Posted: 16 December 2014
Blog 4 from Rob Dunn
So, true to my word, the wedding…
In Uganda, getting married is a two-stage process. The second stage is a church wedding, very similar to how we would conduct a wedding in the UK. Ugandans see this as important as this is when they become married in the eyes of God.
It is the first stage which is much more interesting however. The first stage is an 'Introduction.' I was invited to such an Introduction in November. A friend and colleague in the office had a best friend, whom was tying the knot, so, in line with fantastic Ugandan hospitality, I was invited along. I was told to be at the groom's house in South-west Kampala at 8am sharp as event was occurring 3 hours away in Masaka at 11.30am. I arrived at 8am to find few guests, the family getting dressed and the groom wandering around in only a pair of shorts, desperately searching for a cow. What a thing to misplace on your wedding day. At around 11am everything was beginning to fall into place, so about 20 of us crammed into the back of 15 seater van and headed off.
At 2pm, we arrived in Masaka. Suddenly, events took a serious turn. The vans stopped a few hundred metres from the bride's house, and the groom's father lined us all up. Then he proceeded to examine us, from head to toe, tightening ties and tucking in shirts. Respect is crucial in Ugandan culture. The whole premise of the Introduction is an attempt to persuade the bride's father that the groom and his family are worthy enough to take his daughter. We were all representing the groom. One error in our dress could cause enough offence for the bride's father to legitimately send us all home. On reaching me however, the groom's father stopped. 'Kanzu' he said. I wasn't wearing the cultural white robe of the local Bugandan tribe. There was some concern. However, one was swiftly produced, and after some considerable awkwardness on my part, my long white dress was on, and we were ready to approach the house.
Men on the right and women on the left, we approached the house. At the entrance, a man emerged and stopped us. Our individual worthiness was then checked meticulously, and if we passed, a flower was pinned to our lapel and we entered. Fortunately we all did.
On entering the house/compound, we were met with 2 large marquees. In one was seated the bride's family and friends, in the other, were our designated seats. They faced each other – parliament-esque. The next couple of hours or so involved much dancing, singing and food, as the bride's family formally welcomed us to their home. Then however came two further very tense moments.
Firstly, the bride's father called the groom and his father out of the garden and into the house. The atmosphere outside lulled in anticipation. Apparently, a contract was being made. The groom was being required to agree to how he was going to treat the bride. After a while, they emerged, and stated that they had agreed. Good.
At this stage however, the second moment occurred. I was sitting happily in the shade, enjoying some unspecified meat and a coke. Then however, the best man approached me. 'You come' he said sternly. Tentatively, I left my seat and, with a few others, followed him out of our marquee. We turned the corner and headed back towards our transport. On reaching it the best man pointed to a pick-up truck. 'You help' he said. I looked into the pick-up truck and laughed out loud: lying inside was a rather large cow. My laughter was short-lived however. Subsequently, we proceeded to assist the cow down from the pick-up truck and guide it into the garden. I'm sure many of you wished you had seen me in a rural African village in a large white dress wrestling to shift a cow. Thank God camera phones haven't quite caught on in Uganda yet…
On arrival, we stopped in the middle of the garden. The bride's father rose from the seat and inspected it. This cow was part of the dowry, or bride price. Each Ugandan tribe has an expected number of cows required to release a daughter. This tribe, fortunately for me, set the amount at 1. The bride's father nodded approvingly. This was enough to legally marry the couple under Ugandan law. Job done.