A Rwandan wedding (photo montage)
A Rwandan wedding (photo montage)
Fulgence Niyonagize

KIGALI – In Rwanda, getting married has always been a complicated affair.

Before anything, the families of the bride and groom sit down for a long negotiation. Once they have exchanged gifts and agreed that the couple should indeed marry, and of course settled on what the dowry will be, the traditional wedding can start. It is followed by a church wedding and a civil wedding.

Until now, Rwandan couples living abroad would send photos of their religious wedding ceremonies to their respective families, but that was not nearly enough to replace traditional ways. Most often they were pushed by family guilt-trips into flying home to have a traditional ceremony with friends and families.

Alexis Rusine, a sociologist, explains. "In Rwanda, nothing can replace a traditional wedding, not even a religious ceremony. Couples feel obliged to do things according to tradition, which dictates that, in order to get married, the bride must bring a large dowry. They have to get married to avoid the shame and guilt social pressure puts upon them."

A Muhanga villager adds, "A man and woman who are living together without having had a traditional wedding feel isolated, they are too ashamed to spend time with each other’s families, and when they have children, they cannot take them to see their grandparents."

But now, technology is helping to change the equation, as Rwandan couples living abroad can have their traditional wedding… online.

"When fiancés greet their guests, all we have to do is turn on the projector and speakers, open up a computer, and thanks to Skype, the family can see the couple, in Belgium or wherever, dressed in their wedding outfits and waving to them as if they were here with us," says C. Kayitare from Muhanga, who recently witnessed a virtual wedding.

If the connection fails, photos of the couple will suffice. "When it is time to present the couple, framed photographs are presented and placed in seats reserved for the newlyweds," adds Stanislas Ntirenganya, a wedding MC.

"Some Rwandans still feel they have to come all the way from Europe or America to have their traditional wedding. If they don't, they believe people will think badly of them," says Rusine.

A cheaper alternative

However, in the face of all the costs, more and more couples are choosing the virtual option. "Couples would rather organize a virtual party to spend less," a young, married Rwandan, who lives in the U.S., tells us. Another explanation why a Rwandan couple would chose to get married abroad is that many of them cannot return to Rwanda for political reasons.

The advantages can also extend to the participating friends and relatives: when couples opt for a virtual wedding, guests do not feel obliged to offer a financial contribution that is widely expected of those with the means.

It is also interesting to note that when Rwandans marry foreigners (Europeans, Americans, Asians), they still often choose to hold traditional ceremonies, with the non-Rwandan bride or groom respecting and upholding the traditions of Rwandan culture. Here again, some opt to fly home, while others now have the opportunity to skype down the aisle

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