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Immanuel James: Caught in the Bureaucracy of Love

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dreamstime_m_913852I was, recently, witness to what began first, as a friend’s moment of delight, but progressed as nothing short of his instalmental persecutions. A wedding. A proposal had been accepted and the world was good. Being in love, he had over-estimated his capacity for toleration. Upon surviving the autocracy of rural marital tradition and the processes of a court wedding, he arrived Lagos literally panting, yet undeterred. Love inspires performance.

We drove together to a church, for inquiries on the processes for holding that elaborate stress called a Nigerian wedding. ‘It’ll be a simple wedding,’ he’d said, apparently unaware that simplicity in the matter is no less than an entrapment, an idea chewed merely in italics. Nothing is simple which involves the Nigerian crowd with its noisy intrusiveness.

For his lukewarm Christianity marked by a long absence and failure at church obligations, a waterloo was lurking ahead. To be married in the Catholic Church, he had to begin from the beginning: attending catechism classes with children for months, attending a four-month compulsory marriage course, getting baptised, and taking holy communion: all in the midst of chasing a livelihood in Lagos. Because the wedding would hold in a parish in his home state, he was required to obtain some written permission from said parish to enable his enrolment for the marriage course in Lagos. A few other protocols including medical tests and he was good, scaling all the hurdles with the energy from young love.

For the Nigerian wedding, the formalities are least in the hierarchy of needless torture. The diabolical part is the party planning, an entire department in frustration. Costume. Make-up. Photography. Videography. Pre-wedding Photography. Cake. ‘Don’t overspend’, cautions the person soon to suggest that the wedding ring should be more glamorous and befitting. Each item is embedded with its own separate political imperative. Aso-ebi is not just some costume for family and friends. From the choice of colour to the style, it carries the burden of surpassing social expectations, the burden of settling class grudges once and for all between a celebrant and some married peers. To properly perform its cultural and social office, Aso-ebi is not some piece of clothing to be purchased casually off the stalls of Balogun market. It demands the dignity of tortuous debates, rigmaroles, indecision, decision, change of choice, ad nauseam. Debates awaiting gruelling repetitions over cake, make-up, food, and venue; mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law, siblings–all present in the commotion of advice, each party wanting to own the adopted idea–the couple caught in the midst of the storm.

A modest but successful young man contemptuous of unwieldy conventions and social drama–my friend. A man learned enough to be happy when folded within his own skin, who owes neither debt nor apology to the public for his personality–seeking no validation, contented in a healthy sense of self. I saw occasional sighs of exhaustion in a bloke who would rather have none of these save to satisfy his woman. Trouble was not even the costs, never mind their scandalous implications. Just what was the point of this whole strenuous social bureaucracy? What justifies the formal and informal bottlenecks inserted in the simple idea of two adults starting a family? Two answers.

First, crowd. The Nigerian wedding crowd is well-wishing on its way to other collateral functions: assessing the material competence of especially the groom, and inaugurating new gossips about the quality of the whole affair. No matter how indifferent a couple is to crowd-think, there are family members worried enough to unwittingly drive this social dictatorship. Not many have reached the maturity to live their lives for themselves, contrary to external social fancy. Weddings become elevated to quietly respond to this inquisitiveness, or even make a few exaggerations. Call it flamboyance if you like. A ready retort: it’s a once-in-life event deserving of exhaustive glamour. Perhaps.

Now, weddings are not all necessarily some punitive affair held at the gun-point of public fantasy. That is not even the point. The point is the bumps deliberately erected on the route to its accomplishment. From the traditional rites to the church to the party, an otherwise happy event progresses more as drudgery than as festivity. It’s not mandatory, says a naive line of argument. Ours is a communal environment and, for couples who have reached a certain social class, marital decisions hardly exclude the input of parents, siblings, and friends. Important stakeholders who have constructed their own imaginations long before the event. ‘You’re my only son!’ has hardly lost any argument with parents.

Second answer is that within our socio-cultural space is that unwritten notion that, for something to have value, it must be won after a long gnashing of teeth. Check out our systems: education, work, religion, etc. There is that general suspicion of ease, some inward glorification of long-suffering expected to end in success. To have it smooth is to endure the suspicion of some ugly surprise lurking ahead. ‘If it easy na set-up’, goes a common adage. Traditional marriage rites in many parts of rural Nigeria are designed with this idea in mind, involving tiresome back-and-forths, haggles, drama, even quarrels. There could be the thrill in brazing odds to win one’s lover for keeps. But a thick formality can remove the boredom of simplicity, no less than it can exhaust the energy for celebration.

We were talking about my friend’s predicaments with getting married. In me he had a useless assistant, for we both are united in our ignorance of these matters, in our total disregard for razzmatazz. Fiancée was central to the arrangement within the permission of rigorous work and post-graduate studies, and both of them had relatives living mostly in other parts of the country. What they lacked in physical support, they gained in conflicting suggestions: get a wedding planner; no, don’t try it, he’ll rip you off for nothing; you shouldn’t have fixed wedding date in summer; you paid too much for the wedding gown, I could have got this for less! Errands, calls, work problems, his health challenge, and marriage course still running–name it. He became a pathetic figure, a downgraded version of himself. The wedding day was no different. The helter-skelter, the making sure all was in place, anxious about the capability of assistants. On that day I saw a man shabbily dusted up for performance, with smiles that looked like winces, nearly absent-minded in his own court.

At the end, so that was it? That was what all that drilling was all about? Crowds milling up and down? Food, dance, fashion, music–interesting but totally dispensable elements to begin with? Well, we can do with some celebration once in a while in life. We can always play a part to support what has become a full economy in cultural and material extravagance. There is the argument that wedding celebrates prematurely something that is just starting: marriage. But this is a party, I do not argue when I’m eating.

The crowds went the way they came, indifferently, swinging by hands holding souvenirs, giving no hoot about the stress incurred to their service. They left to go face their own problems where they left them, some grumbling about certain privations in the party, others happy about it all. A colourful mass of people, however. Humanity in its diversity, its incredible capacity for brotherhood, never mind the occasional hating. Solidarity, gifts, community, the sheer electricity of the moment. With my man fully rested, I found him for small talk. I was struck by his rapid restoration to humanity. An endearing presence exuberant like a young god, he was bubbling once again in the famous eternity of his youth. A smile was permanently installed upon his face. There you have it! Perhaps that was it, that glow of satisfaction and conquest. That was what it was all about. A new life, interesting compensation, even excuse, for all that persecution by custom.

If this is what people go through to get married, enduring even much more to stay married–managing stress, relationships, income, family, ambitions, futures, work, adversity–if people wrestle through this whole curricula of work for that multi-task of an institution, then a successful marriage is, in my own opinion, a huge achievement.

Photo Credit: Les3photo8 | Dreamstime.com

Writing is my means of saving me from myself! Immanuel James, author of 'Under Bridge', is the winner of the 2014 ANA National Prize for Prose.

37 Comments

  1. tolu4show

    September 7, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    I don’t know if it is just me oh. But there are too many unecessary grammar/oyinbo in this write up sha. The thing taya me.

    • Hiya

      September 7, 2016 at 10:32 pm

      You’re right….way too verbose

    • Www.musingsofjudgejudyjudy.com

      September 9, 2016 at 12:26 am

      As in, I started reading and felt it would get better but when I saw the writer was just getting started, I quickly scrolled past to the comment section to:

      1) See if it was just me,
      2) Get a quick summary of what he was saying up there.

      Much as I appreciate the fact that people have different writing styles, I’d much rather read something that flows easily and doesn’t have my brain taking mental pauses to comprehend better. No be say na philosophical write up person dey read, na gist.

      I’m not saying your write up isn’t nice but, I personally couldn’t really read to the end but I can see from the comments here that it was a brilliant one. Just thought I should mention this.

    • www.musingsofjudgejudyjudy.com

      September 9, 2016 at 10:56 am

      People have become really impatient in general and cannot concentrate past a certain amount of time, fail to capture their attention at this short span and it’s gone. Maybe that’s why the best selling authors today are the ones who write in plain, easy-to-understand English and who steer clear of literary contraptions (Chimamanda).
      I went back to read this and found that I had to still myself to read to the end. So imagine I’m on the go and opened this, there’s no way I’ll be enticed to read it as my hasty self won’t be settled enough to get into that still and calm mood required to read and understand this.
      I thought I owed it to you to read to the end and explain exactly how I felt reading this, it’s no shade at all and you are obviously quite the intellectual.

    • Okey McOkoli

      September 9, 2016 at 9:35 am

      Most probably but I think the right up is fantastic. If you’ve been married or are married, you’d understand every bit of this

  2. Anonymous

    September 7, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    My dear it is not only you o. the thing be like Thesis. I abandoned ship after the first paragraph. Mschew

  3. Naya

    September 7, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Excellent read ???? Keep it coming please ☺️

  4. Samantha

    September 8, 2016 at 12:22 am

    This is a beautiful piece. I totally enjoyed reading it.
    Yes, it is laced with a lot of “oyinbo” but they were intelligently woven together to create a totally-worth-your-time kind of article.

    And about the feferity attached to a lot of Nigerian weddings… oh my. For some, it is totally worth all the “stress” (let’s not forget that people who are naturally party rockers exist), while others just seem to go with the flow of what the society dictates. But hey, different strokes for different folks.
    We really need to stop living our lives for other people though and just do us.

  5. My thoughts

    September 8, 2016 at 12:27 am

    I think there is now a new breed of BN readers. Even with my sleepy eyes I couldn’t stop reading this.

    Nothing describes Nigerian weddings more than this. Well done….

  6. Amakashie

    September 8, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Author point of correction, you do not attend catechism with kids, there are adult classes and you only go through it and baptism if you intend to continue as a catholic after the wedding, if not the marriage classes are sufficient.

    • slice

      September 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      In your parish

  7. Geez

    September 8, 2016 at 1:48 am

    Geez. It’s quite amazing that the first few commenters do not see the beauty of this piece of writing. What has happened to education in Nigeria?

    @Author – I absolutely enjoyed your writing style and the story itself rings true. ?

  8. t

    September 8, 2016 at 1:49 am

    Dis write up is not easy to understand. I couldn’t finish it.

  9. Manny

    September 8, 2016 at 2:18 am

    Don’t mind those generation whatever people up there o ?
    You write wonderfully well. Like a lazy Wole Soyinka. That’s a compliment. Really.

    • Ready

      September 8, 2016 at 1:54 pm

      I got the same vibe, but it’s not a compliment from me. I found it unnecessary. I also find Wole Soyinka’s verbosity unnecessary. One of the goals of writing should be to communicate clearly to as many people as possible.

  10. xplorenollywood.com

    September 8, 2016 at 3:14 am

    Nice write-up! The grammar was kinda of over the top but funny at the same time. The pre wedding rigours is not a joke but if you love the person dearly, u wouldn’t mind, anything it takes to make that day special. N from wat u have explained, big or small there is always one aspect that would get you.

  11. Kosi

    September 8, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Take out all the unnecessary big words and add dash of light-heartedness and this would be excellent.

  12. Toluwalope

    September 8, 2016 at 7:51 am

    Brilliantly written article.
    I enjoyed every bit of the thoughts wrapped in stern looking complex grammatical expression.
    Keep it up!!!

  13. Ewa

    September 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Nothing like simple words!!!!!!

  14. misstee

    September 8, 2016 at 9:30 am

    You need not use ambiguous words to validate your points , you will bore your readers.

  15. lollly

    September 8, 2016 at 10:28 am

    i found this article quite funny and interesting despite the ‘overbearing’ grammar. at a point, i had to go back and check if the writer was Honorable Patrick ..hehehehe

  16. Olubusola Adedire

    September 8, 2016 at 11:07 am

    This is a beautiful write up!!! A bit technical for a blog though… but I love it!

  17. Chizzy

    September 8, 2016 at 11:21 am

    I love this write up.
    All these hassles for barely 12 hours of my entire life.
    I wish I can have a destination wedding of just 50 persons.

    BTW, James is an amazing writer. I always look forward to reading any of his works.

  18. Mz_Danielz

    September 8, 2016 at 11:27 am

    This writer wrote for other writers or at least people with a literal gift. It’s a good piece I liked but also a bit tiring. In this era, less is more. Some of the best writers use simple words but weave them together in unique ways. Chimamanda is an example

    • Frida

      September 8, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      You’re right! That’s what I also love about Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie…..the ability to tell a story in the simplest way with as few words as possible.

    • See

      September 8, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      But every writer has their own style that makes them unique.

  19. Katiana

    September 8, 2016 at 12:23 pm

    A worthy read.
    Hey Michael, I like how you write.
    Can we be friends?

  20. demashi

    September 8, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    Who’s this guy? He has set up the bar for literary efficacy with this erudite and captivating piece.

    And I know how the intricacies of Naija weddings work. I quit in anger just before mine before pleas and pacification a of my dear in-laws changed my stance.

  21. Obi

    September 9, 2016 at 2:04 am

    To be honest , I don’t see a problem with the grammar. I actually read it and I understood every single thing he wrote.
    Well weddings like any other event are usually complicated but it’s always best to go with a solid plan and follow it strictly lest you incur certain things you wouldnt want to. I am not married though but I envisage that the stress involved in planning a wedding would be very high cos you just want it to be successful and tick all the right boxes.

    • EE

      September 9, 2016 at 2:31 am

      I understood the part I read too, but guy I no fit waste time read something wey comments don already summarise.

  22. Manny

    September 9, 2016 at 3:48 am

    Sex and the city – the movie. Carrie & Big’s 2nd attempt. That’s my ideal wedding ?

  23. Frankie

    September 9, 2016 at 7:15 am

    There is this notorious saying that if you want to hide something from an African man, put it down in writing. While I refuse to accept that unfair generalisation, reading the first comments here give life to the generalisation.

    About the abstract, it is really sad, but maybe necessary, in the interest of the society. This is one of the things many people after going through, decide to stay put in a marriage they appear to be victims in. Because they went through a lot of publicity, economic, psychological and emotional drag to grab marriage.

  24. Shogo Adegboyega

    September 9, 2016 at 8:39 am

    Immanuel came through again as usual, brilliant write-up. I am married; every line just ticks the box of what happens in preparation for a Nigerian wedding.
    ‘In me, he had a useless assistant’…i burst into laughter here. You’re one of my favourites Immanuel. Thanks for this.

    PS: There isn’t too much oyinbo in this write-up. Sorry to burst your bubbles…this is Immanuel writing half-asleep! I wonder what y’all would do when you meet classic Immanuel write-ups.

  25. Lucky Ihanza

    September 9, 2016 at 10:02 am

    “Not many have reached the maturity to live their lives for themselves, contrary to external social fancy…”
    I always marvel at this boy’s (no, this man’s) witticism and depth.

  26. Olodo

    September 9, 2016 at 11:41 am

    Bros abeg na, this English too much.
    I think you make sense but tl;dr. Maybe if it was more conversational and less grandiose in it’s verbosity (bros na from you I learn o!)

  27. anon

    September 9, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    This prose, the text is just what is needed as proof that greateness can exist in the sham that is the present day Nigeria,

    And how are the words too complex? Please this is not Linda Ijeji’s blog. BN presents a semblance of an intellectual mien

  28. Great Lady

    September 14, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Wow, I love the way you write. I absolutely love this article, too much truths. My sincere prayer and wish is that my wedding (when it happens) would be very private and small. Nigerian weddings and the festival that goes with it always makes me choke.
    Only lazy people would find this article hard to comprehend.
    I also love the way you ended thus, to have successful Nigerian marriage is a Bigggggg achievement. Kudos my man.
    Can I copy this for my blog?

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