18 November 2012

Uganda: Toro Weddings Back in the Day

Photo: New Vision
Princess Ruth Komuntale weds.

There were societies in Toro, where marriage was by kidnap. The boy's family decided on a target and waylaid her in the evening as she went to the well to fetch water.

They kidnapped her and took her home. A week later, they would show up at a girl's home to apologise, pay a fine and ask for recognition as inlaws.

At this point, negotiations would start. But in many other areas, it was a protracted process. The real journey could even start at a beer party when one man who had a daughter would tell another with sons: "I have given you a wife!"

The other would prostrate in thanks and the deal would kick off. Both parents would return home and inform their children of the developments. Neither of the children would know the prospective partner.

However, the real journey would start once a boy grew to marriage age, when the family members would start looking around for a wife.

They considered family background (clan, fertility, hardworking, free from scandals or health problems, friendliness and other historical factors), before zeroing in on a few possibilities.

Princess Komuntale dancing with her brother King Oyo at her wedding on Saturday. PHOTO:Matthias Mugisha

A go-between would secretly then make contact with the father of the girl and allow him time to do his own research.

If satisfied, the girl's father would allow the suitors to visit. All this time, the daughter did not have to know.

Among the royals

Toro princesses were only married to royals of any tribe, or successful, renowned individuals in society, but never to peasants.

Suitors were also evaluated on family background (free of vices like wife battering, suicide, murder, genetic diseases), before the royal family could allow their daughter to marry.

The Omukama did not take direct part as other fathers would. He directed the Musuuga, the clan head of the Babiito - Toro's royal clan, to deal with the man's parents.

Even during Thursday's kweranga, Charles Kamurasi, the current head of Babiito clan, presided over the function. King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru was conspicuously absent.

The king usually accepted one cow, known as Rwahenda, which would, as was done at Kamurasi's home in Gweri on Thursday, be killed for a feast for the Babiito after the wedding.

The Queen was also given a cloth known as enkanda ya nyina mwana.

After the dowry, the princess remained at the palace until the giveaway. She was smeared with ghee and fed well to look more beautiful. On the wedding day, she was given away by the king or his brother.

In a special royal ritual called okubukara, the Omukama would sit on the omukaya (throne), with the queen next to him. The princess would then sit on their laps, beginning with the Omukama, before leaving the home with the suitors.

The wedding day was one of merrymaking, trumpets, empango and a celebration called mujaguzo, where all people were invited. The aunt escorted the princess to her new home and stayed for about three days.

The introduction

For the commoners, the boy's father and his peers, made a formal visit to the girl's family with at least two beer pots.

They were welcomed with coffee berries and given a pipe at which the boy's father would puff four times.

The host family would pretend they knew nothing about the visitors' intention until one of the visitors made a formal request. It would generally be like: "I have come to be born in this home, to be a son, to take the cows out for water, to make a bigger cowshed and to help alleviate your needs. I will do all these and more if you give me a wife for my son."

After a little teasing and display of humorous intellectual literature in proverbs and sayings, they would be accepted.

The two families would then discuss bride price of about three or four cows.

According to Mbiti, all the items had a symbolic meaning. Beer was a symbol of friendship, communion, oneness and acceptability.

Princess Komuntale, her husband Christopher Thomas, King Oyo and the queen mother at celebrate the wedding. PHOTO: Matthias Mugisha

Coffee berries represented fertility, productivity and fruitfulness. The pipe was sharing and breathing in unity.

The wedding

The bride was handed over as soon as the bride price was delivered.

The function would last several days, littered with rituals. On the day of the wedding, the groom would not come.

The family would send about nine strong men who would put up a symbolic fight, 'fending off' the village boys to reach the bride's home. They had to remove a bundle of leaves (ekikarabo), from the parents' roof. Failure to remove it meant failure to marry.

Thereafter, they were given the girl, whom they carried on their backs up to their home.

The bride would be crying. The men would sing to comfort her and to announce to their people that they had been successful, as well as signal that they were approaching. Theywere met by others in a victory dance before they all walked into the compound triumphantly.

The bride and her aunt would be ushered into a house where the groom, holding a spear would be waiting with his parents, including all his father's wives.

A ritual followed where the groom sat on and off his father's and mother's laps four times.

The bride followed suit but would sit three times. Then she was taken to a house specially prepared for the occasion.

However, a married member of the family would block the doorway saying: "You found me married in this home; please go back and leave me in peace!"

She would only give way after receiving a gift, giving way to frenzied dancing and feasting, which usually lasted the whole night.

The following morning when the guests had returned home, the couple had to bathe very cold water, placed in the courtyard and guarded by the boy's sister.

They undressed and splashed water on each other as a ritual of binding and cleansing themselves of unmarried life.

The girl's aunt would stay around until she was sure the marriage was consummated.

If the girl was a virgin, she was given a cow and another was sent to the girl's parents together with sheets bearing blood. This was the biggest credit a daughter could give her parents.

The bride was then hidden away from the public for several days to symbolise death to the life of unproductivity, to later resurrect to a life of productivity.

On the day of rebirth, her relatives visited with gifts and were given a cordial welcome and great respect.

The bride was brought out and given presents. Other presents were distributed among the people who played a part in the ceremony.

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