Feeding the New In-Laws
“If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.” -Cesar Chavez
My niece Thabiso (Thaby) recently got married and as we went through the proceedings of welcoming Kata, our “mukwasha” (Son-in-law) into the family, I found myself with a deep appreciation of my African heritage. Living in the diaspora, I find that I often miss out on the intricate details of traditional rituals and ceremonies. So much so that it becomes difficult to describe and appreciate them. However, they are the very fabric of who I am; and on this day, I was reminded of where I was from and how each and every event linked to bringing Kata and Thaby together had a greater meaning and deeper significance.
Through the traditional practice of roora (paying of the bride prices), Kata had honored and thanked his bride’s family for raising a fine young woman that he saw fit to be his wife and mother of his children. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Thaby was married. It was now time for us to welcome our new relatives into the family.
To give you a little insight, Thaby is the product of a bi-cultural home. Her father is Zimbabwean, mother Zambian. To welcome our Belizian-Jamaican in-laws, we held 2 traditional ceremonies; the Shona custom of Kupinza mukwasa mumusha and Zambian Chilanga Mulilo.
Kupinza Mukwasha Mumusha (Bringing the son-in-law into the house)
Up until the day of the roora ceremony, it is taboo for a man to enter the home of his love interest’s parents. While it is understood that he exists, he must not be seen or heard, especially by the girl’s parents. Doing so, will result in a hefty fine (yes, as in money or other valuables).
Kata did not get slapped with any fines and the actual kupinza mukwasha mumusha ceremony was rather uneventful. After everyone was seated, the son-in-law came into the room and introductions were made. He was now a recognized mukwasha and could come into the house without fear of violating traditional taboos.
At the conclusion of this ceremony, it was time to feed the in-laws and sedge way into the Chilanga Mulilo.
Chilanga Mulilo, what’s that all about?
Chilanga Mulilo is a Zambian ceremony that introduces the groom and his family to the bride’s traditional cuisine. The evening prior to the event , the bride’s aunts and sisters spend time preparing an impressive spread of traditional dishes. Customarily, the food is prepared at the bride’s home and transported to the groom’s family home. Since Kata’s family lives about 6 hours away by road, we delved away from tradition and held the event at the home of the bride’s parents.
The aunties cooking in the kitchen.
The cooking began the night before and moved well into the late morning hours. By midday, we had a wide selection of traditional dishes to introduce to our new relatives.
Muriwo/ Leafy Greens
Steam Bread (before the steaming)
Madora/Macimbi (Mopane Worms)
Mutakura (Bambara Nut with Dried Maize)
The Bride Making Food for her Spouse
Muriwo une dovi (Greens in peanut butter)
Once all the dishes were ready, we lined up and in true African form, carried pots on our heads to respectfully deliver lunch to the in-laws.
We made several trips back and forth to the kitchen and before long the spread was set. The matron (aunt tasked with teaching the secrets to a happy marriage) explained what each and every dish served before them was. One by one, dish by dish, pot by pot, she opened each item and explained it’s core. Nshima, cassava, kapenta, plantain, goat stew, madora, dovi………………..each and every dish received a few seconds in the spotlight.
The Final Spread
As the matron spoke, I observed the responses of my new relatives. There were nods of agreement, ahs of excitement, oohs of amazement and when Uncle Pop chimed in about eating some of those foods in Belize, I came to appreciate the vastness of the African diaspora. In that moment, I recognized that it was no longer simply about bringing Thaby and Kata together, but using food to demonstrate that while we may come from different places, we share similar experiences and are one people.
After everyone knew what was set before them, it was feeding time, but this one meal held mounds of significant actions. To ensure the man of the moment was served, Thaby took a few dishes, placed them on a cloth and together with the matron used her mouth to take the corners of the cloth so as to tie the dishes into a package.
By using her mouth to perform this task, she indicated that in her new home, the mouth would not be used to destroy the family through malicious talk. Rather, it would be used to build and bind. She placed this bundle of dishes before her husband and began tasting each item to be served to him. A symbolic pledge to always prepare food that is both nourishing and safe for all to consume. There will be no poisoning of the husband and his family in this marriage!!!!
While Thaby tasted the food the matron showed Kata respect by washing his hands. By doing this, she represented the entire bride’s family who from that moment on would recognize Kata as the head of household and provide him that honor. An honor not to be taken lightly but reciprocated through the proper caring and respect of our daughter.
When all the traditional formalities were complete, we sat down to meal filled with traditional delicacies. It was a true diasporian interpretation of beautiful traditions filled with symbolism and purpose while paying homage to the ancestors that came before us. Through it all, food was used to unite two souls and their families.
Mukwasha, in Shona we say, ” Mukwasha mukuyu usingaperi kudyiwa.” (You are a fig tree that must continue to produce). In other words, we will always ask for more. Welcome to the family.
Here’s to you, here’s to your health (and a happy marriage)!
For more recipes and cultural stories, visit: The African Pot Nutrition
(Featured image courtesy of Wiki)