Friday, February 13, 2015

Goin' to the chapel and we're gonna get married

After the training session today I was invited to attend a traditional marriage introduction ceremony by Madame Erivaida Kugonza who is one of the members of Co-Op I am working with.  The wedding is for her niece or as Madame puts it, "my sisters daughter".  

Madame Erivaida Kugonza and I
The tradition of the Ugandan people is one of arranged and plural marriage, thus the need for the bride and groom and their families to be introduced to each other.  The meeting arrangement is such that the families are arranged on opposite sides of a clearing facing each other.  The fathers and elders of each family address each other to conclude the marriage details; specifically, the dowry.  After the grooms father accepts the dowry for his son the introduction of the bride can take place.  This practice continues today albeit on two different levels.  The tribal tradition of arranged marriage is still followed to a great extent among the bush residents.  Those who live in the modern communities follow the tradition in spirit only.  For the couple whose introduction ceremony I witnessed it was very much in spirit only with many skits, dancing and entertainment mixed in. 

In the following narrative and photographs I will try to chronicle the ceremony.

Arriving at the venue the first thing I noticed was the tents.  What I came to learn as the ceremony took place was the tents faced each other with a clearing in the middle with the families of the bride and groom facing each other.  The Ugandan people are very formal in their business and ceremony.  There were quite a few women and men who had post-it sized tags pinned to their clothing with their title, e.g. usher, and the name of the ceremony and who it was for.  In this case the tags read Introduction of Joseph with no mention of the bride. 

The ceremony had an "international MC" as the young man refereed to himself.  The MC was accompanied by several DJ's and a very loud PA system.  As we waited for the ceremony to begin there was a lunch provided for the family and friends of the bride, about 300 of us I would guess.  The MC was entertaining mixing in music, dragging folks out into the center to sing and dance with the recoded music, traditional dancers and skits.  I am sorry to admit that I could not get any good photos of the traditional dancers, but to say the least they were very colorful, in dance and dress.

The first skit involved a white faced character whom I believe was a parody of what married life would be like for the groom to have a wife:

The parody took 3 very long songs to conclude and all of the guests were very pleased with the act.
Afterward the traditional dancers came out and performed a few dances then the second skit commenced.  This one had a priest character on stilts and the white faced character in a different outfit; again crowd loved the action.

The next event was a bit like our first dance with the bride custom where one gives or pins money on the bride as they dance with her; in this case the MC bringing out this women to the center, handed her a microphone and had song started.  As the women sang guest of the bride came out to greet her and gave her money.  When I inquired of Madame who the lady was she replied she thought she was the property owner; I found this very interesting.

When the ceremony turned serious the first part had 3 women in traditional costume dance into the center of the area and around a mat that had been placed on the ground in the center of the two tents.  The women brought with them two small baskets of coffee beans.  The women knead on the mat and gave the baskets of coffee to the father of the bride.  Eventually one basket was given to the father of the groom who share a bean with his family members as the brides family did the same as a symbol of peace and unity.

After the "coffee bean" ceremony the grooms family arrived in mass, I would guess around 50 to 75.  They all processed in through an arch led by what I would refer to as their MC. 

The MC introduced the fathers to each other who then addressed on and the other. The grooms father, mother and elder are behind the table with the flower on it and the brides is the man with the microphone in hand.

After quite a bit of conversation, all of which was in Swahili, the two families sat down and the processions leading up to the bride began.  The first procession was of young girls.  The danced as they entered and made a loop around the mat, then knelt first before the brides father, then the grooms.  The grooms MC then presented each with a gift.  After the young girls there were two other processions, young women and mature women who all followed the same routine.

The time had drawn near for the bride to be introduced.  Led by a women throwing straw over her shoulder the bride appeared.

 Like the processions before, the bride and her court first knelt before her father, then turned to the grooms father.  The grooms father must have approved of the bride as he then presented his son to the bride.  The groom knelt and took off the necklace the bride was wearing and replaced it with a pearl necklace.  The crowd erupted in applause so I thought that must be it, they were married.

After being introduced to the bride the women of the grooms family then welcomed the bride into their family.

After the welcoming there was much fanfare, picture taking, hugs, ect.  Then the bride and her court left the area to change into a different dress.  While she was gone the grooms family brought in their gifts for the couple.  The gifts included modern items such as chairs, sofa's and the alike and traditional gifts such as rice, fruits and goats.  Check out the last picture with the father of the groom holding the two kids.  What is not pictured are the cows given to the couple.

The bride and her court returned to receive the gifts.  A dinner was offered to the guests staying; however, most of the guests, including me, were ready to go home.  The whole of the ceremony took over four hours and the party was yet to begin. 

The traditional ceremony over the church wedding will take place today, the 14th, Valentine's day with a reception at a local hotel.  As it turns out Valentine's day is big here in Uganda with many ads on television and billboards.

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