By Georges Budagu Makoko, Amjambo Africa Publisher

Because of the pandemic, many people from the immigrant community put their weddings on hold last year. Those who went ahead and hosted weddings lamented the low attendance as well as unpleasant decisions they had to make of selecting who among their many friends and community members to invite or not. In the cultures of Africa, it feels isolating to not be included in a wedding in the community. People believe that where there are no people at a wedding celebration, there is no joy.

Those close to the African community here in Maine know that weddings play a significant role in the community. From the minute the bride and groom announce their wedding day, the information warms people’s hearts and fills them with happiness and great anticipation. Family members and friends mobilize to make the wedding celebration a success and a memorable occasion. They contribute money and time to support the bride and groom’s wedding party. This is one of the core values engraved in African culture here in Maine. And it is expensive to organize a jubilant celebration here. Wedding budgets have now gone up to $30,000! But the spirit of togetherness and unity has always been at the center of African communities.

This summer, things look much better than they were at this time last year. Many people have returned to normal life, and there are no restrictions about how many people can attend weddings. However, when I talk with people in the community, I hear a great deal of concern about the Delta variant, which is spreading. People are afraid that things may get to a point of lockdown and more restrictions again. This would impact weddings, of course.

In 2002, when I moved here, there were very few African community members in Maine, and we barely had any weddings. I remember once attending the wedding of a friend from the American community, and I was startled by the size. It was very small, with just a few family, church members, and friends in attendance. I was quite shocked, and set out to learn about wedding traditions here in America. I was told that, traditionally, weddings here in America are funded and prepared by the bride’s family alone, so hosts need to be careful not to overspend. This can result in much smaller weddings than in African communities. This is a huge difference between our cultures. Hundreds of people generally attend African weddings, and every community member contributes something. Weddings are celebrated for the joy of the entire community. The music, the dancing, and the shouts of joy make the whole event memorable and unforgettable.

In the last few months, I have participated in a few weddings, and it felt so good to be back at large social gatherings where community members and friends were smiling and celebrating together. But one thing concerned me. The guests at the weddings were not diverse, and I realized that weddings here usually take place in community silos.

I would like to see more friendships develop between host community members and their new neighbors. There is such beauty in developing a harmonious society where people can share together the joy and the pain that are brought to us by life. My hope is that we can bridge the gap – and weddings are a good starting point!