Zambian culture is endowed with beautiful tenets and practices that are a residue of God's common grace. These practices should, in many ways, be celebrated and embraced. We are, for instance, a culture that respects our elders, we were raised to practice hospitality and help those in need. However, with all good things involving people, abuses abound. One cultural tenet that has suffered abuse over the years is that of communal living. Particularly when it comes to weddings. Sadly, these abuses are not only true of non-believers but are becoming the norm in churches as well.
What is communal living?
Zambians are communal people. By that we mean, no one lives in isolation. We live life in a community. We share our joys and sorrows. My neighbour's funeral is 'our' funeral. Subsequently, my neighbours' wedding is 'our' wedding. We weep together, celebrate together, fail together and succeed together. It is no wonder that we have sayings like "it takes a village to raise a child", or "manzi akapwilila nsomba nzikanla pamodzi" (when the river dries up, the fish come together). Our identity and joys are connected to our communities, and individualism is frowned upon.
Practically, this is seen in various ways; the community will come and celebrate your birth bearing gifts and will generously offer counsel to the new mother. As you grow, they feel obligated to aid your parents in raising you. When you graduate from school, they are on hand to congratulate and celebrate with you. When you are about to marry, it is 'their' wedding! They counsel you and contribute towards the celebration, and yes, they are entitled to attend the function. In fact, in the village, the entire village owns the function and contributes. Therefore, you will have a great function with lots of people, but you do not bear the cost alone. Eventually, when you die, they are on hand to send you off and contribute to the needs of the funeral one last time.
Dangers and Abuses
With every human system, dangers abound, and people tend to abuse even the best of ideologies. One of the dangers of communal living is a false sense of entitlement that people develop. Because what is yours is mine, I have the right not only to ask but also to demand and expect you to oblige to my request. Invariably this promotes laziness in some people who think they can coast through life by riding on other people's backs. Furthermore, there is a danger when it comes to weddings of lack of planning and failing to live within their means. I find it remarkable that someone will insist on having a K 50,000 wedding when they can only afford one for K 5,000. Call it to hope; call it dreaming or blind faith, but it is abandoning all wise judgement on planning and budgeting.
Cue in the committees and contributions. In years gone by, committees used to be the initiative of friends and family who voluntarily sought to help the couple get started in their marriage. The couple was never involved and whatever the committee gave was in addition to whatever the marrying couple had planned. The current trend is anything but voluntary, joyful assistance. You are coerced into committees even by people you last saw generations ago. Then, they demand a minimum contribution from everyone in the group. Besides, as though that is not enough, wedding invitations come with a demand for a set minimum amount of money that you are to give at the function, in essence, you buy the invitation!
Therefore, it has become common practice for people to give grudgingly in the interest of "tachimoneka bwino" (it does not look good). They have to keep up appearances for the sake of the community. Similarly, it has become common practice for people to contribute as a form of investment. They give towards a wedding so that people will give to theirs as well. In many ways, the support becomes self-serving.
1. We need to radically and urgently shift our priorities about marriage and weddings. We put a lot of time, effort and resources on weddings to the neglect of the marriage. A wedding is for a day; marriage is for life. Indeed, our priorities should be on helping and preparing young couples for marriage relationships.
2. Families and churches need to teach the vital principle of living within your means. It is immoral for someone to want a lavish K 100,000 function when they can only afford one for K 10,000. Failure to learn this principle of contently living within your means is dangerous for life in marriage. It is usually the desire to do more than you can afford that necessitates committees and demand for contributions.
3. We need to remember that the essence of a gift is that it is freely given. The moment you demand and set price to it, it ceases to be a gift.
4. We need to be careful not to throw the baby with the bathwater. Just because abuses prevail does not mean that communal living must be shunned completely.
The Lord designed for us to live in communities. Healthy people seek and cultivate social connections and relationships. Even Christians are called to live in community; we call this the church. Healthy communities lovingly share and bear one another burdens. However, we need to be aware of the dangers and abuses that are prevalent in communal living.