Traditions Field Note: Getting Married!

Living with a host family gives you opportunities to learn about culture and tradition!

Over the weekend, I was able to experience a traditional wedding and attend a patlo (pronounced PA-TT-LOW). In Setswana culture, there are many steps and customs to follow. In fact, marriage is considered to between two families not just two people. The entire family, even those living in the village, are all part of the process. Come along, as I try to walk you through the process.

First the couple must announce they intend to marry to both families. The negotiation is called the patlo. Patlo means to seek and talks can go on for week, months and even years. For my host sister, negotiation between the families took over two years. Family discussions are only held by the married men and women. The men usually dress in suit jackets and ties and the women wear traditional dress.

On the day of the patlo the groom’s family must wake up before dawn and wait near the bride’s place. They must wait outside next to the road. They are not allowed to cross and come inside without the permission of the bride’s family. The men gather in front yard in a circular formation known as kgotal (pronounced kaa-O-TAL). The kgotal is led by the paternal uncles. They show their respect by saying information about the bride’s family. The uncles must know: the bride’s name, parents’ names and the location of the families’ village kgotal.

Second, the groom’s family is allowed to come, with the permission given by a gate keeper known as mmadistesla.  The groom’s family members sit on one side. The bride’s family sits on the other side. The married female relatives sit on the ground on traditional mats throughout the talks. The men sit on chairs.

Next, the groom’s family offers the bride’s family the gifts of clothing, blankets, shoes, dresses, hats, and other items. Remember how important cattle is to Setswana culture? The groom’s family also gives cattle to the bride’s family. This called a bogadi (pronounced boo-GA-dii). The gift of cattle is seen as the “token of appreciation” for the family for “the loss of the daughter”.

During my host sister’s patlo my family received a number of gifts. The groom’s family provided one slaughtered cow, one goat, dresses, cash to buy cattle, blankets, dresses and many other things. Once the gifts are accepted, then the bride and groom were considered married!

The celebration began! The bride changes into another traditional dress. This one is the same color of clothing as the groom’s family.

Next, married women from the groom’s side sing and dance.  Everyone is offered tea and coffee and cakes. The family is now free to come together and get to know each other. A wedding feast and celebration go on all day. Married women and men offer advice for the newlywed couple.  The celebration continues as the families share meals and drink traditional beer and eat seesaw.

Traditional wedding ceremonies follow many formal steps. Sometimes, I got confused because everything was in Setswana. However, my host family was always nearby to walk me through the entire process.  I am grateful to have experienced such an incredible and active part of Setswana culture. Thanks for coming along!

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