Zambian culture is endowed with beautiful tenets and practices, residue of God’s common grace. These practices should 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, with a strong sense of community. However, with all good things involving people, abuses and distortions abound. One cultural tenet that has suffered abuse over the years is that of communal living. Particularly when it comes to weddings and marriage. Sadly, these abuses are not only true of non-believers. For they are rapidly becoming the norm among many Christians 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, celebrate, fail, and succeed together. It is no wonder that we have sayings like ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Another goes: manzi akapwilila nsomba nzikanla pamodzi, meaning ‘when the river dries up, the fish come together’. Our identity and joys are connected to our communities. Individualism is frowned upon.
No one lives in isolation. We live life in a community. We share our joys and sorrows.
Practically, this is seen in various ways. The community will come and celebrate a birth, bearing gifts and will generously offer counsel to the new mother. As you grow, the community feels obligated to aid your parents in raising you. When you graduate from school, they are on hand to congratulate you and celebrate. 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 too. In fact, in the village, the entire community will own a function and contribute to the cost. Therefore, you are guaranteed a great function, with lots of people. But you do not bear the cost alone. Eventually, when you die, the community is on hand to send you off, contributing financially one last time.
The Abuse of Communal Living
However, with every human system and culture, dangers abound. For people tend to abuse and distort even the best of ideologies. One of the dangers of communal living is the sense of entitlement that people tend to develop. Because what is yours is mine, I believe that I have the right not only to ask but even to demand. I easily expect you to oblige with every request. Invariably this promotes laziness, as some think they can simply coast through life by riding on the backs of others.
Some think they can simply coast through life by riding on the backs of others.
We see this abuse in how people are commonly conducting weddings now. A couple will decide and insist in some cases that they will have a fancy wedding reception, miles beyond their means. But they do so fully expecting that other people will finance it. Ironically, this reveals a lack of planning; as well as an unwillingness to live within your means. Hence the formation of committees. People will form various committees, as many as four—typically: friends, church, mothers, siblings. You are quietly added to a WhatsApp group. Then the couple set a minimum figure for contributions, along with a deadline. By the time they have finished collecting from these groups they have enough to hold their lavish event, even pocketing some change.
Committees Used to Help with Marriage, not Weddings
In years gone by, committees used to be the initiative of friends and family. They would voluntarily set out to help the couple get started in their marriage. The couple was never involved. Whatever the committee collected was only ever in addition to what the marrying couple had planned. But the current trend is anything but voluntary, joyful assistance. You are coerced into these committees, often by people you haven’t seen in years. Then they start making their demands. If that were not enough, wedding invitations demand a set minimum amount of money that you are to give at the function. In essence, you buy your invitation to the wedding.
We invest an inordinate amount of resources into weddings. But then we neglect the marriage.
Therefore people tend to give begrudgingly, in the interest of tachimoneka bwino, or “it does not look good”. They must keep up appearances, for the sake of the community. This is not communal living. 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. Thus the support or contributions are self-serving. In the Christian worldview, service is the exact opposite. It is selfless and sacrificial. Your giving must be motivated by love and done willingly and cheerfully. Furthermore, Christian stewardship requires that we live within our means, being content with what we have.
Four Considerations Regarding Marriage and Community
- We need to radically and urgently shift our priorities from weddings and the event to marriage. We invest an inordinate amount of time, effort, and resources into weddings. But then we neglect the marriage. A wedding is for a day. Marriage is for life. Indeed, our priorities should be on preparing young couples for marriage and helping them through it.
- Families and churches need to teach the vital principle of living within your means. It is immoral for someone to want a lavish K100,000 function when they can only afford K10,000. Failure to learn this principle, closely tied to contentment, is dangerous for life in marriage. It is usually the desire to spend more than you can afford that creates committees and makes demands for contributions.
- We need to remember that the essence of a gift is that it is freely given. The moment you demand and set a minimum cost, it ceases to be a gift.
- We need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Just because abuses prevail does not mean that communal living must be shunned completely.
We must generously help one another, while putting off a selfish spirit that seeks to manipulate others.
The Lord designed us to live in community. Healthy people seek and cultivate relationships, both broadly and with depth. Healthy communities lovingly share and bear one anothers burdens. This should be especially true of the church. However, we must also be aware of the dangers and abuses that are prevalent in communal living. Believers must allow the gospel to inform their practices, even when it comes to weddings and contributions. We must lovingly and generously help one another, while putting off a selfish spirit that seeks to manipulate others. May the gospel light shine over Christian weddings and relations in our communities!