put a ring on it

That ‘Married’ Couple From Malawi Was Actually Just Celebrating An Engagement. Still Illegal, Though

(Click to enlarge)

That “gay wedding” in Malawi, that featured two men (one dressed as a woman) who were promptly arrested on public indecency charges, was not a marriage ceremony at all. A reader wiser than we (and, apparently, Reuters) points out that guests actually attended a chinkhoswe, or a traditional engagement ceremony. At such an event, “usually, the couple is presented to the community, gifts are presented, and so forth,” writes reader John, an American living in Malawi.

His location helps, as he was able to offer these scans of the front page of Monday’s The Nation newspaper, which reported on Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjez’s engagement on its frontpage.


Notes John: “The Nation, one of two daily papers in Malawi, published a front-page article on Monday (the chinkhoswe was on Saturday) with the headline ‘GAYS ENGAGE.’ I’ve attached the whole article, which includes a photo. The first thing one notices, looking at the accompanying picture: one of the two men, Tiwonge, is clearly dressed as a woman, makeup included. Although the masculine “he” is used throughout the article, Tiwonge is consistently referred to as the bride, while Steven is the bridegroom. This is not simply ignorant reporting; Tiwonge, according to the article, self-identifies as a woman. He is addressed as ‘Aunt Tiwonge’ by the MC at the ceremony. At the same time, the two appear to self-identify as a homosexual couple, rather than as a heterosexual man and a transgendered woman; Steven says he first realized he was gay upon meeting Tiwonge (at church). He says also, that neither of them has ever been interested in women, although Tiwonge does appear to self-identify as one. Of course, here in Malawi, where many people would prefer not to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality, gender identity is an even more elusive conversation topic. Thus, the labeling game isn’t played so much.”

Great insight, thanks John!

He’s also shared this Tuesday article from Malawi’s Times newspaper, which reports on the arrest:




UPDATE: “Tiwonge and Steven went to court today, where they pleaded not guilty to charges of gross indecency,” John (pictured) writes in after listening to a BBC report. “Prosecutors promised that they’ll soon have medical proof of Steven and Tiwonge’s carnal knowledge ‘against the order of nature.’ The trial’s not over yet – but man, this case certainly got sent to trial in RECORD time for Malawi. One hears constantly about cases that are delayed months or years for seemingly no reason. Steven has decried the poor conditions at Chichiri prison, but that’s nothing new, and the government’s certainly not going to start working on prison reform because of these two.”

Meanwhile, we asked John, who is straight, about whether even American ex-pats there are comfortable being out. He replies: “Most of the gay and bisexual Americans I know out here are in the closet (very much so) – although they’re out, back in the States. It pretty much goes without saying that the gay Malawians I know aren’t out at all.”

UPDATE: An earlier version of this post prevented it from being viewed properly. We apologize.

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  • Kevin

    I know that at least in (parts of) Nigeria what’s now referred to as an engagements ceremony is the former traditional wedding ceremony. Then the missionaries arrived, and of course you can only have a wedding in a church :)

  • John from England(used to be just John but there are other John's)

    This is too depressing to comment about and get a good discussion.

    Queerty is too snarky and tunnel visioned.

    It’s an odd story and I feel sorry for the guy dressed up as a woman because he seems pretty sad about the whole thing.

    I think he was being used by the other guy, who may have wanted asylum?

    I’m being cynical but this doesn’t add up.

  • Sugabelly

    @Kevin: Erm no. I’m Nigerian. There are traditional engagement ceremonies and then there are traditional weddings. The two are very very VERY different.

    Most Nigerians have TWO weddings. One traditional one and one Christian or Muslim one. Most Nigerians have ONE engagement ceremony – the traditional one – which is viewed as the only important/valid one anyway. The western practice of asking with a ring is simply out of habit. It holds no validity until the man formally sends his family to the woman’s family to negotiate for her.

    This was not a wedding, it was an engagement… unless otherwise stated.

  • leliorisen

    I have been blogging quite a bit on both the Uganda and Malawi stories.

    For those who have yet to check out the newspapers in those countries, especially the forums where Ugandans and Malawians comment on the stories, it is a truly eye-opening experience.

    Today I featured some of the more outrageous reader comments from the Malawian daily “The Nyasa Times,” and also provided the link.

    It is in my piece, “Malawi & Uganda: The Religious Right’s Wet Dream.”

    You can check out the coverage by clicking on my name above.

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