Turning The Haters Into Believers: My Mom's Campaign To Preserve The Engagement Ceremony

My engagement ceremony: mom, me, dad, and the drummers because what's a celebration without drummers?!
Last November while preparing to host Thanksgiving dinner for my family of origin and our friends in Boston, I started picking up on my mom's ulterior motives for the visit.  During a pre-Thanksgiving phone call that included my requests for jollof rice and rum cake, she repeatedly inquired about my engagement ceremony DVD.

"But mom, you have a copy."
"I know but I gave it someone and they never gave it back."
"Um, well, you might need to go on ahead and give them a call and say, 'Where is my DVD?!'"
"Please, just give me your copy."
"Why?  So it'll go missing like the one you had? Mom, you can't just go around passing out copies of our engagement ceremony like it's a bootleg copy of a Tyler Perry movie.  Why don't you just call the guy who did the videography and ask him to make you another copy?"
"I did and he said he doesn't have it anymore."
"He doesn't have it?!  It was only five years ago!  See...some of these Nigerian vendors...what kind of shady business is he running?"
"Tinu PLEASE! I promise I'll give it back."  Then I heard my father's voice in the background, coming to my defense: "I don't blame her!" he said to my mom. "I wouldn't give you another copy either." 

Clearly, I am my father's daughter.

As a compromise we spent the day after Thanksgiving wading through Black Friday crowds to kill time while waiting for Staples to make a copy of the DVD.  My advice to my mom: "As soon as you get back to Maryland you should take this copy, keep it as your replacement for the one you gave away, and then make a copy so we don't have to do through this again."  So you can guess my reaction when I recently received the following voicemail: "Hello? Ah, yes -- Tinu? This is your mom.  How are you? Look, please can you help me make a copy of your engagement ceremony DVD? Please, I really, really need it.  So if you could do that for me I would kindly appreciate it. Say hello to Josh."


Now before you start leaving comments about how I'm such a terrible daughter, rest assured, my mom has yet ANOTHER copy of the DVD made at the SAME Staples.  In fact when I dropped it off, the gentleman looked down at the cover and said, "Oh! I remember copying this last time!"  But before I sent it off to her, I was curious as to why her Nigerian friends, intimately acquainted with the custom, were asking for the DVD.  Her short answer: "Well all their children are getting engaged and marrying white guys."  Dissatisfied with her response, I kept pressing her on the issue.  I mean, there are lots of other Nigerians they know whose children have married someone who isn't Nigerian so... why us? "Well," my mom added, "their children said that won't do an engagement ceremony unless their parents  do it the way you guys did."

The conversation still left me scratching my head. A traditional engagement ceremony serves as the official introduction of two families being joined together through marriage because in Yoruba culture, as in many non-Western cultures, when you marry the person you do marry the family (and sometimes the whole tribe).  More importantly, it also serves as the groom's opportunity to beg for the bride.  The most indelible memory from our engagement ceremony was how hot it was in my parents basement where the ceremony took place even though we had the A/C cranked up (but hey, it was August in Maryland).  And while ceremonies can have unique elements, many elements are pretty common like the entrance of the groom's family, bringing out the bride, prostrating to parents/elders, singing, and reading the groom's family's "letter of intent" (which I think my family actually drafted).

My mom kind of tip-toed around the issue but I realized that one of the main elements of our ceremony that her friends' children wanted to replicate was the absence of "the D-word": DOWRY.  

From the time I was old enough to attend engagement ceremonies and understand their significance, my father made it abundantly clear that he would NEVER accept dowries (money) for his daughters because there is no amount of money in the world anyone could ever give for his daughters.  So while our ceremony included an exchanging of gifts between families -- I'm pretty sure a case of Martinelli's Sparkling Cider and some fruit baskets were involved -- a dowry played no part in the ceremony and my husband was not complaining.  I'd say my dad's view is pretty rare among Nigerian men of his generation.

So I thought I'd give my mom suggestions for engagement ceremony resources that would not involve me spending so much time making DVD copies: "Have you look on Youtube?" I asked, totally expecting my mom not even know what Youtube was, "There are lots of engagement ceremonies on there."  But mom never ceases to surprise me: "Oh please," she responded, "There are so many stupid ones on there. I don't have time for that foolishness."