When I first heard, in 2013, that Ricardo Torres had married a tree, I thought it was a weird event. But I was later to learn that it was, after all, not quite as strange as I had assumed. Señor Torres was not alone in the league of those who commit themselves to lifetime conjugal partnerships with trees.
Indeed, some people get “married” to all sorts of creatures and phenomena in nature. The latest “marriage” I noticed was of a young woman who tied the knot with herself.
Imagine this stunningly elegant lady, all bedecked in her bridal finery, solemnly vowing to take her, Herself (or whatever her name is), to be her husband, to love and to hold and the rest of it.
It reminds you of our dear departed friend, Waigwa Wachira, and his chart-bursting croon, “Marry Me”.
But why am I pointing fingers? My own play, The Bride (Bi. Arusi Mardufu in Kiswahili), is the story of an immigrant girl who gets married twice in one night, one of the grooms being a skull.
Come to think of it, marriages and weddings are recurrent motifs in our literature. One of the late Francis Imbuga’s earliest published plays was The Married Bachelor (later reworked as The Burning of Rags). The late UoN Kiswahili scholar, Jay Kitsao, is also best remembered for his theatre piece, Bi. Arusi.
Indeed, Kiswahili authors appear to be fascinated by marriages and the circumstances around them. For them, marriage procedures are a powerful vehicle for conveying significant social and political messages.
I think, for example, that my friend Ibrahim Hussein’s Harusi (the wedding) is, among other things, a kind of satire of the snobbish pretentions of some coastal dwellers in the latter decades of the last century.
Posa za Binti Kisiwa (Marriage Proposals to Miss Island), by my friends and teachers, Profs Kitula King’ei and Said Ahmed Mohamed, is an overtly political rap on our tumultuous East African history.
I was particularly struck there by the character Sogoramaneno (the word-juggler), one of the suitors, who reminded me strongly of one of the orator-presidents of the early years of our uhuru.
Anyway, for my dear literary researchers, there is enough matter for you to do a dissertation on “nuptial discourse in East African literature”.
But you should consult the experts widely before you embark on the requisite research. You could even give your study a comparative perspective by relating it to international literature.
After all, as Jane Austen puts it in Pride and Prejudice, “It is a truth universally accepted that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
I do not, however, buy the character Mrs Bennet’s view that the business of every mother’s life, “is to get her daughters married.” There is far more to life, especially today, than getting “hitched”.
Anyway, the marriage and wedding tales are endless. Have you ever watched a performance of Mozart’s immortal opera, The Marriage of Figaro? Closer to home, you may remember Ghanaian Efua Sutherland’s The Marriage of Anansewa.
This drama is derived from the orature trickster tales of Ananse, and it presents the hero as a modern day conman.
I remember Polycarp Shitaka giving us a masterful interpretation of the character at the Kenya National Theatre back in the 1980s.
I am sure you are not wondering why I am regaling you with these tales of marriage and weddings. Today all eyes are on London, where Prince Henry (Harry) of Windsor, the fifth in the line of succession to the British throne, is wedding American actress and social activist Meghan Markle.
You will probably be watching live the pomp and circumstance of the whole ceremony and function, thanks to the marvels of modern technology.
There will also be heaps of professional reports and expert analyses of the wedding, quite likely to be one of the events of the year. That is why I decided to ruminate broadly and randomly about marriage and weddings, instead of peddling you with superfluous details about Meghan and Harry.
But I cannot deny or disguise my keen interest in this royal wedding. Although the occasion will be steeped in centuries of British tradition, there are several aspects of it which are of particular relevance to us here and now.
I mentioned to you in an earlier chat, Meghan Markle’s African connection, which I regard as a continuation of the shattering of the myths of “racial purity” and the primitive chauvinisms that go with it.
This is straight in the footsteps of our own Barack Obama, who irreversibly changed the course of history, despite the current atavistic backlash of xenophobic cowards.
You may want to watch (again) the frank and heart-warming interview that Obama had with Prince Harry, today’s royal groom.
Mention of the interview also underlines another significance of the Harry-Meghan romance. Maybe more than any previous such relationship, this is an affair of the media, including social media. With its pluses and minuses, it underlines the reality that a lot of our lives are, and will increasingly have to be, lived in and on the media.
I speak as a member of the “bbc” (born-before-computers) generation, which has plenty of fears and reservations about the dotcom digital fast lane. But, again, the media trend is unstoppable.
We certainly sympathise with Thomas Markle, who has ended up (or is it down) with heart surgery, partly blamed on the “paparazzi” arm of the media. But we have to admit that even that onslaught was probably inevitable.
I could not resist a chuckle when I heard today’s royal wedding being described as a “pop culture event”, which it is.
One final word of advice goes to my many imaginative young readers. I know how much we love to experiment with exotic adventures. But some are really not worth the bother. Others are downright silly.
Do not go out and try to marry a tree, or even yourself.
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]