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.