Life of the Party
The one word that encapsulates African life is family. Family is everything. Family are who keep you on the right track, who advise, help and love you despite it all. Family can also not be by blood alone but they can be defined by a deep friendship that through their children two families while never joined by marriage or blood coexist so closely that you would be far pressed to find better brothers or sisters.
Their kids are not sure what to call themselves so they refer to each other as cousins. Their parents are referred to as ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle’. School mates of your parents become defacto parents and get called ‘Aunty’ and ‘Uncle too and the list goes on and on. You can only imagine that with such a broad definition of 'family' getting this huge group together can often be a challenge to say the least. That is unless you have a good reason to come together. Once together the party will follow shortly after.
Some times these reasons are happy like a wedding, graduation or the birth of a child. Other times it can be more solemn occasions like the death of a younger person. I say death of a younger person because death is regarded as part of life in African societies so once a person has achieved what is perceived as a ‘full life’ their death is a celebration of life. In Yoruba land we wear white as we would in a wedding to celebrate a ‘full life’. Usually this ‘full life’ age is mid -70's although can be younger. The basic prayer said when marrying in this culture is that ‘may you live to see your children's children’. So being a grand parent for a decent amount of time is considered decent longevity or a ‘full life’.
Anyways, the party is central part of African life. The food , the music and family is the life blood that keeps us together. In Nigeria where it can be argued that we party more than most, the party industry is one of the most resilient industries in the country. Its literally recession proof. Some would be surprised to learn that Nigeria is one of the top consumers of Guinness stout and champagne in the world due to our party habits.
We would like to focus on a few elements of the party to illustrate how detailed and better yet the distribution of funds to make these parties successful. No doubt parties are a status symbol of sorts and a lot of money can be spent to show power, influence and gravitas. After all the hoopla , in the end are some basic cultural events that are being celebrated and everyone regardless of social status usually has these parties to mark the special occasions in their family’s journey.
The elaborate fabrics and custom designed variations of contemporary African fashion have spawned industries of textiles , tailors and in this modern era magazines and bloggers have been given an endless supply of material to entertain their audiences with. Normally fabrics are chosen by the celebrants of an occasion. These fabrics can be of any kind, color or design. The celebrant purchases a large amount of said fabric in order to re-sell to those that wish to come to the party and celebrate associating themselves with the family. In a wedding ‘before marriage’ the two soon to be wed families may wear different fabrics only to wear the same fabric for post marriage celebrations. These fabrics are sold to in part aid in the funding of the party at large. It is a cultural way to contribute to the party. These fabrics once bought are sewn into many different designs and styles by the party goers. So you can imagine how many different types and variations of outfits show up on the blessed day. All looking the same but unique in their own way.
PARTY money contributions
In most cases, the family leaders and well wishers will contribute funds to get the ball rolling, in other cases where the celebrate is buoyant financially enough to sponsor most of the party they do. The party funding is a communal matter with exceptions e.g. a husband who wants to marry a wife is expected to pay for significant potions of the wedding, however, his family most likely will contribute to help him make these payment. The whole idea would be that we want the new couple to have money to get started with married life after the party. Also gifts of money are given to the new couple or family in the case of a funeral to lessen the financial burden. ‘Spraying’ is when money is given to a celebrate during dancing. So a bride will be dancing and people from the audience come up and begin to ‘make it rain’ on top of her. These are all ways in which money to fund the party are done.
How can there be a party without music. IMPOSSIBLE!!! There are many musical sources in the African party. From the time you step out of your car you may be greeted by small groups of drummers who play and ‘hail’ your arrival usually in search of tips. There are 4-5 piece bands that are usually hired to entertain, playing traditional music as well as covers of popular tunes and traditional music. There in most cases a DJ present as well. The band usually plays early when the parents and elders are going through the celebration & event agenda. But when its time to ‘TURN UP’ the DJ usually plays. This happens in the evening mostly when the alcohol and food have made the party ‘LIVE’. The last musical source are special mini concerts from famous artists. Of course the last option is reserved for the most affluent who can afford such expenses. All these musical sources are paid and in some cases very well.
FOOD & DRINK
One of the more signals of a great party is that the ‘food and drink’ should ‘flow’. I can clearly recall a good friend of mines wedding which was a ‘huge affair’ where the champagne ‘couldn’t finish’. The quality counts as much as the quantity and it is usually a huge operation to coordinate it all. There are usually continental, traditional and in recent times Chinese menus offered to guests. Every guest come with full expectation of eating and drinking for free. A ‘CASH BAR” is unheard of under any social class. If you are inviting people, you must be prepared for them. The drinks of course are sought after relentlessly by guests. The more expensive drinks usually have a point person ( normally part of the celebrants family) to distribute the drinks to the ‘right’ and ‘important’ people. So familiarity with the families and the ability to be political are crucial qualities to possess when you hold this role. Drunk uncles are not the easiest people to handle. Contracts are usually given to service companies who come with their servers, bar tenders, and other necessary staff in order to effectively cater to the guests. Of course waste and theft are an issue but nothing too drastic.
Needless to say that the planning of a huge party can be a headache of gigantic proportions , but in the journey to have the ‘best’ party ever, event planners have blossomed into a thriving industry. The more popular ones are paid lavishly and can produce any type of party known to man. They have all the contacts and can produce some of the most breath taking party decor you have ever seen. They coordinator the food, music, drinks, security etc., the idea is to take away as much chaos from the celebrant as possible.
Well this is only a small dose of what a full blown African party can be about. The importance of the party sometimes trumps the actual reason for the party. for example, some people take the birthday party more important than the actual birthday. These parties do mean a lot. They are markers of history in a lineage. Some use them to show off power and status while others simply enjoy celebrating. Whatever the case, the culture of parties keeps the people coming together. To summarize, parties build unity… lets PARTY!!!