Uganda is remarkably described as a melting pot of cultures. It comes with diversity of tribes that make up about 56 in total and 9 indigenous communities that are widely spread throughout the country. Each tribe or community in Uganda offers distinct cultural and traditional practices that are worth exploring while on cultural safari in Africa. With this diversity, Uganda’s cultural safaris stretch beyond traditional dances and music performances to different marriage customs. Each tribal group in Uganda comes with different marriage customs and they are distinctively rare. The different types of marriages that are recognized in Uganda include the customary marriage which is conducted based on the rites of an African community and one of the parties to the marriage must be a member of that community; the Muslim marriages-these are done based on the rites and observances of the muslem faith, between persons professing the muslem religion; church marriage which is mainly licensed place of worship and it is based on the rites of marriages observed by a specific religious denomination; Hindu marriage is conducted between the Hindus while the civil marriage is done in the offices of the registrars of marriages.
Traditionally, in Ankole community the usual pattern depends on both the parents of the boy and the girl to plan the marriage, at times with no knowledge of the girls concerned. This was usually done by the boy’s parents and up on payment of bride prize, the plans would be made to pick the bride. A girl is not allowed to get married when her elder sisters have not yet married. In case the marriage offer is effected this is usually regarded like the girl’s parents were manipulating things like a give away ceremony or rather conceal and send the elder sister. If the bridegroom gets to know about it, traditionally he was never allowed to raise questions but rather proceed and effect payment of the bride wealth and then proceed to marry the young sister in case he is able. It was however, the father’s responsibility to effect all the payment of bride prize and also meet other charges of planning the son’s marriage. In the course of wedding ceremony, the girl would be accompanied by others including the aunties. To other traditions, the husband would first try out the aunt of the girl to be married prior having it with the daughter. Others put it that the aunt was meant to affirm the potential of the bridegroom by simply watching or listening to the sexual intercourse between the bridegroom and her niece. The aunties were responsible for offering advice on how the girl was to start her home given that Ankole girls were meant to be virgins till they get married off. Note that some of these traditions false and never in practice.
There is no bargaining in Acholi. Parents select spouses for their children unlike today where children can stand and choose their own spouses. The boy plus his uncle and few men from his family will visit the girl’s home where the groom remains silent and his uncles will be bargaining. Once the cost is met a date is set when the boy will effect payment. In the ancient days, it involved paying cows, goats and gomesi for mother, aunt and a suit, a stool and walking stick for the father. Other things include some amount of money but currently most of them carry salt, sugar, soap, cooking oil and paraffin. The more educated the girl the higher the cost and on the set date, the bride wealth is taken to the girl’s place.
A mugwere boy first identifies his bride and introduction is done before parents. Gifts will be offered and these are called Okutona. The boy then takes the girl’s parents to his parents to share on the price and this involves feasting and the actual giving of the bride wealth won’t be done. The wealth is taken later on and this means more feasting. The boy’s mother will be escorted by others to pick the girl from her home. At this point the couple still only consummates the marriage after ceremony where the couple will have a bath under the tree with herb laced water.
Traditionally, Buganda traditional marriage ceremony is basically an affair. After the boy has got a muganda girl, he writes a letter to the elders in the family. In case he is given a go a head, the introduction ceremony ‘kwanjula’ would follow. While at the kwanjula, 3 pots of beer would be carried along. Other items include a basket of meat, chicken for brother in law, gomesi, chicken and many more.
Once the father realizes that his son his son is interested in specific girl, he takes a calf or a goat to the girl’s place. The amount is largely dependent on the level of the girl’s education. There are other gifts that are carried along.
These mainly need goats. The girl informs her mother on her husband to be, who then will tell her husband about the issue. The boy’s father plus one or two other friends will then pay a visit to the girl’s home for formal introduction which is traditionally termed as Erisunga. Usually the Bakonzo want goats depending on how many they will tell you, hoe and two suits for parents, sugar, paraffin and many others.
The Bafumbira are a bit unique in that once the boy gets a girl, he informs his parents and later they pay a visit to her parent’s family with ‘muramba’ local brew. They sing as they go to get the girl.
Marriage amongst the Bakiga comes with weeping. It all starts at puberty when boys and girls are to be prepared for marriage. The Bakiga have a belief that people shouldn’t stay long without being married but also they shouldn’t be married off at younger age. Once the boy gets a girl of his interest the process locally known as Okuriima starts. The process entirely involves spying on the girl and her family background. Once the girl agrees the boy’s takes a step to marry, pay the agreed bride wealth and this include the cows or goats. The next ceremony will be organized when the girl will be given to the boy officially. This involves a girl fighting and weeping not to be taken by the boy. And when she is defeated her head will be shaved and she will be carried to her husband’s place by the brother while weeping and the boy’s family members will be jubilating. The groom then taps her on the head with a twig implying he is her new master.
For the Langi, when the girl and boy agree to get married, the girl goes with the boy to their home. She will be given an envelope with money for the mother and in case she takes it that will mean she approved her choice and marriage negotiation will follow. This is simply the role of the mother and she is not supposed to be told what the wealth to be paid. Food is served in case the two parties accept but of course there will be no food in case the negotiations do not meet. The other gifts include the goats, saucepans, spear and cows for the mother. The saucepan is mainly for preparing food for the son in law whenever he pays a visit to the girl’s home. Upon finishing the receiving and offering part of the bride price, the couple will exchange copper or ivory bangles that will act like rings implying that they are now married.
The Nubians who lived in Uganda during colonial times originally stayed in Sudan in the Nubba Mountains. Many of these are the Muslims and their traditions are linked with Islamic teachings. The boy and his family pay a visit to girl’s home mainly to share the policies of the marriage and bride price. The key items include money, clothes, cooking oil, cigarettes, sugar and many more.
In conclusion, different tribes in Uganda have their own distinct traditional and cultural marriage practices that are worth exploring in depth while on cultural safari. For visitors who are interested in wildlife safaris, you can also incorporate cultural experiences with any kind of adventure or wildlife tour in Uganda.