Accepted paper:

Uncertain Rituals: Weddings and Social Change in Botswana


Koreen Reece (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper compares two weddings in Botswana - a mass wedding conducted by an NGO, and a family celebration - to explore the persistent ambiguity of Tswana wedding rituals, and to examine the role of ambiguity in producing social change.

Paper long abstract:

For much of the past generation in Botswana, marriage has seemed increasingly difficult to attain. Public concern here, and elsewhere in southern Africa, has crystallised around a purported 'crisis of marriage', discerned in dwindling marriage rates and rising rates of cohabitation and divorce (Pauli and van Dijk 2016). Blame has fallen on new expectations of lavish celebrations, and long-standing expectations around the payment of bridewealth (bogadi) alike - pressures heightened as the once extended, processual dynamics of Tswana marriage rituals have been foreshortened into one-off events (Solway 2016, van Dijk 2010). But recent years have seen a burst of weddings again, with marriages being concluded more rapidly, by younger couples, and at even greater expense than ever before. Churches, District Administrator's offices, and even NGOs have been active proponents of this trend, positing the intimate connections of marriage as a panacaea to the disruptions posed by a range of social ills, including the AIDS epidemic. But while the weddings they conduct promise change, they achieve it in unexpected and unpredictable ways - rearranging natal families, creating new distinctions as well as connections, and generating uncertainty in intimate and kin relationships. This paper compares a mass wedding conducted by an NGO with a family celebration to explore the ways in which ambiguity persists in Tswana wedding rituals, and to examine the role of that ambiguity in producing opportunities for social change.

panel Anth33
Intimate relationships, marriage, and social change in southern Africa