Marriage is one of the important aspects in the life of Buganda. The role of the in-laws. If the time has changed some characteristics steps to be made remain.
Buganda kingdom is the largest organized of the traditional kingdoms in present day Uganda comprising all of Uganda’s Central region. Almost 52 clans make up the kingdom; these are clans that are represented by totems. The norm in Buganda kingdom is that members of the same clan totem cannot get married to each other and no one can marry someone from his/her mother’s clan totem. So marriage can be from different clans within the kingdom or outside the kingdom. Even when marriage is from a different tribe which is not within the ‘kiganda’ culture, the people marrying and the ones being married should be able to follow the culture and norms of Buganda.
Marriage is one of the most important cultures in Buganda kingdom and the respect that is given to the in-laws (Bakoddomi) is something very important among the Baganda. A union for marriage begins as a two people affair in Buganda but ends up as a clan affair before the two can be accepted as husband and wife. One is allowed to marry as many wives as he can in this culture.
In previous years, it was through match-making but today everyone identifies a partner of their choice and then informs his parents about her and after that the customary investigations about each other begins.
First the bridegroom accompanied by his brother and sister will have to pay a visit – ‘Okukyala’ – to the paternal aunt of the bride with a letter stating his intentions. Here they are served lunch and they also bring some goodies for the aunt. During this visit to the bride’s paternal aunt, the groom and companions have to be open about their clans and totems and often also their family trees to make sure that incest does not occur. She will then hand over the letter the groom brought to her brother and also tell him about their visit and intention. The father of the bride will reply to the letter informing the groom of a convenient date for their visit to the family.
After the groom receives his reply from the bride’s family, he prepares his entourage for the marriage ceremony or Kwajula (introduction) as it’s commonly known. On that day, they carry big gourds of a local brew called Mwenge Muganda which is a compulsory present to the bride’s father and his family.
On the day of the introduction, the bride’s family will gather friends and in-laws as they wait to receive their guests, while at the gate of the bride’s home, the spokesperson from the groom’s entourage calls on the bride’s side to allow them into the compound, because they have come in peace and brought with them good tidings. When they are allowed entrance, a man carrying a gourd of local brew on his head enters first and gives it to their hosts.
There is usually a place prepared for the groom and his entourage where they are ushered to sit. When the groom’s entourage is seated, the bride’s family will ask who they are and what they want from their family. That is the time they will tell the bride’s family their intentions.
Then the paternal aunt (Ssenga owensonga) who welcomed them in her home during their first visit is called to come and introduce the ‘strangers’ (that is what they are still considered at that time) once more to the family to explain their intentions. After the grooms intentions are put on the table, they are asked if they have brought whatever they were asked to bring which includes a gift to the bride’s father commonly known as Omutwalo. This one is compulsory and if the groom does not bring it, he may fail to get the bride.
At this point the groom’s entourage which consists of his aunt, sister, brothers, sit on a round table in the bride’s family house together with the bride’s family and they exchange coffee beans which they eat and drink water, as a covenant between the two families. After this ritual, the bride’s mother will come to greet the groom and that is the only time she is seen throughout the whole ceremony.
When this is done, that is a sign that the groom has been accepted in the bride’s family as an in-law and son and it’s the time the father gives him his daughter’s hand in marriage.
At this time, the groom will unveil other gifts he brought for the family which include gifts to the bride’s father and uncles who get a white tunic and envelopes containing money, to the bride’s mother, and paternal aunt. These gifts differ and range from traditional dress-like attire commonly known as a gomesi and envelopes which usually contain money. The amount of money is never disclosed and it also depends on the grooms capability; the bride’s brother who is referred to as a mukoddomi, also gets a white tunic (Kanzu) and a cock. The groom is expected to hand over the cock to the mukoddomi himself and tell him, “muko, please take this chicken and allow me to take your sister to be my wife, never accept any other cock from another man on her behalf”.
The bride herself will also receive gifts from the groom on this day, a bouquet of flowers with fruits and a suitcase. This suitcase contains a dress, pairs of underwear and other personal gifts her husband buys for her as a sign that he will be able to take care of her.
The suitcase is also a sign that she should pack her belongings and go to her new home. In the olden days the elders say that once the introduction has taken place and the bride is gone to her husband’s home, her bed is usually destroyed as a sign that she can’t sleep at her family home since she now has a home of her own. Today during introduction ceremonies, many things have changed the groom is supposed to take a portrait of the King of Buganda, a geographical map of Buganda Kingdom, a portrait of the Queen of Buganda, and a certificate from the office of the Prime Minister of Buganda. All these are supposed to represent the groom and his family’s allegiance to Buganda Kingdom and a seedling tree because the King or Kabaka as he is commonly referred to, is encouraging people to plant more trees in the kingdom.