Brenda Nalubega lost her parents at a very young age. One of her maternal aunts took her on and cared for her just like her own. She paid her fees until she completed university.
Nalubega had a wedding three months ago. However, none of her aunts has spared time to talk to her about what to expect in marriage.
“Apart from doing house chores, I did not get any lessons from my aunts on how to go about marital issues.”
“However, a week to my wedding, my close friends organised a bridal shower for me. Besides the sumptous meal we had, there was a lady I did not know. When her turn to speak came, she started telling me how to handle a man in bed, issues of hygiene, how to make great meals for my husband and how to stay attractive.”
“At some point, the language used was vulgar. She told me words I have never heard from someone else.”
Back in the day, in the Ugandan context of extended families, aunts and uncles were very significant in parenting and counselling children.
When death robbed children of their parents at a tender age, aunts and uncles took on parenting roles without complaining.
More importantly, is the role that paternal aunts played in the lives of girls as they transitioned into adulthood. These aunts had a responsibility to prepare girls for marriage.
Role of a traditional paternal aunt
Edinansi Nansasi of Bweyogerere in Wakiso District offers guidance to women of different age groups. She says an aunt is part of the family fibre and among other duties, she is supposed to teach her brother’s daughters about gender issues.
“It was the aunt’s responsibility to make sure that she prepares their daughter for marriage. If a girl was not married, that would be blamed on the aunt,” Nansasi says.
She adds that the aunt acts as the go-between the two families when a girl is ready for marriage.
“It still works even today but some prefer to hire aunts yet it must be a blood relation,” she adds.
Nansasi adds that the aunt was supposed to be the first point of contact whenever there were any problems in the marriage.
“The engagement aimed at teaching the girl child about home making and exposing them to issues their parents would otherwise not tell their daughters.”
Pastor Godfrey Lubwama, a leader in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in Kampala, says the role of aunts and uncles is significant for family existence.
“The most important thing is to have an adult to turn to when there is a challenge. Aunts and uncles offer parents temporary relief from parenting duties as they teach them about life,” says Lubwama.
However, some aunts have neglected the role and are as busy as anyone else trying to fend for the families. This probably explains why there is a growing demand for hired aunts.
Are commercial aunts trendy?
Pr Lubwama says that there are brides who want their wedding and the introduction ceremonies to be the best ever. He says they are extremely concerned with how their ceremonies appear on social media. Then he says there are those who have no idea of what marriage is all about and what they are getting into.
“These days there are many brides, especially with social media craze or those waiting for approval of their ceremonies on TV. They always want to have this absolutely perfect wedding and they end up looking for the fashionable people to appear in their photos as their aunts,” he says.
What if one has no aunt?
A recently wedded couple, however, did not bother to seek such help. Beatrice was bothered by the language used during a session with a self-proclaimed aunt at her church.
“There was this vulgar language that made me completely uneasy. She attended pre-marital meetings at church and according to her, that was good enough.
“My aunt and I are not close. There was no way I was going to involve her in issues of my marriage. I opted to attend the church programme and I think it offered all I needed to know,” she says.
Sophia Nabukalu commonly known as Sophie Gombya, an artiste, who has retired into marriage counselling, believes that pre-marital counselling in not necessary.
“Most people can approach you when every decision has been taken and there is nothing much you could do about it,” she says.
She advises couples to go for health checkups, especially sickle cells and HIV. “Marriage is about love and I always handle people whose marriages are built on the foundation of love.
“Most people decide to commit because of romance and forget that they will be living with this person forever. I help such partners understand each othe ,” she adds.
The mother of five holds a diploma in counselling and guidance from YMCA, Wandegeya. She is currently pursuing a degree in community psychology at St Lawrence University.
Acting the role
Ritah Katana, who runs a bridal events company at Totala Business Centre at Nakivubo Road, offers ssenga’s and kojja’s for hire.
“One of my first clients came complaining that her parents had broken up and she wanted someone to act as an aunt because she never connected with her dad’s family,” says Katana,
“All she could think of was a woman who was kind to make her feel better,” she adds.
She runs a rental agency of mainly freelancers - men and women who can cater for marital issues. She sometimes acts as a ssenga herself.
She concentrates on teaching about dysfunctional marriages, bonding and ways of strengthening families.
“I have attended many introduction ceremonies and I keep learning something new each time,” Katana says of her role as “an actor”. “I interact with my clients to acclamatise myself with what it takes to be aunt in their own context.”
“Switching personalities and identities is very important in this job,” she says. “But of course, it would be a lie if I said I don’t feel any emotional conflict when I am at work. But this is a business, I have to do it, and I have to keep reminding myself of that.”
Renowned city commercial aunt, Joyce Tomusange Naluggya, one of the facilitators in Buganda Kingdom’s Ekisaakaate kya Nnaabagereka, is the author of a book titled Ettu lya ssenga loosely translated ‘an aunt’s package’.
“For a happy marriage,” she says, “Do the simple things that matter to your spouse.”
She says that marriage is under threat from many self-proclaimed “experts” and the uncontrolled autonomy of young people. Naluggya adds that students are absorbed in magazines, radio and internet, making marriage appear artificial.
But she formally organises marriage short courses where she teaches important elements of marriage such as religion, gender roles, beauty, hygiene and cooking.
Among other things, she offers wedding plans. Her idea is to expose young adults to morally acceptable marriage issues. But she says the biggest pressure she experiences is the growing number of young people who want to have sex before tying the knot. “It is advisable to have sex after putting rings on their fingers. Marriage should be an adventure that people look forward to exploring,” she stresses.
The 12-hour syllabus designed by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church covers six subjects including fundamental beliefs, wedding preparation, God’s mission for marriage, handling conflicts, temperament (coping together), marriage goals and the marriage bed.
The couple attends the two-sessions, six times and on top of that are given books to read.
The most popular book recommended is Highly Effective Marriage authored by Nancy Van Pelt. The book which aims at recharging marriages, offers simple rules to people wishing to join the 10 per cent who enjoy true marital happiness. The book emphasises the pillars of marriage that must be addressed to make young parents aware of the broader aspects of marriage. The book also advises parents to be good examples to their children.
There is a growing trend of girls attending small events dubbed bridal showers where they invite Sengas to talk about marriage. Usually this is a female-only party. Most showers include a snack, drinks and a few ice-breaker games and some silly games.
At these events, girls hire an aunt to teach the bride. Some sengas are known for emphasing sex and using vulgar language.
Are boys left out?
Explaining why she opted out of the session by the church aunt, Beatrice raises a crucial marriage issue. “They only wanted to talk to girls. My husband could not attend. I felt uncomfortable.”
Society continues to prepare girls for marriage yet the boys are seemingly neglected. Augustus Kaija, an events emcee in Kireka, Wakiso District, has attended countless bridal showers and stag events. “At stag parties”, he says, “it is about merrymaking yet at the bridal shower, friends wish their friend a happy marriage with practical marital advice. I always find it unfair.”
No one teaches boys to be loving partners. Pr Lubwama explains that society has left the boys at the mercy of their peers and media. “Sadly they end up being misguided,” he says. He explains that in some instances, boys are only taught how to avoid sexually transmitted infections but do not get any training about being loving partners and how to deal with heartbreaks or even forgiveness.
“Many parents are not role models to their children. Many children live in troubled marriages. That’s why even girls ceremoniously hire someone they may never see again,” he says.
He adds: “The relationship between parents can either inspire children to establish strong marriages or set a bad precedence for them.”
However, he notes that the boys should be engaged not lectured. He says most times, boys are taught that a man must be independent and not needy. Strong and not vulnerable.
Milly Nanyondo – Businesswoman
I have an aunt I used at my introduction. Of course I love her so much and I always wanted to honour her. She is a fine old lady who made the ceremony colourful. I would not exchange her for anyone.
Ruth Kisaakye – Businesswoman
I cherish family. My parents taught me to value and nurture relationships with my siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. During my introduction, my paternal aunt was in charge. Family is the anchor to our past and a compass for our future.
Phoebe Masika– Lab technician
I cannot hire a senga. I always want my family to feel proud of what I have grown to become. Making matrimonial vows at any stage would make them proud and I wouldn’t want them to miss any moment.