Growing Up in Congo: Exploring Religion, Community Life and Marriage
Growing up, what we did most was go to church. That was a big activity in this village. Sometimes we played with other kids outside because we didn’t have winter, only summer for the whole year. We had so many games, but we didn’t have soccer because we didn’t have a field. Church, however, was very important to all of us. I could say about 95% of my village would go to church. It was the one activity for all my tribe. Even here, in the United States, we go to church every Sunday. For me, it’s not necessarily to accept God. Of course, sometimes we do accept God, but many of us go because we are supposed to go to church, because this is our culture. We just do.
We had many ceremonies, and most of them related to the church. For example, Christmas and Easter. We also used to have two conferences every year in March and September. For this we had missionaries from Sweden who came to the church, we called this Pentecot. They needed to evangelize and work with our tribe. When they came it was a big party; to see white people was incredible. People wanted to touch them and rub their white skin. Or sometimes the people saw them as God. So many people weren’t Christian before the missionaries came for the first time, in 1922, in East Congo. They preached about Christ and Christianity and many people in our culture started to be Christian in 1950.
I don’t know how events were before I was born, but the biggest events for us were weddings. When there was a wedding, the people that were getting married would bring 50 people, and we would take them out and we would sing all night. Everyone would eat together, on the same day in the same place. In our culture men can’t eat in public, but on the days of weddings we could. We could also dance all night. Before Christianity came we had three days for this event, because they would drink hard alcohol and they would dance. In our culture we love to dance. After Christianity, it is now only one day, because we can’t drink hard alcohol as Christians. We would dance all night instead of drinking for the whole day. This was an event with the wedding.
In our culture, your parents decide who you’ll marry. I didn’t choose my wife, but it was instead my dad who chose for me. My dad said, “You will have Odette as your wife.” I saw Odette for the first time in the church. The idea of an arranged marriage was normal for me, but now, after 30 years, I think ‘wow.’
“But then it was just normal because it was the culture.”
My dad told me I would marry Odette, and I couldn’t change that. Another thing we can’t change in our culture is the payment of a dowry. This is a big problem in my culture, but it is just the way it is. If you were going to have a wife, you needed to pay a cow to her dad because in our tribe, the dowry you give is a cow. You can give as many cows as you want, but we call this “eight.” It could be two cows, but we call it eight. It could be ten, we call it eight. It could be fifteen, we call it eight. In my language, we say ‘numunan’, which means eight.
I remember my wedding well. I married Odette on September 21st, 1983.
“The best part of the wedding for me was when we danced. That was my favorite.”
Now when I think about it, I remember how big that was for me, to dance all night outside. There was no snow, so we danced.