One of the reasons many among the youth gives as to why they don’t like or don’t practice Rwandan culture is that “The traditions found in the Rwandan culture are useless (have no point)”, the common example that is often given is the “Gusaba” tradition, where elders of both families, from the bride and the groom, spend time discussing whether the bride’s family will allow her to leave and start a family with the groom.
Of course all these are formalities, no family no longer deny their daughter’s hand to the suitor, once it has reached the day of the ceremonies and marriage. So the argument goes that this is all a waste of time since everyone knows how it will end. From a cultural perspective this is what makes a wedding Rwandan, that very ceremony.
The youth arguing this, don’t seem to have questioned the rest (foreign) of traditions practiced in the Rwandan marriage today. Everything in marriage seem to be ceremonial and subjective, the only difference is where it originated from.
Let us examine a few examples of foreign traditions we practice in our weddings and see if they pass the “usefulness test”.
First, why do the bridesmaids tend to wear the same color as the bride? this custom dates back to roman times when it was believed that evil spirits attend the wedding in order to curse the bride, so when the bridesmaid are wearing the same thing as the bride, the spirits are confused as to who is the bride and that stops them. This tradition has persisted for centuries even though it is useless. The same applies to veils, they serve the same function of avoiding evil spirits on the day of wedding by hiding the bride’s face, this too is useless.
Second, ever wondered why the fourth finger of the left hand is considered the engagement finger? It turns out ancient greeks believed the finger had a vein of love (vena amoris) that led directly to the heart, this is pointless now that it has been proven that all fingers share the same anatomy, they are no special vein in the engagement finger.
Third, one can also wonder the role of the cake in a wedding, ancient romans broke a loaf of bread over the bride’s head for fertility, this tradition is also useless, fertility has nothing to with cakes but the tradition prevailed. One thing to add on this practice is that it is very similar to what Rwandans used to do in their wedding, spitting milk on the bride.
The fourth tradition is that of best man, the best man is a European tradition, when kidnapping a bride was a norm, so young men choose one of their strongest friend who can fight to help them kidnap the girl they wished to marry, the tradition is still observed though no one kidnaps their brides nowadays.
In fifth place, comes the tradition of brides carrying a bouquet, ancient greeks carried a bunch of herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits, this useless tradition is still practiced by many Rwandans without knowing its meaning.
In sixth place, is the origins of the honeymoon, though controversial, it is widely accepted that the honeymoon was a result of the kidnapping we talked about earlier, the couple would hide for a month hiding from the tribe of the girl.
These traditions are a few selected to represent the western marriage ceremonies and compare them to our own traditions. It is clear that both Rwandan and western marriage ceremonies are useless, in a sense that marriage can still happen whether one observes them or not.
But the question remains, why our youth choose the western traditions over their own by saying that their traditions are useless? Many among the youth don’t know that the western ways are pointless too or they consider them modern (which is false since some are even older than Rwandan traditions).
Others argue that western traditions are more beautiful compared to Rwandan traditions, but if Rwandans practiced their traditions it will certainly be beautiful too. For instance the “Gusaba” ceremony has evolved and it does look beautiful. As a ceremony the concept is the same as it was in ancient Rwanda but the dresses and many other things beautify and modernize it, this can be applied to other traditions too, keeping the concept but practicing it in a slightly different way.
This effect of hating one’s own traditions can be called a byproduct of colonialism in that there is no other plausible explanation, the usefulness criteria used to justify the practicing western over Rwandan traditions does not hold.