Susan introduces her fiancé to her parents. He has asked for her hand in marriage. She is excited, and her man can’t wait to take her away and make her his own. To their surprise though, her old man is angry and disappointed. He orders the man out of their house and asked that he only returns with a land title – an assurance that his daughter will be settled in a permanent home.
That there is a script from an advert on one of our local TV stations. It’s not far from the kind of demands some parents or relatives make in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage.
If there is one event in our society today that brings two or more families together, often times, in joy, it is a marriage ceremony. It is beautiful to see two consenting adults, a man and woman, commit to living together in love.
In the event that a woman has met and agreed to marry a particular man, she has to introduce him to her parents so that they know who is intending to walk away with their daughter. The introduction ceremony is a very significant tradition in many African societies. It is an opportunity for the man’s family to thank the parents of the bride-to-be for nurturing her. In some societies, the family of the woman decide what gifts the man should come bearing.
While it elicited so much joy, one where the nitty-gritty of culture and norms were observed, the introduction ceremony was restricted to the two families and only close family members were involved. In Buganda, only those who had a role to play in the event, abeensonga like aunts and the girl’s brother, omuko, attended.
“It was referred to as okutta ekyama (knitting a secret), meaning that it was not a public event,” says Omulangira Francis Kisozi-Lutimba, a staunch 51-year-old Muganda
Today, an introduction ceremony has become more of an event, way bigger than the actual wedding. And the kind of gifts, amaze the audience; Side boards, water tanks, sofa sets, motorcycles, cars, lawn mowers, make up some of the presents the boy gives the girl and her family.
“You attend an introduction ceremony today and wonder what they are doing. It is like a drama show,” Kisozi-Lutimba says. “Back in the day, the gifts presented or requested for by the woman’s family were not really few but there were those particular and highly-significant items,” he adds.
It is apparent that many of these traditions are steadily phasing out, if they have not already. There are still bits of preservation, but the original meaning is either lost or misrepresented.
So, as you draw your budget and prepare to meet your in-laws, please bear in mind the following things. Yes, you might be worth millions, able to showcase a beamer for your bride-to-be, but if she comes from one of these tribes, then the elders will be expecting more.
Omutwalo This is a special gift for the father-in-law. Much as it means a Shs10,000 currency note, it could be any amount of money. The idea was derived from a norm that many traditional Baganda men loved to smoke tobacco and it is the bundle of tobacco that is in Luganda called omutwalo. So since the father-in-law was presumed to love smoking tobacco, the gift he received for his daughter was called omutwalo.
A cock. This is for the girl’s brother .
Aunt and mother’s clothes. The aunt’s cloth is traditionally called Olubugo lwa senga while the mother’s is Olubugo lwa maama. Olubugo means bark cloth and the gifts were actual bark cloths at the time. Today, however, they are given gomesis. Kisozi-Lutimba explains that because the aunt and or the mother would go into the bush to look for herbs in case the girl fell sick and in the process tear her bark cloth, it was a form of compensation to them.
Although back in the day the man only carried a cow’s thigh for his in-laws to be shared by family members who attended the event, today they can take a cow or goats.
This drink, ekingula lugi, is carried in a gourd for the family members and residents, thanking them for nurturing and grooming the girl. The brew was carried on the head as the son-in-law entourage entered the girl’s compound. It is very important.
Enjoga ya amarwa, an alcoholic brew, carried in calabashes. Adrine Musiime, a former teacher and resident of Bushenyi District, says among the traditional Banyankole and Bakiga the entourage of the man intending to marry carries this to the family of the bride-to-be on the first day the two families meet. “There is a norm that people do not just open their mouths to speak, because their throats could dry, so Enjoga ya amarwa is intended to let the elders open their mouths to speak, knowing that their throats will not dry,” Musiime says. And if the girl’s family is happy, then negotiations for bride price begin.
Cow, sheep and goats
Musiime says the head of cattle, sheep or goat is negotiable, depending on how important the girl was to the family. The girl’s importance was determined by her diligence and hard work, and so had been an asset to the family’s wellbeing. Today, the level of education the girl has attained is also highly considered. “Depending on the status of the family (wealthy or poor), they would ask for a significant number of cattle because sons in that family would use some of them to pay their own bride price,” says Musiime. One of the cows was slaughtered at the Kuhingira (give away) ceremony.
This ceremonial goat is locally known as Ladyel moo. The goat is the first present to be received before the “official” bride price. Retired Bishop Maclerd Baker Ochora says it is a gift that introduces the man to the family of the bride-to-be.
“If it was received with gratitude, it means you were accepted in that family,” he says. After presenting the ladyel moo, negotiation for bride price would begin.
She goat for mother-in-law
Bishop Ochora says the mother-in-law is highly respected, and so is honoured with a gift of a goat, which can eventually multiply and for that matter, it had to be a she goat. Today, though, the gift can be monetary.
She goats for the aunt, uncle and father.
Other gifts; Cattle; “One is charged according to the status of their family. Richer families paid more in bride price, like 10 cows, compared to poor families that can pay as few as five cows,” says Bishop Ochora.
The bishop explains that back then, about two weeks after paying the bride price, the girl would be escorted to her marital home by about 10 of her sisters.
Cattle, goats and cocks. Dr Richard Otuke, a Makerere University History don, says these are the key gifts among the Iteso. He says these are given in appreciation and as a sign of respect to the family that raised the girl.
He says it is also a sign that once these are offered, then the man can own the woman and she is subjective to him. Some of the same cows can be used by the brother of the girl when he is paying off his bride-price.
Dr Otuke says the number of cows or goats depends on the status of the family. “To show that you have the capacity to look after your wife, one can bring as many cows,” he says.
He adds that if a woman divorces, however, ideally the cows and goats are returned.
Dr Otuke says marriage among the traditional Iteso is a process, where a man intending to marry, visits the girl’s family, who in return make an “assessment visit” to his home.
That visit includes the father-in-law, who upon stepping into the man’s compound, is given a cock. The idea of offering a cock continues every time the father-in-law visits or whenever there is a ceremony involving dancing and eating.
Bows and arrows. According to Robert Atiku a resident of Bataka Village in Maracha District, these were intended to protect the girl’ family because the area was prone to attack by wild animals. [The West Nile District borders Murchison Falls National Game Park].
Firewood. Atiku explains that because people back then used makeshift houses and could be attacked by wild animals, firewood provided lighting to scare away wild animals.
Six cows and a box of hoes. The hoes are given to the father-in-law for cultivation. Unlike in other cultures like among the Baganda where the brother and aunt of the girl receive gifts such as a cock and gomesi, among the Alur, these people do not receive gifts.
Extreme dowry demands
30 friesians, Shs10m and later a separation
“I went to a friend’s kwanjula and what I witnessed left me puzzled. He had been asked to present 30 Friesians, Shs10m cash, plus other things like sacks of sugar and other foodstuffs. The sad part though, is that today they are separated. During the kwanjula and wedding, my friend had to take loans from the bank, friends and whatever avenues that could give him money. Marriages today are straining, especially to young couples who are under immense pressure despite earning very little income.
Today, love alone isn’t enough to sustain a relationship, you have to prove financial muscle. I would like to marry at some point but I’m scared because they will look at me with a lot of expectations. I think people need to define their ‘what is important’. I have heard many horror stories of parents demanding so much from their children. It feels to me that today kwanjulas are like a business.
I remember seeing my friend shaking while handing over the Shs10m; I could see the pain in his eyes giving out all that money. It was an eye-opener for me because I wondered how I’m going to get around this. In the UK the average wedding or engagement party can’t exceed 50 people, yet here a small wedding attracts 500 people. You have to buy gifts for all these people.
Personally I have had discussions with my girlfriend on her expectations. I think parents demanding much from their children is great but I beg to stick to tradition because these children have to establish themselves. They have their whole future ahead of them. Today more people are going down the civil road because they cannot afford all the demands of the kwanjula today.”
Tesfa Samuels, Marketing Manager Geolodges
Shouldn’t every child be raised the best way?
“Kwanjula ceremonies today have lost the gist in them. A function which used to be a union between two families through their children, have today been turned into a showbiz thing, with exaggerated demands. I got married but we I didn’t pay much; I brought seven goats, four cows, foodstuffs and some money for the parents of my bride-to-be then. I did not feel much strained.
However, I once travelled to the north to escort a friend who was getting married to a lucky girl from one the affluent families. Both families were well off and hence he could foot the demands of the parents; 15 cows, five goats, and about Shs9m. This was way too much given the fact that I had witnessed him struggle to come up with that money and the things the parents asked for.
The parents of the girl defended the exaggerated demands, saying this was only a sign of appreciation for raising their daughter.
I found this rather pretentious of them as any parent is expected to bring up their children in the best way possible. Anyhow, as if the bride price was not enough, we had to go with foodstuffs and clothes for the elders.
My friend got married but had to come back to a heavy debt burden. The family struggled a lot with the debts and he sold most of his assets trying to pay off all the debts he had accumulated because of the kwanjula. The whole struggle to pay back almost cost them their marriage, because the man was frustrated and under a lot of pressure.
James Mugisha, Professional plumber