20 January 2013

Uganda: The Burden of Kwanjula


BEFORE every wedding, a couple is expected to go through a traditional marriage ceremony, also called the introduction. It is at such functions that the groom-to-be pays the bride price and any other traditional requirements.

Today, some people argue that traditional marriage ceremonies have become more lavish than necessary.

Recently, Buganda Katikkiro John Baptist Walusimbi, decried the lavish nature of traditional marriage ceremonies. "If our forefathers were to resurrect today, they would wonder whether this is an introduction ceremony. Lavishness is not part of our culture," he said.

Walusimbi said this at the introduction ceremony of East African Parliamentary legislator Mukasa Mbidde.

Mbidde reportedly spent over sh100m on gifts for his in-laws.

Real life story

Recently, I attended an introduction ceremony of a Lugbara bride and a Sudanese groom.

Unlike other kwanjulas that I have attended where the in-laws are 'pampered', at this particular ceremony, it was the opposite.

I was part of the entourage of the 26-year-old groom. He was five years younger than the bride. We arrived at the bride's home at 3:00pm, an hour later than the appointed time.

We were fined sh1.5m for the delay. The elders from the groom's side tried to beg for the amount to be reduced to at least sh300, 000, in vain.

While we were still waiting outside the bride's home, the skies let loose. We were soaked by the rain. We sought refuge in the cars.

Later, when the rain stopped, the elders continued with the negotiations about the fine. Finally, they agreed to reduce it to sh500,000.

Meanwhile, the groom tried to call the bride, but she did not pick her phone. The groom paid the money and at about 6:30pm, we were allowed in the home.

However, we were told not to sit down before the elders from the bride's side granted us permission. About 10 minutes later, we were allowed to take our seats and told to clap as a sign of appreciation.

We were instructed not take the drinks that had been put on the tables in our tent, until we finished paying all the bride price. It was the most trying time for a groom. I could only imagine what he was thinking.

The bride price was sh8m, 20 cows, 50 goats and ten bags of sugar. Others were muchomo, cigarettes, salt, soap and kitchen ware. All these were to be paid in cash, except for the father-in-law's rocking chair.

The elders from the bride's side had a list of the bride price items, and they went on ticking against each item as it was presented to them.

We thought all was done with the items on the list, but were surprised when the elders asked for transport for all the bride's relatives, who attended the ceremony.

They demanded sh2m! Apparently, this item was not included on the list.

It was about 9:00pm and we had not eaten anything. The elders threatened to stop the ceremony, if the money was not paid.

By this time, the groom was shedding tears. He even considered abandoning the ceremony. Meanwhile, the elders from the bride's side refused to refund any cash that had already been paid.

When we started moving out of the home, one of the elders ran after us and suggested that the groom signs an agreement that he would pay the money later.

At first, the groom refused, but later signed. We went back to the home and at about 10:00pm, the ceremony started. But immediately it ended, we rushed to the vehicles, lest we are given another fine

How were traditional marriages done then?

It was done secretly among the Baganda

Mayanja Nkangi,former Katikiiro of Buganda

A traditional marriage was done secretly, involving a few in-laws. First, the in-laws (Abaako) visited the aunt (Ssenga) of the bride and made their intentions known.

They would write two letters; one to the father of the bride, which the Ssenga would take to her brother asking for permission to allow the marriage to take place. The other letter would be given to the brother of the bride.

When the groom and his entourage went to the bride's home, they would be given coffee (symbolic for making a pact between the two families). The ceremony would start by asking the Ssenga, if she knew the visitors. If she did not receive the letter, she would not answer. But if she did, she would say: "Yes, they are my visitors. They are here to see you. They want to take me because I have grown."

The Ssenga would then perform most of the ceremonies. The bride and her mother would stay indoors. There was no fine and the in-laws would arrive at any time as long as it was not past 6:00pm.

Indigenously, we do not sell our daughters instead, the in-laws are supposed to bring gifts. The gifts may include a pot of local brew, two Kanzus (tunic). But earlier, it was bark cloth for the father and the brother of the bride, three bark clothes for the mother, Ssenga and the bride.

A basket of meat, sugar, local brew and Omutwalo (anything that the groom thinks is a good gift for the bride's parents). Before taking the bride, the groom and his family would bring paraffin, a lamp and a matchbox. These were usually brought in the morning on the wedding day (Kasuzze katya).

During the wedding, the brother of the bride would be given a cock before handing over the bride.

A lugbara bride asked for cash

Joseph Chandia, an elder in the Okapi/Lenya clan

Traditionally, a groom paid 30 cows, between 10 and 20 goats and chicken. However, over the years, the payment reduced to between five and 12 cows. At the ceremony, the bride is asked to introduce the groom. She asks

him for cash so talks can begin.

Today, the cash ranges between sh10,000 and sh100,000. Often the bride and groom negotiate in advance, so that she does not ask for what he cannot afford.

They then leave further negotiations to the elders. The parents ask for some money for 'opening their mouths'. The negotiations can go on for over eight hours. They start in the afternoon and can even go beyond 1:00am.

If the woman dies before full payment is done, the parents demand for the balance before burial.

James Ongora, head of homesteads

The groom would pay between 10 and 20 cows, 10 goats, an egg, a spear and sh100,000, among others. Today, the bride price can be between sh300,000 and sh5m.

The list of items asked for by the girl's parents is sent to the boy's parents in advance, unlike in the past where the marriage was done in four phases.

Toro royals are priceless

Charles Kamurasi, Chief prince (Omusuuga) and head of Babiito clan

The groom's family reports to the head of the clan stating their intention to marry from the royal clan.

In the royal clan we do not have bride price. But, we normally ask for Rwahenda (a cow), local brew and beer. The groom may also bring gifts, but we do not determine what he brings. We do not fine someone who wants marry our daughter.

In other clans, I think they ask for bride price. The ceiling was about eight cows. All or part of the bride price is received during a ceremony known as Okujuga.

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