since she is getting married. I asked how they know her family wont just spend all the money on themselves. Tia M’boby explained they would have to answer to N’ten for that. If they spend it all that would leave her with nothing once she gets married.
            Once all negotiations were settled it was grub time! We stayed at N’tens house just to take a bite and not be rude, but the real party for us, Ruben’s representatives, was back at Ruben’s house.
            Back at the house I gave Ruben a big congratulatory hug! I found out he is the huggy intoxicated type that night.  And even though he was drunk or maybe because he was drunk, you could tell he was very proud of where is life was headed. This is his transition into manhood. He has child on the way and a wedding in the near future!
             I asked him why he and his parents didn’t take part in the ceremony. He said they couldn’t! That often when the 2 families are in direct contact some kind of altercation ensues. He didn’t have to explain any further. Hilha got into a little argument with one of N’tens neighbors  about the contents of the cabas and spent the rest of the ceremony outside in fumes. If Tia M’boby had been present I know for a fact something would have gone down. She doesn’t take anything from anybody!
            Usually during the Leba Cabas Ceremony you decide on a wedding date. They set the wedding date fore October 15th, but its not going to happen. Having a wedding is expensive (personally I think its because of the quantity of beer you are expected to supply)!! Ruben will have to save up enough money first before they can get married. It might be a while….
            Unfortunately this is a dying ceremony.  As the years pass, more and more people are having church weddings, or muslim weddings, or just having kids and not getting married, leaving the grandparents to raise the child.  The feelings are mixed. Some people think it’s important to hold on to tradition. Other’s think it’s these “backward traditions” that is stopping Bissau-Guineans from getting ahead.  Personally I just wish they would stop serving pork so that I could eat something while I’m attending.  

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