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.