CUSTOMARY LAW MARRIAGE IN BUGANDA KINGDOM
Buganda kingdom is a very old kingdom, the largest and most organized of the traditional kingdoms in present-day Uganda. It comprises most of Uganda’s central region. Marriage in Buganda rotates around clans and totems; there is no way one can fully understand the traditional marriage ceremony without considering Buganda’s clans and totems. People from the same clans are not allowed to marry each other. When this happens, it is taboo and leads to severe consequences.
Members of the same clan are not allowed to marry each other. They are also forbidden from marrying someone from their mother’s clan who shares the same totem. This norm is highly respected in Buganda and should never be undermined. Therefore, marriage can be between people from different clans within the kingdom or outside the kingdom. If they are from a different tribe outside the Buganda kingdom, the people marrying should follow the traditional marriage steps required by the Buganda culture. These steps include;
Okukyala is a traditional function that happens to be the root of the entire marriage ceremony. Without this step, there is no basis for the later functions. Okukyala is a visit to informally introduce the husband-to-be to the girl’s parents. At the okukyala function, the man asks for the girl’s hand in marriage. After the engagement, the groom’s party, including his parents, are invited to celebrations.
The bridegroom and his friends and relatives visit the bride’s paternal aunt (Ssenga). They bring gifts and are dressed in a ‘kanzu’ and ‘gomesi.’ A ‘kanzu’ is the traditional attire men wear at Buganda traditional functions. Men typically wear a coat and trousers with the Kanzu. ‘Gomesi’ is the traditional women’s attire.
In preparation for the ‘Kukyala’ function, the bride and her family prepare a feast for the groom’s party. They are also required to be dressed in a ‘kanzu,’ and ‘gomesi.’ Dressing in anything that is not the traditional attire is considered inappropriate and disrespectful to the bride’s paternal aunt (ssenga) and the in-laws.
The bridegroom and his relatives and friends arrive at the bride’s home with gifts. They are later welcomed into the home by a few people. They do not bring the gifts inside the house. At this moment, the bride is completely out of sight because normally, the bride’s family pretends not to know their visitor’s intentions. They are served lunch, and after the meal, they bring in the gifts for the aunt.
The meal is followed by a discussion about clans, totems, and their family trees in detail to avoid incest. The groom’s party normally has a spokesperson who does the talking.
The ‘ssenga’ acts as the official go-between for the two parties. Most of the communication about the visitor’s intention is channeled through her. The bridegroom presents a letter to the bride’s family (bazeyi) or elders. The letter must be in ‘perfect’ Luganda. In addition, it has to be presented through the Ssenga (aunt) as the official go-between for the two parties. A small amount of money accompanies the letter for transportation to the ‘Bakulu Bano’ (fellow respected elders). In the letter, the groom asks for their daughter’s hand in marriage, thereby asking his in-laws to be ‘born’ in the family. The groom has to wait for some time for the ‘Bakulu’ (elders) response in writing. In the response, the ‘Bakulu’ specify a date that the groom gets ‘born’ into their family. They also gave him the maximum number of people he should take to the introduction ceremony (marriage ceremony). The father-in-law also asks for his ‘omutwaalo,’ which is taken as bride price.
OKWANJULA. (TRADITIONAL MARRIAGE CEREMONY)
Who is involved?
Ssenga (aunt) is central to the entire marriage ceremony. All the way from the start, when a bride finds a man who is going to marry her, she has to tell the ssenga (aunt), who in turn tells the bride’s father. She says to the father, “We have grown up and found a man.” The bride never tells her father directly about her husband-to-be because her aunt has to do the talking on her behalf.
The ssenga’s (aunt) role is to teach the bride how to generally conduct herself, good body hygiene, love, and respect. She is the one who teaches kitchen and bedroom affairs to the bride. As a young adult, the bride is sent to live at her aunt’s place for training. At the aunt’s home, a girl is taught about the good and bad side of marriage, how to deal with marital issues, and how to be resilient in case of challenges. Therefore, she is central to the girl’s marriage. The ‘ssenga’ is consulted to solve issues throughout the marriage.
The ‘ssenga’ further grooms the girl when she is a young adult about bedroom issues, for example, ‘okukyalila ensiiko’ (visiting the bush). Visiting the bush is crucial, and if a girl does not go through this procedure, it is likely to ruin a marriage, especially if she marries a man from Buganda.
THE KASIKI (BACHELOR PARTY, BACHELORETTE PARTY)
The Kasiki function is a celebration held the day before the introduction ceremony.
The ‘Kasiki’ origin in Buganda goes as far back as the child’s birth when the child kept their mother up at night taking care of the baby.
At first, people would stay awake the whole night. They would surround the fireplace and drink alcoholic beverages taking turns to check up on the new mother (nakawere), bringing her special firewood (ebisiki) from a special branch of the ‘Kasana’ tree because it takes a long time to burn out when lit. The firewood was to keep the mother and baby warm as it would burn the whole night. For two months, the mother would vigilantly watch the baby for protection.
When this period was over, the mother would keep one log of firewood (ekisiki) and bring it out when the child was set to get married.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE KASIKI
Finally, when the child was fully grown and ready to get married, the mother would bring out that piece of wood, ekisiki, and add it to the fireplace to reminiscence about those years when she had kept awake. Kasiki is a big party with a lot of alcohol, food, and music. Villagers and all the relatives are invited. The bride-to-be sits with her paternal aunt throughout the night while the aunt explains to her the marriage roles and challenges. This would go as far as asking her whether she had visited the bush well, and the aunt further tries to find out what was accomplished in the bush visiting sessions. The bride-to-be would be taken through her sexual roles and advised to be submissive to her husband. This ensures that the bride-to-be is ready for marriage and does not shame her family since traditional marriages in Buganda involve the two families, not just the marrying individuals.
In traditional marriages, the boys are given medicine to enhance their sexual strength on the kasiki night since this is seen as the ripe time for them to explore their sexual pleasures with their wives. When some boys are born, they have frequent erections, so they are given medicine to decrease these erections. So when they are getting married, they are given an antidote to reverse the effect of the medicine.
So generally, the ‘kasiki’ is a party done on both sides the night before the introduction ceremony (okwanjula) is done. It is marked with celebrations and aunts advising the bridegroom and bride on their marital responsibilities.
THE INTRODUCTION CEREMONY
The next morning, the groom, accompanied by his friends and relatives, set off for the bride’s home. The bridegroom is accompanied by friends and relatives that normally don’t exceed the number given in the father’s letter following the ‘kukyala’ ceremony. If the number exceeds the given one, the groom (in most cases) is made to pay a certain fee or is given some form of penalty.
The groom and those escorting him set off with the gifts and bride price they will pay to the bride’s family during the introduction ceremony. On arrival at the bride’s home, tents are normally organized, and the bride’s family is already seated waiting for their visitors. The use of tents is a modern-day practice. In the past, the entire marriage ceremony was conducted indoors.
When they arrive, the groom’s family and relatives wait outside the bride’s home. They make straight lines with men in one line and women in the other. The first person in line should be carrying a calabash of alcohol with a banana leaf wrapped around it. The spokesperson (omwogezi) is the first one in the other line because the talking battle begins there and then. In most cases, the ‘omwogezi’ is hired.
Both parties (the groom’s party and bride’s party) are required to dress in ‘kanzu’ and ‘gomesi.’ Any other dressing is a violation of the culture, which can lead to penalties.
The groom’s spokesperson (‘omwogezi’) should be very knowledgeable about the Buganda culture in every aspect and also a comedian because the introduction ceremony is a contest between the spokespersons from the bride’s and the groom’s side as they test each others knowledge and understanding of the Buganda culture and old traditions.
Before the groom’s party is allowed in, there is “immunization” dramatization, typically conducted like a medical checkup. The girl who leads the group that immunizes the guests is the one who announces the results of the checkup. Part of the plot is that one of the guests is announced to be a patient and the illness/ condition is the bride’s name. So the guests (groom’s party) are later led into a separate tent from that of the bride’s family after being “immunized.” They are greeted, but the females have to reply while kneeling as that’s the culture.
After this, the spokesperson representing the father pretends not to know anything about the guests. In most cases, the spokesperson on the groom’s side talks while pleading and displaying a high level of humility, sometimes even kneeling.
The spokesperson on the bride’s side calls out different groups to greet the guests. The guests come dancing while music is being played. Female members kneel and greet the groom’s party, and males don’t kneel to greet. The greeting party does not leave unless they are given gifts, and they go back while dancing. The greeting party is categorized into the bride’s sisters, brothers, uncles, grandmothers, and the aunt comes out last. The aunt’s appearance is welcomed with much applause because she introduces the groom to the audience. The aunt identifies the groom as her husband. She further explains that the groom’s party has come to see her, pretends to be the bride, and tells the father (spokesperson) where they met.
Meanwhile, during all this time, the groom is seated among the guests hidden, and it’s the role of the aunt to find him and show him off to the audience, who react to this with happiness and applause. The groom is then invited inside the house for further discussions. A few of his relatives accompany the groom as others wait outside in the tent.
The bride’s father joins the rest of the people in the tent where food is served. The groom’s party and ssenga are served food inside the house. So much happens inside the house at ‘kwanjula‘ ceremonies.
What goes on inside the house?
The father, mother, aunties, and uncles make up part of the delegation on the bride’s side. The groom’s party could consist of his uncle, sister, best man, and grandfather.
Discussions go on inside the house, and these involve settling the bride price and making key traditional ‘kwanjula’ negotiations and ceremonies. These discussions are done in the house privately because the bride price belongs to the father’s and does not concern the whole community.
In scenarios where there are unresolved issues, such as misconduct, being late, cases where the bridegroom has disrespected the family, or they have heard some negative information about the groom, that time is used to settle all these issues. In some cases, the groom is penalized for the offenses.
The groom also has to give his father-in-law the bride price while indoors. A few selected family members also witness the exchange of the bride price. Therefore, ‘omutwaalo’ ( bride price) that the bride’s father asks gets settled inside the house. The groom directly hands over the ‘omutwaalo’ to the bride’s father. After this, the ssenga takes over to finalize the ritual, which involves making a pact between the groom and the bride’s father. This pact is called ‘entaba luganda.’
The aunt presents a ‘akatta mukago’ package that comprises coffee beans in a small basket, a pot of water, and a ‘olwendo,’ which is a can to draw the water. The groom is given coffee beans by the bride’s father, who picks them up with both hands and chews them. Both hands are used to demonstrate that the groom has totally accepted the family.
After that, the aunt must make way for the groom’s spokesperson to read a document about the grooms’ lineage, tribe, level of education, occupation, and residence, and the bride’s spokesperson must ask her father if there is any hindrance that can prevent the marriage ceremony from taking place. In most cases, the bride’s aunt would have already briefed the family on the groom’s details, and they would have already accepted him into the family. The groom then offers the coffee bean basket to his father-in-law, who also picks the coffee beans with both hands to taste them. The rest of the family members also taste the coffee beans from the same basket. Therefore, it resembles unity between the two families.
The bride’s father and mother usually leave after the father tastes the coffee beans. The mother retreats to her bedroom while the father returns to the tents to eat with his guests. As the bride’s mother walks away, the son-in-law turns away from her instead of looking at her.
The groom remains inside the house, and a meal is served. The groom and his family are served a special delicacy called ‘oluwombo’ by the bride’s aunt. The groom must first look for and consume the gizzard, known as ‘nkoko nkulu,’ and the bride’s aunt will be checking to see if he does so. Eating the gizzard first indicates that he is a well-groomed gentleman who is well-versed in matters of the bedroom. Following the meal, the son-in-law must express his gratitude with a basket containing an envelope with money. When the guests have finished dining, the aunt takes the groom outside and announces to the guests that the negotiations have gone well.
The next step is to present the bride to the rest of the guests. So the real marriage ceremony is the one that goes on inside the house, and that’s how the success of the function is determined.
When the bride comes outside, the groom’s party brings out gifts for her. The gifts typically include a suitcase. The suitcase contains clothes, underwear and other gifts bought by the husband for the wife. Clothing his wife is the groom’s way of showing that he is capable of taking care of his bride. It is also an indication to the bride that it is time to go to her new home. The groom further goes ahead and gives a cock to the bride’s brother, referred to as the ‘mukoddomi.’ The groom further begs the ‘mukoddomi’ to take the cock and never accept another cock from another man who wants to take his sister away.
Among the gifts the groom brings, he should include ‘kasuze katya’ as it has a lot of meaning and historical background. It usually comprises of paraffin and wood to help make a light to keep company to the parents who would have given their child away. Generally, it is aimed at helping parents through the sleepless nights following the send-off of their child. Today, instead of bringing paraffin and wood, most people only bring paraffin because of the changes in contemporary society. It is also predicted that solar panels will take over from paraffin in the future. While bidding farewell, the bride sits on the laps of her mother and grandmother to show them that she is still a child. The bride will always be welcome as a child in that house but is not expected to permanently live at her parent’s house because it is no longer her permanent home.
At this moment, the bride is ready to set off with her husband to their matrimonial home. But before this is done, her bed is thrown out of the house to show her that she can’t come back as she no longer has a bed in her father’s house. She can come back as a guest but not permanently. The farewell bidding is typically followed by her carrying a basket of gifts to give to her husband. The basket of gifts is referred to as ‘Kabo kamuwala.’ She carries this on her head, so the husband has to get the basket off her head.
GETTING THE BRIDE OUT OF THE BEDROOM
After the bride has been married, she is expected to stay indoors enjoying married life, not performing many tasks outside her house/home. During this time, she is pampered by her husband and treated like a new bride. This period lasts for one week from the time of the wedding. It is equivalent to the modern-day honeymoon, and it comes to an end after the one-week time frame has elapsed.
ENDING OF THE HONEYMOON
After the bride has been married to the groom for one week, she stays indoors in her bedroom for an entire week. The aunt and other people prepare a feast that they serve as they get her out of the bedroom. The husband is also required to give the bride’s parents a goat if the girl is a virgin. The bride’s aunt prepares the feast and serves the bride and a few present relatives. So the one week is the honeymoon period, and once it is over, the bride is required to start married life as all other married women.
COMMON TITLES USED AFTER THE INTRODUCTION CEREMONY
Omugole omukazi: This is the title is given to the bride.
Omugole omusajja: This is the title is given to the bridegroom.
Mutabani-This is the title that the bride’s parents call their new son-in-law.
Nyanzaala-This means mother-in-law.
Sezaala-This means father-in-law.
Mukoddomi: This is the title that the groom uses to address the bride’s younger brothers. Mwaami: The younger siblings of the new bride may also see the groom as an alternate husband, and this is not serious. Mwaami is a fun relationship with healthy and open flirtation to some extent. This relationship can be abused if not done responsibly.
This same title is what the bride should use to address the husband. Grandmothers use this title while addressing their male grandchildren.
Mulamu-A title the bride is supposed to use while addressing her husband’s siblings.
Mujawange(mukazi mugya)-This is a title given to a co-wife by another wife. It is further used by grandmothers while referring to their granddaughters.
OTHER TYPES OF MARRIAGE
KAWUNDO KAKUBYE EDINISA(ELOPING)
This title means coming through the window. This marriage type comes as a result of a girl eloping with a man that her parents know nothing about. Eloping is seen as a disgrace to the family of the woman/girl who goes through with it. The girl’s family never recognizes this marriage. In fact, it is not referred to as marriage. The girl’s parents always call the man a stranger, and he is not welcome him in their home. They always say that he stole their daughter, and in the modern-day, they can report the man to the police if they don’t forgive him. Eloping is highly condemned and has serious consequences. Therefore, most Baganda people try to teach their children to stay away from this relationship.