Wednesday, May 4, 2011
We listened to this song on the way back to Luanda from Uíge. The driver explained some of the significance of the lyrics to us. She´s telling her parents that it would be better if they returned all the money, gifts, and the letter given to them by her husband when he asked for her hand in marriage. His family is abusive to her, calling her ugly and threatening her. So, she says, it would be better to return everything - so that she can come back home.
This lead to a conversation about marriage. Actually, it turned out to be the second conversation I have had about marriage so far. Angolans have an idea that the US is not as traditional as Angola, though they admit that many traditions in Angola are fading too. It would be hard to estimate which country was losing its wedding traditions faster. But yeah, things like dowries and bride prices have long since gone away in the US. The only vestiges left are in the notion that the bride´s family pays for the wedding and the groom´s family pays for the rehearsal and a few other things. This is similar to the Angolan tradition of exchanging gifts between the two families. But, even the song is addressing an antiquated idea. The return of the gifts would be more symbolic of the marriage dissolving than legally necessary for a woman to leave her husband. Or at least, that is how it was told to me.
I would say in both the US and in Angola it is true that getting married is expensive, and that can prohibit a lot of people from doing it. The driver said that here, when a man wants to marry a woman, he should write a letter to her parents asking for permission and also include money in the letter. The parents will write back and include a list of things the man must give them - goats, money, clothes - before he can marry their daughter. But, this is an old tradition and doesn´t happen before every marriage any more. Many people don´t have the money for such exchanges of wealth, so they don´t get married at all.
I like the song, even though the lyrics are sad. It´s an interesting lesson in culture too.