Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Last Saturday two of our friends got married (congratulations yet again!) and we had the pleasure of sharing this special moment with them. It was touching and the scenery couldn't have been better: a tropical beach at sunset. She was wearing a lovely African frock, while he sported a very cool African jacket. I was moved and thought it very romantic but the reason for my describing it here is different: they were married by the Mayor of Libreville, according to the Gabonese law. And this is what I want to tell you about.

The Mayor kept us waiting. It must have been quarter to five when he finally started the ceremony, originally scheduled for four o'clock. He was wearing an official uniform and arrived with a rather intimidating bodyguard. Bonsoir, he said, insisting on using the Gabonese form and stressing that he would not use the French Bonjour instead (the Gabonese use "Good evening" for both evening and afternoon, while the French say "Good morning" all day long).

He started the ceremony by reading out the adequate passages from the Gabonese law. We therefore found out that it is the man who is the head of the family and makes decisions, the chef, the leader. The woman is to follow him, live with him, take care of him and listen to him. There you go.

Having read this, the Mayor informed us that both bride and groom had opted for monogamy. You see, in Gabon, before he gets married, the man chooses "the family book", which can be either monogamous or polygamous. Whatever his choice, he must stick to it in the future, it cannot be changed. We were told nowadays many couples go for monogamy; however, some men choose the polygamous "family book" even if they are not keen on marrying more than once: it's so that they can threaten their wives if they are not obedient ("I'll take another wife! I'm allowed to!"). The Mayor thus posed the question few European people have a chance to answer: "Do you confirm your choice and opt for monogamy? Or are you willing to change it?" Both said monogamy was just fine.

In every decent romantic comedy the real lover has very little time to get to church and save his girl from marrying the villain by shouting out "NO!" when the priest asks whether anybody opposes the marriage (it usually does happen in church in films, doesn't it?). Here in Gabon he would have no problem. The Mayor asked this question and, to our great surprise, did not carry on. He waited. He insisted. "Nobody is saying anything. Why? Do not be shy! Nobody opposes the marriage? Are you sure? Not even a little finger in the air! Why?". I felt like somebody was going to say "Yes, yes, I oppose, I oppose strenously!" in order to get the man to move on.

And then it happened. He married them. And then... decided to give them advice. He congratulated them on taking the step so many people fear nowadays and I thought that quite nice. Afterwards he talked for what seemed like ten to fifteen minutes about the importance of roles in their relationship. He is the boss. She follows him. He tells her what to do. She takes care of the house. The importance of saying "I'm sorry". And how it's her who should normally say it. You know, the usual stuff. Only that he was dead serious.

A couple of unmarried guys told us later that it would be rather cool to get married in Gabon: it puts the woman in her place and it's all legal.

What followed was a lovely religious ceremony and a very nice party. We wish Vania and Thomas all the best - and thanks for letting us be a part of your special day!


  1. soa bem, nom vos animades? (desde Solhana acô estamos com gana de mais vodas!) :P

  2. I think I could get quite violent hearing that kind of talk ;-). Our ceremony was conducted in quite a dry way and was not great or anything but at least it did not get me all feminist-kind of mad ;-).