17 January 2013

Uganda: Does Kwanjula Make You a Real Man?

Back in 1954, Yekoyada K. Kaggwa, together with two friends, set off from Bira-Kireka on a secret quest to Bukekete Bulemezi on a Friday morning.

This was the journey to win his wife Cate at an introduction ceremony, kwanjula, at her home. Previously, on their first visit to Cate's parents, Kaggwa had been asked to bring Shs 420, 30 kilogrammes of meat and two calabashes of local brew as the bride price.

With those items and a few other gifts for the bride's parents and grandparents, Kaggwa was successfully introduced to Cate's family that Friday - simple and straightforward.

"During that time, things to do with bride price and kwanjula were kept a secret," he says.

"It was not clever for one to [broadcast] these developments because some envious people could go and paint a bad picture of either the groom or bride and that could eventually lead to the cancellation of the ceremony," adds Kaggwa.

It always had to be very simple, with a few people - not today's mega parties. Though Shs 420 looks a small figure now, Kaggwa says it took some men some time to raise this money.

"As a man, you had to look for your own bride price. When they told me what I had to take, I started collecting it. Fortunately, I had a job then and it was easy to raise the money," he says.

Kaggwa explains that, then, a girl had to stay at her parents' home until the man had paid up the bride price, unlike today where you find two young people happily living together with children before the man has paid the bride price.

This, he says, has made young men so lax, explaining the growing number of informal marriages, breakups, bachelors and cases of domestic violence.

"Because young men are lazy and they want to create an impression, you find them fundraising for their introduction," reckons Kaggwa.

For Cate, the bride wealth is what defined Kaggwa as a real man, noting that the man had to work hard and earn a woman by fulfilling the bride wealth. This ultimately earned a man respect from his woman.

"Today because of the competition for men, you even find a young girl offering to pay her own bride price to get a man. How do you expect such a man to be responsible? Such marriages can't last long because there is literally no man in the house," says Cate.

Changing times

Today, although many young men would give all it takes to pay bride price, others deem it demeaning and of no value to the relationship. Innocent, a young corporate guy, feels it makes no sense for the girl's parents to ask for ridiculous amounts of money, like Shs 20m, before handing over their daughter.

"It dehumanizes women and relegates them from humans to goods with a price tag. It is mere greed for wealth and [widespread] illiteracy among people," he says.

But Ssalongo Paul Kigongo notes that it is not all about paying for the woman: it is about culture.

"In the Ganda culture, this practice is known as 'omutwalo'. It's given as a token of gratitude to the girl's parents for taking care of a wonderful bride," he says.

The same principle applies in other cultures the world over, though the bride wealth may differ among cultures. Kigongo thus says that it is rather individualistic than cultural for some parents to set a high asking price for their daughters.

"You will find that sometimes, men want to show their financial muscle by bringing [abundant] bride wealth while other times, it's the parents that [hike the pride price] for their daughters - but this is dependent on individuals, not culture."

This has led to introductions that are filled with such commodities as cars, land titles, houses and sofa sets among others. However, not all young men are averse to bride price. James, an intern at Save the Children, believes in upholding culture and respects bride wealth, so long as he can afford it.

"My problem is with men who want to pay what they cannot afford. But if you can agree on a meaningful price, there is no problem with paying it with a simple function."

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