15 March 2006

Uganda: Changing Trends of Introduction Ceremonies

The fatigue of the introduction ceremony hang over Margaret Apio and Tom Lagada for two months. The whole affair could barely be alienated from a wedding ceremony.

The monstrous introduction budget had left both families financially strained given the huge guest list, but nevertheless, the ceremony had been one to impress.

Months before the ceremony, the couple had consulted an elder on the procedure for the introduction ceremony in their culture (Acholi) only to make various changes.

"We just could not follow the procedure to the letter because of the different conditions today. Our biggest battle was the guest list because we could not invite only a few relatives and friends since many people are accustomed to being included in the occasion. Making it a two day affair like culture demanded was impossible," says Apio.

As is the case with Apio and Lagada, many couples today have diverted from the traditional ways of carrying out their introduction ceremonies.


Omitting some steps and including others from different cultures that were not originally in the process have changed the procedure. Many young people argue that times are changing and the wave of modernity is sweeping over Uganda so they do not feel it's an obligation to follow the process to the letter.

The couple went ahead to print invitation cards and send to their friends and family members, which is the growing trend lately. So it is no wonder that there was a large number of guests at their introduction ceremony contrary to the fact that introduction ceremonies in most African cultures were a private affair limited to a selected number of family members and friends.

Prof Livingstone Walusimbi, a Senior lecturer in Institute of Linguistics, specialising in the African languages, explains that originally, a few people were involved in this ceremony especially from the groom's side to avoid any embarrassment since it was never guaranteed that the girl's relatives would accept the marriage.

"It was not obvious that the marriage would take place. It is only after negotiations that marriage was definite. Today, by the time a couple goes for introduction, consent to get married has already been given," he says.

Lagada argues that there is not a lot of time these days, given the pressures of work so the whole ceremony is done in as less time as possible, often one day.

"My entourage followed the initial traditional visitation where I was given a letter stating the demands for bride wealth, then came for the introductions on the set date. Unlike the days when the groom had to come in the night, we went in the afternoon, made the necessary negotiations and concluded the traditional marriage. We feasted and we all left," he says.

Merge and mix

The reduction in the duration of the time spent on the ceremony is common in many tribes as some of the steps are merged or omitted.

In an Itesot introduction ceremonies for instance, Joyce Ijokoreng explains that traditionally, a girl's parents were invited to inspect the cows (bride price) in an occasion before the introduction but today, this is not done.

"Today, the groom's entourage simply comes at once after the initial visitation for the introduction ceremony with the bride price often as cash," she says.

Prof Walusimbi says that change is obvious in society and culture has been no exception.

"Today due to the influence of modernity, religion, intermarriages and responsibility, people are dropping the traditional processes for simpler and less time consuming procedures. They are also including practices from other tribes since most of our societies are multilingual," he says.

In another introduction ceremony, Solome Atim, a Langi narrates that contrary to the traditional way where elders and families played the paramount role, it was minimal during her introduction. Friends accompanied her to the front where her in-laws-to-be were seated so that the groom-to-be would identify her by putting a flower in her hair, a process similar to how it is done in Buganda, and later, she did the same.

"I changed my clothes three times. Introduction ceremonies in Lango have more to do with drinking than eating but because we are both saved, alcohol was out of the question. We took soft drinks," she says. With growing religiosity, the traditional gourd of local brew has been replaced with a gourd of juice or soda.

"Today, I have witnessed people taking unnecessary things for the introduction ceremonies. Traditionally in Buganda for instance, in-laws only demanded for omutwalo (bride price), a goat, meat and bark cloth for the parents, aunt and brother. However today, people bring greens and fruits. They even go far to bring big gifts like cars or furniture. It is a very extravagant ceremony," says Walusimbi.

"The ceremony has been made comical by the aunt (senga) searching for the groom in a crowd yet originally, he used to sit at the front row between his brother and sister," he goes on to say.

Allen Nakato, a Muganda, says that at her introduction ceremony, her in-laws carried numerous baskets (ebibbo) on the day of the ceremony and her fiancé brought her a car for a gift.

When the two were identified, ululations followed which Prof Walusimbi says is a foreign culture from other tribes from the East and North since in-laws are respected way too much for anyone to make such ululations.

"Respect for in-laws has really retarded. The bride-to-be and her friends at many of these introductions, irrespective of the tribe, parade in front of the in-laws at times dancing. The spokes person who is hired in most cases often makes ridiculous jokes which is disrespectful," he says.

In some tribes from the West, during the Okuhingira (give away) the girl's parents have been known to give so many gifts that it surpasses the bride price paid.

"Due to time and financial constraints the introduction ceremony Okugamba Obugenyi and the okuhingira are combined these days. The bride-to-be changes into many traditional outfits and greets the in-laws with her friends, which was originally prohibited. The bride was rarely seen traditionally," says Diana Natukunda, a Munyankole.

Due to intermarriages, couples have been seen trying to blend the cultures by incorporating traditions of both tribes. "During my brother's introduction ceremony to a Muganda, my parents attended as well, even if in Buganda culture, parents are not allowed," says Joyce Nabirye, a Musoga.

In Angela Nazze's case, she explains that on top of the things demanded by their Itesot in-laws, they brought along ebibbo of various things, as is the Ganda culture because they wanted to make the ceremony colourful and familiar.

In Dan Olupot's case (Itesot), much to the shock of the guests, his entourage took along a number of cows alongside the meat demanded by his Banyole in-laws-to-be because his culture requires one to take cows.

There is no question about the lavishness in today's introduction ceremony. Besides the food served, the couple often cuts a ceremonial cake depending on the family's status. It could even be a tier crown with the images of a bride and groom exchanging rings. It has been dubbed as a small wedding so many people do not bother to have the church ceremony.

An introduction short of the bride-to-be changing her outfits more than twice would surely be frowned at. As if to make a point, the brides parade in up to four different traditional outfits with flair of modern fashion.

The gomesi is the most popular adapted from the Central, mushanana adapted from the West and lately, an imitation of the Indian Sari is common. Entertainment is a must have ranging from traditional dances, live performances by artistes to the latest music.

As the nature of the introduction ceremony evolves, the need to pay bride price is diminishing.

"Some families barely ask for bride price today. If any, it is done ceremoniously and a very minimal amount is demanded for at whatever time the groom can bring it. In fact, the gifts a girl's parents give her are more than the bride price brought by the groom," says Walusimbi.

In the face of a generation influenced by Western values, the traditional ceremonies are being modified to include more appealing aspects.

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