Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A White Plate and some Milk

We met a man this week who has recently become engaged to a young lady in the church. He was describing the process to ask for her hand in marriage.  It was very interesting and I thought you would like to read about it.

When the man decides he is ready to ask permission from the woman’s father,  he tells her that he would like to visit her home in the next few days for that purpose.  Then a day is set to come for a visit.

On the day of the visit, the man shows up with his negotiating team, which consists of members from his family, and one church member if  he is a Christian.

He brings with him a white plate to present to the father.  This plate is wrapped up with a white cloth and on the plate there is money. Often a  50,000  kwacha.   He offers the plate and if the plate is accepted then the negotiations for the woman and the bride price can begin.

Even as in many cases now they have already known each other, it is as if they are introducing for the first time.

The man is asked, “Who are you here for?”   Then the father, or head over that household will bring out all the single women of the household.  In this man’s cases there were five brought out and he was to point  out which one.  The woman is then asked if she knows this man and if she wants to marry him.    Once that has been decided then the groom leaves and his Negotiating team stays behind to work out the bride price.

In this situation the price started at 9 million kwachas  and  was accepted it at 6 million. 

The groom can pay that amount in installments, but it must be paid before the wedding.  The groom still then has to pay for the entire wedding as well. A moderate wedding would be around 20 -25 million, which would be around $5,000 USD.  That is a lot  of money in general, but especially for a Zambian to come up with. His family can help with those expenses if they are able but if they don’t have money then the man is on his own.  He is responsible for paying for the wedding dress too.


So the man we talked with actually was at our home for lunch this past Sunday.  I prepared an American meal of Meatloaf ( A Paula Deen recipe, which is great!)  and Mashed potatoes and a couple other things. We finished off the meal with homemade chocolate chip cookies.  My first batch from the stash of chocolate chips.  They were really good.  In order to make them last I told Sarah if you make the cookies, only use half the amount of chocolate chips.

He said he enjoyed the meal and it was sumptuous. Or maybe it was scrumptuos.   (I know it wasn’t scrumpdidliumptuous though) At any rate, he liked it.

When we were eating the cookies, we got out the milk and had a glass of milk with our cookies. 

James asked me for the milk and since I was across the table from him (which is very wide-a large square table, a little over 6 feet by 6 feet. )    I slide it across to him.

 Now, since we got the table, we have been doing that for fun when we pass things. Just the family. That’s the key, just the family. 

So since the context of our discussions with this man had been about culture, he said, “Now doing something like that would be very disrespectful in our culture!”

Then he said that the women are supposed to serve the men, on their knees.  I was quite embarrassed, but we laughed a little about it (James and I ) and then he said things are changing in the city though and not everyone does that now.

Though I slid the milk, I was especially glad I had served him and James and all the kids their plates of food, for lunch and not opened it up for a buffet!

I’ll know for next time we have Zambians over for dinner. Which is tomorrow evening! 







  1. Wow- that is so neat! Thank for you posting it! I loved the family picture you posted as well. We prayed for you guys at prayer meeting tonight! Love, Lily

  2. Umm ... women are supposed to kneel when serving the men. Doesn’t exactly conjure up a picture of Dad, sitting at the head of the table with a stack of plates in front him while the family is seated, waiting to pass around those plates as Dad fills them. But, it does bring to mind Sarah, adorned with a gentle and quiet spirt, calling her husband lord.

    People will probably easily forgive any number of cultural faux pas because you’re a foreigner ... just let your heart of love shine more brightly than your glaring mistakes. (And, those mistakes will get dimmer with time.)