Let us uphold our marriage norms
Posted Monday, March 4 2013 at 02:00
Welcoming us to our first lesson in a course of Translation and Interpretation, Tanzanian don, Dr Abel Magoti (RIP) summed up the course using the Italian saying: Tradutore traditore. This simply means “a translator is a traitor”. And nowhere has this manifested itself more poignantly than in matters African, when seen through the lenses of the ‘explorers’, missionaries and general Western scholarship.
In their recent work, Katondoozi y’Orunyankore-Rukiga, YK Museveni, Manuel Muranga et al emphasise the link between language and anthropology, asserting that you cannot describe what you do not know. What this essentially means is that a concept, an idea, a practice can only have instrinsic meaning to those already familiar and associated with it. Otherwise it will at best make no sense or be misunderstood.
This is the reason why the first missionaries seeking converts in the North Pole had to substitute Lamb of God with Seal of God, since the people there could not conceptualise what a lamb looked like. The animal that could make sense to them was the seal.
Making no effort to grasp and appreciate matters anthropological in a given society as was done in the North Pole case above, explains the misconception that is behind the current hullaballoo about what has been termed ‘bride price’ and we all have fallen for it, the way we proudly use words like tribe or ethnicity with abandon in reference to ourselves, without reflecting on their etymology and contextual use by their creators.
The Runyankore-Rukiga word for what has been labelled ‘bride price’ is okujuga, and try as you may, you will not get its exact equivalent in English or any other European language. The practice is alien to them, so it cannot make sense, the way Lamb would not to the North Pole people.
Okujuga is neither a buying price nor a selling price. It is an embodiment of and an integral part of values, beliefs, myths and mysteries surrounding the sanctity of the institution of marriage. Its misunderstanding and demonisation begins at the semantic level: call it a price, and it becomes a dehumanising practice, since it assumes selling and buying of human beings, called slavery in some extreme circles of those against it.
Risking the wrath of the custodians of these sacred mysteries, I recently engaged participants in a retreat I was facilitating in Soroti. The issue of ‘bride price’ cropped up in the course of a group presentation and I jumped to its defence.
Taking them through the standard Kinyankore marriage practice, where Okuhingira is an integral part, the anti-group came to the conclusion that the bride’s parents spend even more on the their daughter than what they receive. And in places where there are not mihingiro...? one activist seemed undeterred. My advice was simple: ask the elders why this is so! A society like Uganda grappling to find balance in the current global dynamics in an era of options in every sphere of life, had better focus on bigger matters than soft scapegoats.