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Can I Get a Witness?

6 April 2007 - 1:22pm -- Joseph

When you're a stranger in a strange land, you seem to become a magnet for the slightly unusual. Case in point: one evening this week I had a phone call from Bill which began "Hi Joe, I have a strange request...".

The upshot was that he'd met a couple who were on holiday here and wanted to get married. Thomas the groom is Cameroonian, Evelyn the bride is Dutch, and they live in Germany. It turns out that these days, if a European and an African want to get married in Buea, they need a European and an African as witnesses. Faced with this unexpected glitch, Thomas had gone in search of the Whiteman that he'd heard lived in Sandpit (Bill's neighbourhood). On finding Bill and explaining the situation, they were disappointed to discover that Bill was in fact American. All was not lost however as Bill, being a help sort of chap, started phoning his network of Buea Europeans...

So the next day I met up with Evelyn and Thomas to sign the relevant documents (and check that it wasn't a scam) and we agreed to meet at the Buea Rural Council building at nine in Thursday morning. So on Thursday Bill, Heather and myself turned up at the appointed time. We were first in line among six bride and grooms, all of which were to be married in a joint ceremony conducted by the Mayor. At eleven, the Mayor turned up and the ceremony began.

I was called to the front to sit in the witness chair (along with the Cameroonian witness). The Mayor explained the importance of marriage, and asked to bride and groom to answer his questions in strong voice. This involved the usual questions, plus one more specific to Africa: which type of marriage do you choose: polygamy or monogamy? Everyone chose monogamy, despite the Mayor's best efforts to encourage all the brides to opt for polygamy...

I signed my name (in triplicate, naturally...) and retired to my seat with Bill and Heather to watch the other brides and grooms take their turn. They all proceeded in the similar fashion, the Mayor teasing the grooms for not speaking forcefully enough, and trying to encourage the brides to opt for polygamy (I think he was kidding...), until the last pair. the Mayor has earlier explained that as a university city, they have to be careful when marrying young couples that they have their parents' permission (not quite sure why, as they are adults, maybe their laws are different). The last couple were quite young, the groom said that his parents were 'of late' (as they say here) and they only had a sister present by way of a witness. The Mayor asked if any other family members were present, which there weren't, so he refused to marry them! They were to discuss it in his office afterwards, so perhaps a satisfactory conclusion was arranged, but it seemed quite harsh to me! They took it fairly well, and there were no tears, perhaps they were prepared for such an eventuality...

After the service we posed for a few photos then made a quick exit, as I was an hour late for my class, thanks to the Mayor being two hours late (there's an election on, so apparently he had party business or something...). In the evening, we met up with the happy couple for a drink, toasted their future happiness and all was well.

In some respects it's going to be nice to return to the anonymity of home, but I'm going to miss being a prime candidate for unusual and entertaining requests like this...

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