You have just seen photos of my colleagues brother, Charles, and his fiance, Maureen, as they celebrated their Introduction (also called Kwanjula) ceremony last weekend. “Kwanjula” means to introduce. During this ceremony, the bride-to-be formally introduces her future husband and his people to her parents, relatives and friends. The ceremony usually takes place in the bride’s hometown, welcoming the groom and visitors to the engagement. Saturday I was blessed to be included as one of Charle’s “people”, an honored participant in his very special day.
One thing I have come to appreciate over my travels in different countries is how heavily traditional marriage ceremonies reflect on one’s culture and values. In this spirit I am so grateful to have been invited to such an event here in Uganda, a country rich in culture and tradition. As the day progressed on Saturday, I realised just how fascinating (and complicated) culture is. After travelling all morning from Kampala to the village, we met the groom and his people at his respective NGO, ActionAid, to change into our traditional garments and dress, known as a ‘gomesi’. Since the marriage ceremony was taking place in a different Kingdom (there are 4 Kingdoms in Uganda: Toro, Busoga, Bunyoro-Kitara, and Buganda; Buganda being the largest) the spokesman for the groom’s people brought everyone on the groom’s side together to go over some basic rules before we departed for the bride’s village.
I felt appreciative for his instructions and also relieved to find they were for everyone and not just us mzungus. Since different Kingdoms have different rules everybody needed a lesson (or refresher) on the traditional marriage customs of this particular Kingdom called Busoga. The rules for this Kingdom being 1) women walk in on the left side, men on the right, 2) do NOT touch your garments while entering the bride’s village, even if your traditional dress is so long you’re tripping over it, 3) Smile, look happy, and clap lots when something funny or exciting happens (i.e. formal greetings), and 4) After the bride’s family greets the groom’s people and receives their appreciations from the groom (i.e. envelopes of cash money), the women on the grooms side must carry in – on their head – baskets of ‘mutwalo’ (gifts for the Father-in-law).
At the time, the thought of carrying large traditional baskets of assorted vegetables, fruit and household items on my own non-practised, ill-balanced head was daunting. I have to admit I was kind of nervous, and discovering shortly after that dropping a basket was a bad omen for the marriage did not make me feel any more comfortable. Needless to say, we made it without dropping anything or making too much of a big scene. Afterwards, Jeremy and the other groom’s people would escort in the additional, more elaborate gifts, such as the heifer, goat, several chickens, new fridge, and leather rocking chair (talk about an expensive bride).
When we first arrived at the wedding, I was surprised to see that the bride and groom weren’t the center of attention. After all, it was their engagement ceremony. Instead, there was one Spokesman with a microphone on the bride’s side, and one across the yard in our tent, having what seemed to be a playful conversation while everyone sat and listened, laughing and clapping when something was funny. Apparently in Ugandan culture, it is custom for both families to hire a spokesman who will ‘showcase’ their rich cultural heritage in ways that some find necessary, others time-wasting but never the less interesting. The Spokesman has to be clever, articulate and bold, and if you are the groom’s spokesman, you should be humble as well to avoid appearing arrogant. In this case, the groom’s Spokesman was a local school teacher who did well to translate the local village language into both Luganda and English, so even I could understand some of the playful conversation. In other circumstances, my boss Jane was gracious enough to translate what was happening to Rachel, who in turn whispered down the table to me.
Overall, the atmosphere of the ceremony was playful, filled with lots of jokes and laughter. The music was upbeat and called for lots dancing in my beautifully handcrafted gomesi. By dark, the loud music, energetic atmosphere, elaborate decorations, and sparkling lights which encompassed the three tents set the mood for an evening of dancing and celebration for Charles and Maureen’s engagement. We left exhausted after what felt like a long but insightful day, feeling amazed by these Ugandans who sure know how to party. What a treat it was to be a part of something so special – it was something I will remember for the rest of my life!