Susan Dalgety: Scottish marriages may benefit from Malawi’s chilangizo

Vitumbiko Nyirenda and her fianc�e Clever, who are about to tie the knot in Blantyre, Malawi, will get advice on married life from relatives.
Vitumbiko Nyirenda and her fianc�e Clever, who are about to tie the knot in Blantyre, Malawi, will get advice on married life from relatives.
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Wedding fever is in the air. The bride-to-be can’t decide which glamorous sandals to change into after the ceremony.

The mother of the bride has not one, but three pairs, of breathtakingly high heels to choose from and is having some palpitations at the prospect of choosing the wrong shade of blush pink.

The chief bridesmaid is fending off increasingly desperate calls from acquaintances pleading for an invitation to the reception, while enjoying her third manicure of the week. Finding the perfect shade of raspberry polish takes dedication.

Meanwhile, the groom and the father of the bride watch from the sidelines, slightly bemused, counting the days until it will all be over and they can get back to real life.

No, I am not talking about the forthcoming nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, though no doubt there will be similar scenes played out in Kensington Palace over the next few weeks. This is the wedding of Vitumbiko Nyirenda and her fiancée Clever, who are about to tie the knot here in Blantyre, Malawi.

I am back in the warm heart of Africa, this time to celebrate the marriage of the daughter of two of my oldest friends, Thoko and Govati.

I first met Govati, Malawi’s top photographer, when he came to Scotland in 2005 with President Mutharika to sign a partnership between our two countries.

Just as Scotland and Malawi have a strong bond, so Govati and his family have become close friends over the years, so when he invited me, my husband, and our 13-year-old grandson to his eldest daughter’s wedding, we had to come.

“What’s money?” we cried, as we slapped the air fares on a credit card.

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This is my grandson’s first visit to sub-Saharan Africa, but more of that later, back to the wedding preparations. Traditional Malawi weddings involve the exchange of live chickens between the groom and bride’s families to show that the young couple are starting a new life together.

While people living in rural communities still enjoy an old-style wedding, city-dwellers blend ancient and contemporary traditions.

Vitumbiko will look as if she has stepped out of the pages of Bride magazine, but the wedding will be have distinctive Malawian touches.

The church service, which starts at 8am, will last up to three hours, and the bride and groom will dance, yes dance, down the aisle. The wedding meal will be by invitation only, but the festivities that follow will be open to all – and there is nothing Malawians like better than a chance to dance.

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There will be a lot of dancing, with guests throwing money into a large woven basket as they boogie round the bride and groom.

This tradition, ‘perekani, perekani’, used to be the only wedding present a couple would receive, but now city brides have a wedding list as long as any in John Lewis.

Indeed, apart from the fact there will be no alcohol at Vitubmiko and Clever’s wedding, her big day will be very similar to any Scottish marriage.

With one other exception. After the three-hour church service, the young couple will spend time with their elders, usually aunts and uncles, who will teach them the facts of married life.

This family counselling session, chilangizo, stretches back hundreds of years, long before David Livingstone stumbled across the beautiful land of Malawi.

Aunts and uncles will share their hard-earned wisdom about sex, money and respect for each other. The men will emphasise to the young groom that his main role is to earn enough money to feed his family, and the bride will be told the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.

Vitumbiko may be an accountant with KPMG, but she still needs to know how to cook nsima, the maize porridge which Malawians, rich and poor, eat every day. And they will both be told about the joy of sex. Around 30,000 couples will marry in Scotland this year. Some, like my brother many years ago, will receive pre-nuptial counselling from his priest, but most will get no advice at all on how to make a marriage work. With around 9,000 divorces a year, perhaps chilangizo is an old Malawi tradition we should adopt. Not so sure about a fizz-free wedding reception though.