I recently experienced something new. I’ve been to lots of weddings during our 15 years in Niger, but I’ve never been part of delivering the dowry.
Before I go on let me say that I have decided I must break out of my chronological rut. I have several blog titles waiting to be written – still in month 2 of our 5 month journey – but I’m realizing that I am going to have to insert current stuff in the midst of those posts, or none of it will ever get written. So here’s to flexibility.
Back to dowry day…
Sukala, aka Ibrahim, has been a part of our family since we arrived in Niger in 1998. He and Trae ‘grew up’ together, even though he’s several years older than Trae. Sukala learned English by spending most of his time in our house. He calls us Mom and Dad. He call’s Neal’s parents Grama and Grampa. If you’ve ever visited us in Niger, you will remember Sukala.
He and Tobi painting the Cornhole game
He’s now and grown and works with us in the ministry. He is a man of many talents, some of the strongest being children’s and music ministry. I’m convinced he’s ADD and that has driven him to figure out how to fix electrical and plumbing stuff, play the piano, drums, guitar and who knows what else. He can work as an interpreter and he can cook. Yesterday he was out chopping down (with a hatchet) a huge branch that broke off our mango tree in the dust storm. Today he’s helping to lead the youth meetings with a drama team we are hosting from the U.S. He is a great multi-tasker (also known as getting off focus!), is very giving, and often the life of the party.
He also helps put up Christmas trees.
He loves God and he has finally found the love of his life. Rakkiya. We’re excited for him. We met Rakkiya when she interviewed for a teaching position in our primary school. Neal and I liked her immediately and felt she’d be a great teacher. When she left our house, I told Neal that this is exactly the kind of girl that Sukala needs. But we didn’t / couldn’t say anything to him. I did however pray in that direction. While we were in the U.S. this summer we talked with Sukala and he told us that he ‘met’ someone. I was quite excited when he told me that someone was Rakkiya. It was then I told him my thoughts about her. He was happy about that!
Culturally in Niger when you ‘meet’ someone, that typically means it’s someone you are interested in marrying. Sukala talked with Rakkiya’s family and also with his pastor, Pastor Moctar. Everyone was in agreement but they were waiting for us to return from the U.S before setting a date. The setting of the date is similar to an engagement. And there are several things that need to take place – protocols if you will. Since I am the ‘mom’ (one of them, Sukala has several people he would consider mom), I was asked, along with a group of 3 other ladies to bring the sadaki (dowry). The dowry had already been arranged between the family and the pastor. Sukala and Rakkiya wanted to do all the protocols at one time, which suited me just fine!
Here’s what was required of Sukala:
1. Alkawali or Tambaya (the promise or the ‘will you marry me’ question) – ~ $100
2. Valise – the giving of a suitcase filled with new clothes, shoes and other personal things for the bride. This is given to her family. ~ $200
3. The actual Sadaki (dowry) ~$600
4. Goro (kola nut) This is given to be handed out to people when they are told about the wedding. It’s part of the celebration. ~$40
The prices are set by the family of the bride.
As I said, this was all new to me and I had much to learn. The delivery date and time had been set. So off we went. Salamatu, Me, Mariama and Natalie. These are all ladies I know well and I was so happy to be in their company.
Here is Sukala modeling with the suitcase (4 suitcases it turns out) and the big bag of kola nuts in the back of our truck just before we leave for the event. I think he’s a bit nervous.
Have I mentioned that I’ve not done this before? Though my friends had much more of an idea what to expect than I did, I think we were all surprised when we arrived at the house to a large group of ladies waiting for us.
Since I was the one that was expected to deliver the ‘envelope’, I made sure someone was nearby me at all times, whispering instructions in my ear. One thing I did understand is that this was serious business and setting a good foundation with the family was important. I didn’t want to do it wrong.
We took off our shoes, went into the house, sat on mats and chit chatted for a bit. I asked some questions and tried to figure out who Rakkiya’s mom was. A woman who was quite up in years was pointed out to me and I was quite surprised since I know Rakkiya to be in her 20’s. I talked some with the ‘mom’ and she was happy to know that I spoke Hausa. This was a large group of Hausa women which rather intimidated me. I can manage in Hausa pretty well when I’m speaking to people who don’t use Hausa as their first language. We’re both on the same page then. But now I’ve been thrown into a room of experts. A bit scary. Water was served and then Natalie whispered to me that after the water we should go back outside and I would give the envelope to the man sitting outside the house – in the courtyard area. There were actually 3 men out there. We put our shoes back on and the 4 of us went out. You must picture this – the doors and windows are all open so the ladies inside can see us outside, and vice versa. The man you can see in this picture is the first man I gave the money to.
I wasn’t sure what I was expected to say but I carried the envelope with all the cash out and handed it to the man sitting there (making sure to use my right hand). I said that we were very happy to receive Rakkiya into our family. He took the envelope, took out the money and counted it. Good, we’re done then.
Nope. He puts the money back into the envelope and hands it back to me! Ummm, Natalie!? Help? She indicates that I should now give the envelope to the other man. He takes it and hands it to the man sitting next to him, who proceeds to hand it back to man #2, who then hands it back to me! Again! NATALIE?
Natalie and I were getting pretty skilled at communicating with very little communication (she’s so gracious and doing her best to make me look good), and I figure out that I’m to go inside and give the envelope to the woman who I was told is the mom. Turns out she’s Rakkiya’s aunt. Culturally neither Rakkiya or her family are around for this event. I’m wondering the same thing you are. Why? I don’t really know the answer except to say ‘it’s cultural’.
She takes the money and there is some discussion about counting it. I didn’t follow it all but was later told that they said there was no reason to count it because I was a white person. I’m just telling you what was said so no discrimination comments!
Now it was time to unwrap the suitcase(es). It was a big box that we ladies carried in together with the big sack of goro (kola nut). Another woman was given the honors. She got the box off and tried to open the suitcase. It was locked with a combination. After an appropriate amount of attempts and fails, I decided I should try and help. No directions, no combinations given. I decided to try 000. It worked. Thankfully. We did this 3 more times. I found it funny that there was a plastic hanger in each suitcase. The discussion ensued about the suitcase. Often the groom will fill the suitcase himself. I explained, as Sukala had explained to me, that he would rather just give the money and let them do it. Then I said, “Well, I’m sure Sukala knows you will know much better than he what to put inside.” For some reason that brought gales of laughter. Yep. Gales. I’m not sure why, but maybe under clothing is included in that and they found it funny that Sukala didn’t want to deal with that. Anyway, they were happy.
Unwrapping the suitcase. The kola nuts are on the right.
Displaying the suitcase.
After the unveiling of the suitcase, the aunt began to dance and sing around it and everyone joined in. I knew the song too, so that was fun.
We sat for a few more minutes and I asked my ladies if it would be appropriate for me to share a testimony about Rakkiya and Sukala. I was given the go-ahead by all so I stood up. I first asked if they were understanding my Hausa. Affirmative. I started by saying how much we had appreciated Rakkiya in our school and that she had an excellent testimony there. Then I shared the story of the interview and our decision that this was the girl for Sukala. They loved hearing that, so I’m glad I shared it. There were gasps and comments like ‘aikin Ubangiji! (the work of the Lord). I then asked Salamatu to pray before we got ready to leave. After that some of the ladies brought out some drinks and yogurt and some kola nut. There was also sugar and a bucket of millet paste (used to make the traditional millet drink called fura). I thought they were going to pass them around to everyone there. But they sat it next to me. Then they handed me some money (about $40). They said this was a sign of their thanksgiving, and their acceptance, really, of Sukala. It was pretty cool.
Here they are before we put the stuff in the car, discussing what is to be done with it.
Culturally, I guess when something like that is done, it’s ‘shared’ between the dowry deliverer’s and the groom. Again, new to me. But not surprising. So we made our way back to my house, where Sukala was very anxiously waiting. He was outside the gate when we pulled up. He was jumping around like a typical ADD person. I got out and said to him, ‘Sorry, they didn’t agree’. I then went to open the back and he said ‘I know there’s nothing in there!’. He thought I was opening it to show them that his suitcase and kola nut were still in there – unreceived. So he let out a shout (a loud shout) when I opened and told him all these things were given in thanksgiving.
Sukala is excited!
We unloaded it and my ladies began to divide everything into to piles of 5. One for the groom, and one for each of us. The stuff in the front is the millet. Tobi’s excited too! He and Tobi are like brothers.
This is what the kola nut looks like.
It was a great experience and one I was honored to be a part of. I overheard conversations and have found that the job of we 4 Musketeers has just begun. The dowry delivery was only the beginning of our wedding responsibilities. I don’t know what else will be expected of me, but I’m confident my friends will let me know!
Oh, by the way, the wedding date has been set for September 21st.
It was an honor to be a part of this significant event in Sukala’s life and I’m so glad I agreed to do it. I’ll admit I hesitated for a tiny second when he asked, only because we have been back in the country less than a week after 5 months away, I was still very jet-lagged (functioning on 3 hours of sleep in 2 days), and preparing for a team from the US arriving in 2 days. But there are just some things you do no matter what. This was one of them.