My host parents are young and during my GCY year, they decided to have a church wedding which is how I became a bridesmaid along with FOUR other GCY Fellows in my host mother’s wedding. My host parents, Eli and Sairy seem to be on a perpetual honeymoon stage, especially as this wedding day approached.
They are members of the Kichwa indigenous community, the most populous ethnic group in Otavalo (where I am based). One day at breakfast nearing there the wedding I asked them how they felt about the big day coming up and their response was, “We have already been married two times! After being very confused, they sat me down and told me from the beginning of how their relationship came to be.
My host parents started dating 3 years ago. When my host dad decided he wanted to marry her, he discussed it with her to see if she wanted that as well. There are no proposals or getting down on one knee here. Instead, the family of the boyfriend prepares animals and fruits to bring over for the family and the extended family. If all goes well, the couple then begins preparing for weddings. In the Kichwa culture, there are three weddings, the first one is within the family, the second one is in the community with extended family, and the last one is in the church with everyone they are acquainted with.
The first two are quite small and happen in their households. After those two and before the church wedding, the couple needs to find a “padrino” and “madrina”. The Padrinos may not be part of the family but will represent the family in the church and introduce them as the newlyweds. After finding the Padrinos, the couple will make two huge baskets filled with fruit, buy two live rabbits, and then they cook a cuy and a pig and present these on huge platters. All of these gifts are then delivered to the Padrinos to share with their families. After having the Padrinos in place, it gets down to the hustle and bustle of wedding preparations. I was heavily involved, especially since the bride was my host mom and because I was a bridesmaid. I never realized how difficult planning a wedding was until I volunteered to help but here is just a small snippet of my month of January.
Finding the right wedding dress
Buying the wedding dress
Getting the wedding dress altered
Booking the church
Buying beads for the veil
Making the veils
Choosing the “right” heels
Choosing the flowers for the Bridesmaids
Making flower crowns for the younger kids
Making a heart box for the rings
Choosing who is the bridesmaids and groomsmen
Choosing what the wedding court will wear
Choosing the color scheme for the wedding
Buying 2 wedding cakes
Booking venues for the parties
Decorating the venues
Ordering food for the after parties
Booking a nail and hair artist for the day of the wedding
Finding Transportation to and from the church
Hand Making the wedding invitations
Delivering the wedding invitations in person
And much more… Let’s just say I know how to plan a wedding now and I don’t ever plan on going into the wedding planning business. The day before the wedding my host mom sat with me and told me how nervous but inexplicably happy she was. My host parents are by far one of the happiest people I know together, and I could not wait to see them tie the knot again.
The day of the wedding came and we were all up at the crack of dawn. My GCY home is one that is frequently visited by other Fellows and altogether four of my closest friends from GCY were invited to be part of the wedding party. My friend Holly helped me do my hair and then one of my host moms friends helped us get into the traditional clothing. Los Dos Anacos (two skirts one blue the other white), Blusa Bordada (embroidered white shirt), Alpargatas (handmade shoes), Mama y Guagua Chumbi (two belts one red and one colorful), and the traditional jewelry. We each were given a small bouquet of red and white roses and piled into a van to go to the church. As the music began to play we all walked down the aisle and took our seats. Then my beautiful host mom, resplendent in a traditional white lace wedding gown walked down the aisle with her mom and dad. She was absolutely stunning and had the biggest smile on her face making her just glow that much more. At the altar, as they said their vows, they began to cry making everyone watching get goosebumps as well. The veil was placed on both of them as they said those forever words and as they kissed to seal the deal. Everyone was ecstatic and welcomed the newly wedded couple with throwing up rice and glitter in the air.
Now it was time for the partying to begin. In their culture, there are two days filled with non-stop partying and celebrating. The first day the party begins with the bride and groom following the parents, the wedding court, and then the guests. After there are a few party games for single people at the wedding. The prize was the bride’s bouquet of flowers. This is in place of the bride throwing the bouquet behind her and someone catching it. After that, we eat and dance as much as we can and for as long as we can. The second day of partying begins with the couple and the family entering to traditional music and perform a circle dance. The family then bathes in herbs, like and flowers to welcome the newlyweds into their new life. That is the final traditional ceremony before the final day filled with celebrating and dancing.
Going through this journey with my host family brought us so much closer. I learned much more about indigenous weddings through my active participation, rather than reading an informative story on traditional weddings.
This goes to show that being on this year abroad teaches you little lessons and life skills that you don’t even realize you are going to learn. I can’t wait to see what more I will learn during this final stretch of my time here in Ecuador.