Back in the day, marriage was taken more seriously than today. Parents groomed their children with a direct motive of getting married at a certain age. This meant giving extra time to the children, most especially girls, to be good wives and mothers.
However, today people start dating or hook up while at school, night clubs or pubs, in taxis or buses and probably move in without their parents’ knowledge.
Girls in Buganda were given extra preparation for marriage to avoid disappointments and breakups.
According to Charles Lwanga Busuulwa, a ceremonial spokesperson, at the age of 15, girls were taken to the paternal aunt’s (ssenga) homes for training.
“Away from the general conduct, love and respect, there are certain rituals paternal aunts perform for girls to become real women. While at the aunt’s place, a girl is taught about the good and bad side of marriage, how to deal with marital issues and then cautioned to be resilient in case of challenges,” he says.
“The kitchen and bedroom habits are vital aspects during the ssenga’s training,” mentions Annet Nandujja, a commercial ssenga and counsellor. After the training, the bride’s parents along with the family elders would start looking for a man to marry their girl. This is after they are well-informed about the behaviour and background of a certain family that they wished to relate with.
The search for a husband or wife was headed by elders from both the bride and groom’s family but the proposal came from the man’s side. Apart from the elders, the girl had no hand in the preparation or discussions whatsoever, according to Busuulwa.
Meeting the in-laws
An introduction (kwanjula) would follow after elders from both sides reached a consensus about how much bride price to pay.
The ceremony involved a few in-laws and relatives from the girl’s family after which a letter of consent would be signed as evidence that the girl had been married off with the entire bride price paid.
Nandujja adds that in the morning of the wedding, the in-laws are expected to bring what is called kasuze katya, entailing paraffin, a funnel, match box and a lamp to the girl’s home. A girl can only leave her parent’s house when that is settled.
“A pretend fight, which is increasingly being left out of the process with the more modern families today, is staged between the in-laws and the girl’s brothers and nephews,” she reveals. Their aim, according to her, is to prevent the girl from leaving the home while the in-laws insist on taking their bride.
And in most cases, in-laws pay money so as to be allowed in case they lose the struggle. This money is paid to convince them to let them get the paraffin into the house, without which they cannot take the girl. “The other alternative is to come very early in the morning as the brothers are asleep and hence avoid the fight,” she notes.
Nandujja, however, says before even the in-laws come in, the bride would have been bathed by her aunt (ssenga) or the grandmother and as she moves out of the room; her mother ties a white cloth around her waist, which is later unwrapped only by her husband in their marital bedroom.
Thereafter, the bride bids her family farewell and leaves with her new family members who take her to the salon where she is prepared for church.
Role of the Ssenga
After the wedding, Busulwa says, originally, the ssenga had to accompany the girl to her marital bedroom just to follow up on whether the girl performs exactly as she was told. In case she failed, the aunt would instead demonstrate as she watched her to avoid family insults. The girls married when they were virgins and therefore were expected to be ignorant about sex.
The ssenga had to take the stained bed sheets to her sisters to prove that the girl was a virgin. This was followed by the new in-law (son–in-law) presenting a goat that was slaughtered, prepared and served in the banana plantation by the bride’s paternal aunties.
The leftovers, if any, would also be buried in the plantation. This is because it is a taboo for anyone else to taste it. Busulwa, though, expresses pity saying many people have turned away from the culture today and everybody acts how they please. “Marriage has lost meaning. People do not marry for love but instead pleasure and riches and that is the main reason many marriages collapse. People have gone Western, shying away from what tradition says,” Busuulwa states
Bride leaving parents’ home
Leaving the parents’ home was in the morning of the wedding day but before the bride left, she had to go to the sitting room for the ‘last’ meeting with her parents. There, she sat on her father’s, mother’s and grandmother’s laps as each of them bid her farewell accompanied with tips of wisdom on how to handle marriage. The act of sitting on the laps was to emphasise that although she was getting married, she would still be regarded as a child in her father’s house. After all that, her grandmother would carry her on the back and take her out of the house for about three times just to show her that even after she is married off, she should always find time to visit her parents. They would, however, never forget to remind her that she would be going for good.
Her bed would then be thrown out of her parents’ house, which literally meant that she had no resting space in there; her husband’s home would be her new home. This was done to discourage a girl from thinking about separation or divorce whenever she encountered challenges in the marriage. Later, the bride would be requested to carry firewood, a pot and a knife as she moved in and out of the house, symbolising a reminder of her responsibilities as a woman in the home.