Last Saturday, something rather exceptional happened. The Blue Mango, my music group, is followed around by the Dancing Lizards, who are a group of folk dancers who come to all our concerts to dance. One of these dancers is a Comorian lad called Halidi, nicknamed Tony to make him sound Western. And on last Saturday, he invited us all to his cousin's wedding.
Weddings in Mayotte aren't as exclusive as weddings in Europe. Generally, the whole village is invited, and each guest is free to invite other people. That's how P and I ended up being invited to the wedding of my colleague's brother two years ago. We had never met Tony's cousin before, nor her future husband, but that didn't matter.
Ten of us arrived in the village at the same time, stuck together and called Tony to let him know we were there and could he come out to get us please. He took us straight to the groom, who then conducted us to his future wife's house. In Mahorese weddings, the groom is allowed out of the house, but the wife must stay at home for two full weeks without going outside. However, all the females in the village come to visit her regularly, so every day, she must wear her newest and prettiest clothes and a lot of makeup and jewellery. When we arrived, she came into her dining-room to welcome us with two kisses each. You can see her on the top photo, she's the Mahorese girl on the left with the pinkish dress.
We put all our instruments down in their hallway, sat down at an already-set table and were then welcomed by a group of ten or so Mahorese ladies with tambourines who sang for us, welcoming the strangers into their home. One man asked us each for our names in turn and sang a welcoming verse for each of us, using our names repeatedly. The bride and groom sat down at the same table and we tucked into rice, meat, samoussas and salad, followed by slices of chocolate cake, which is rather exceptional for here as people don't usually bother with desserts. They did that for us because we were foreigners.
The wonderful part was that they had never seen us before, but they welcomed us as though we'd been friends all our lives. They talked to us in French, answered our questions, smiled... And when Tony explained to them that we were now going to sing, play and dance for them as a present to them, they seemed surprised and pleased at the same time. We had thought that we were being welcomed as musicians, that they knew why we were there. Apparently they had no idea who we were. They accepted ten white strangers in their home, strangers who dumped a heap of musical instruments in their hallway, fed us and talked to us without even questioning what we were doing there. Amazing.
The bride wasn't allowed out, but we took the groom and all our musical instruments and went outside to play and dance. We quickly attracted quite a crowd of villagers and village kids, some of whom had probably never seen such strange objects before, never mind heard anything like that. The dancers each grabbed a spectator and got them all dancing, then one lady took the kids to one side and did some simple dances with them. They really got into it, as the kids started copying us and waltzing clumsily all over the place.
Meanwhile, a flowery scent came wafting around. Two ladies were making a jasmine necklace for the groom, who would be pressed into service from midnight to dance Chigoma, which is a Mahorese dance that men do on special occasions such as weddings. They were painstakingly threading jasmine flowers - tiny little things, a centimetre long and no more than a few millimetres thick - onto needles and then onto a long cord to make the richly-scented necklace you can see on the above photo. This sort of undertaking takes ages, they said, and you really have to be extremely patient. I can't see a European lady showing that sort of patience, but then again, this was for a special occasion, so they were peacefully working together, chatting in Shimaorese and threading their jasmine flowers onto their needles again and again.