Alarge fleet of cars was parked on either side of a narrow village path, that ushered you into a small compound of a mud and wattle house. In the compound, stood two 100-seater tents.
Seated in one tent, were men clad in kanzus, the Arab white dress that is now part of the Bantu, and black jackets, while the women wore gomesis. In the opposite tent, were elders dressed in kanzus too. The music was loud. Children jostled for space at the periphery of the tents and surrounding banana plants dancing to the music in the background.
Behind the elders’ seats, men and women equally dressed smart for the occasion, cheerfully joined in the ecstasy that filled the air. The homestead in the small village of Kalangaalo, Mityana District, that on a normal day would go unnoticed, was this time the source of vibrancy that engulfed the entire village.
Perhaps what would have been a special moment for Allen Nakirijja, a daughter of this home, turned out to be a big moment for the entire family. It was not her graduation party, but rather a ceremony where she was introducing her fiancé, Phineas Wasieba, to her parents. Wasieba had mobilised 90 people to escort him to his future in-laws. “They were my relatives and friends,” he said.
Shift from tradition
You might wonder, 90 people! Yet again it may not be surprising as it is a popular trend today to find crowds at introduction ceremonies. In many cultures across Uganda, however, visiting the in-laws was a family and private affair, one marked with strict observance of the culture and norms of the respective ethnic group. Back then, not everyone would be part of that entourage, and every person who attended had specific reasons. So, who is supposed to escort you for your first visit to your in-laws? We looked at a few selected cultures from different regions across the country.
Among the Baganda, the prospective groom visited his in-laws on two occasions. The first, Okukyala also referred to as Okutta ekyama (knitting a secret) was very private. Omulangira Francis Kisozi-Lutimba, a resident of Bukomero Village in Kiboga District, says the prospective groom was accompanied by three to four people; his sister, brother and an elder, a man grounded in the cultural norms and practice of the Baganda, selected by his father. The elder’s role was to negotiate bride price.
Explaining the roles of the groom’s sister and brother, Kisozi-Lutimba says: “Besides carrying gifts, they would help the groom respond to some of the questions that were asked concerning their family since he (the groom) was not expected to speak much.” It was also symbolic in the sense that the girl’s parents would know that he who intends to marry their daughter is not a lonely man but one with a family.
Kisozi-Lutimba adds that it was also believed that the groom’s sister could have a keen eye to identify and advise her brother accordingly on any bad or otherwise qualities in the bride-to-be. The second visit is the introduction ceremony or Kwanjula. Isaac Sembajja, a Kwanjula spokesman, says this too had a small entourage. It was composed of the groom, a few of his sisters and brothers, an elder and spokesman, popularly known as Omwogezi wo ku mikolo. The spokesman took on the title of Katikkiro because of the prominent role he played as official negotiator.
Like the elder during Okutta ekyama (and often he would be the same person) Sembajja says Katikkiro had to be a prominent Muganda who was knowledgeable about the norms and traditions of the Baganda that characterise Kwanjula. He was either a clan member or one selected from the village. Selection of an elder from the community united the family and the entire village. “Back then, a child was not raised by his own parents alone but by the entire village. So taking a village elder along was to recognise and appreciate the community’s contribution to the upbringing of that son. It was a uniting factor,” Ssembajja adds.
No show for mother and father
The groom’s mother and father never attended the Kwanjula. “Back then it was the parents who identified a bride for their son so there was no reason for the old man (father) to go along,” says Ssembajja. “But most significantly,” he stresses, “Once the girl had been committed by her parents to marry his son, it became taboo for in-laws to see eachother.”
Both the groom and bride’s mothers stayed away as well from the Kwanjula, as Ssembajja explains: “Often times the relationship between the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law was not rosy. The two conflicted over respect and influence. Girls were often forewarned of it. To avoid any tensions thus as a result of that anticipated friction, tradition did not allow the mother-in-law to attend. And like it was taboo for the father-in-law to have a face-to-face with his daughter-in-law, so it was with the mother-in-law and her son-in-law.”
Three separate functions were organised among the Batooro. The first visit, Kulanga buko, the equivalent of Okutta ekyama in Buganda, involved just the parents of the boy and girl. Kulanga buko is loosely translated as announcing the in-laws. As the name suggests, its purpose was for the boy’s family to announce their intensions to marry the girl. The parents of the boy were led by a go-between known as Katerarume, which literally means he who beats off morning dew along a footpath. So his role was to pave way for both families to negotiate bride price.
The second visit was called Kweranga, which means making oneself known. It is the equivalent of Kwanjula in Buganda or Okujuga in Ankole. Steven Kaliba, the Omuhikirwa (prime minister) of Tooro Kingdom, says the Kweranga entourage composed of an elder who would be the spokesperson, the father of the son, his sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, about 20 people in total, depending on the status (in terms of wealth) of the girl’s family. “While the father accompanied his son, it would be only the elder to speak,” says Omuhikirwa Kaliba.
The elder’s role
Omuhikirwa Kaliba explains that the elder had to be knowledgeable in Kweranga norms. He had to be a married man living an exemplary lifestyle to men of his generation and everybody in society. His role was the most prominent. “He negotiated bride price on behalf of the family,” says Omuhikirwa Kaliba, noting that he had to know the family very well, its strengths and weaknesses. “You did not want a situation where a groom accepted to pay bride price that the family could not afford.”
The mother never escorted her son to his in-laws. “It is men who hunt and bring home the loot,” says Peter Akiiki Abeho, a resident of Fort Portal. “So it was like the son had gone hunting for a girl.”
Akiiki explains that the girl’s mother, Nyina omugole, was also never allowed to welcome the son-in-law and his entourage. “That’s why after a group of women came and greeted the guests, the Kiraga buko or spokesman for the groom’s entourage, would say ‘send our greetings to the mother’.”
The third and last function is called Kugaba or give-away function or Kuhingira in Ankole culture. This is when the girl is given away to be married off.
According to Julius Ocwinyo, a 53-year-old Langi poet and author, the Langi had about three ocassions. The first, aranga, was a clandestine meeting involving only the intending suitor, amoo nyom, his emissary, aor – who was often known to the prospective bride’s family – and the prospective bride. The amoo nyom and aor would give the girl a cash gift, cente me aranga.
“Most times, the intending suitor and the girl were already lovers so the girl easily accepted the cash gift. Just occasionally, where the suitor and the girl are just acquaintances, in such a case, the burden fell on the aor to persuade her to accept the gift,” says Ocwinyo. Accepting the gift meant the girl was willing to get married.
Some time after the aranga, the girl’s parents, (onywal anyako) were informed. The suitor visited along with his emissary – the same one who took part in the aranga – accompanied by a small number of – especially male – elders, (odonge).
“The purpose was to agree, through negotiation, on the amount of bridewealth which mainly included cattle,” says Ocwinyo. The amount depended on among other things, the girl’s physical beauty, morals and ability to work. The two parties would have some light entertainment. Ocwinyo says the girl did not take part in these proceedings.
The girl’s parents were then invited to inspect the cattle.
“This visit involved a much bigger group from the boy’s side, including his parents, other relatives and elders, siblings, and friends. Likewise, the girl’s party would be big,” says Ocwinyo. After the cattle had been inspected for quality and accepted, a big party, involving heavy eating and drinking followed, lasting a day or two. The girl still did not take part.
Upon returning home, the girl’s parents invited the groom and his people to bring the cattle. With a big feast prepared this time, Ocwinyo says the prospective bride took active role. “A number of the suitor’s young friends accompanied him; some of them would be looking to meet a future wife among the girl’s relatives,” explains Ocwinyo. This, Ocwinyo says, sealed the marriage.
According to Prossy Nambuya, a Mumasaba living in Kampala, the Bamasaba did not have an introduction ceremony or Khuserera as it is today. She says Khuserera is a recent culture copied from other ethnic groups like Baganda.
Henry Magomu, the Katikira, Inzu ya Bamasaba (prime minister of Bamasaba Chiefdom) instead says for a marriage to be sealed, two visits were organised. The first, a private visit, was at the family of the bride-to-be. It was composed of a groom’s sister, brother, aunt and uncles, four to seven people in total, who carried along small items such as salt as gifts. “The purpose was to ring fence the girl so that no other man would marry her,” says Katikira Magomu. This is what today would be termed as engagement. Her parents would then ask her to go to her husband’s home.
About a month later, enough time for the girl to have prepared malwa (local brew) for visitors, her family would visit. The entourage composed of two of her brothers, uncles and aunt as elders. This visit where bride price was negotiated was called Okusala ikwe.
“They would spend a night there discussing dowry,” says Nambuya. Dowry consisted of cows and goats among others. And in case they failed to agree? “Well, the option was simple; they would take back their girl,” states Nambuya. Katikira Magomu says the girl’s father would not be part of that delegation because it was forbidden for the father-in-law to come close to his daughter-in-law.