An invitation to a significant event like a wedding is always a great insight into local culture and the one we attended did not disappoint. In fact it was an unusual event for Uganda, according to our reliable local informants. Not only was it the first Ugandan wedding we had been to, but also the first Muslim ceremony.
We arrived only an hour after the appointed time to find the preparations in full swing but few other guests. We were however warmly greeted and invited to sit in a lovely shady spot under a canopy placed beneath a huge tree and were reassured that we wouldn’t be sitting in full sun all afternoon.
In ones and twos some guests straggled in, the musicians arrived, the ‘MCs’ moved around and the decorator finished the backdrops, the flowers and mats were brought out. Gradually it looked as though something would happen. What unfolded was a drama of theatrical proportions.
The arrival of the bridegroom accompanied by numerous relatives (predominately female) was announced and this party was met at the entrance by a delegation of the bride’s female attendants bearing green ribbons to be pinned to the bridegroom’s guests to identify them as such.
The guests entered and were seated, but it was not apparent which was the groom. There followed some banter between the spokesmen of both parties and some women from the bride’s compound were paraded before the guests. These women kneeled on the mats and exchanged greetings with the bridegroom’s guests. After some prompting from the MC, they were rewarded for their good behaviour by the groom’s spokesman. Then two more lots of girls and women were paraded before them, some of whom were rewarded, but some not, indicating that the visitors did not have endless funds.
The groom’s party were asked if they have seen the bride and if not to state their intentions of being there. It was suggested that maybe they came to the wrong place. The bride’s aunts were then summoned and they too paraded around, kneeled on the mats and greeted the visitors. They were asked if they recognised the bridegroom’s party and whether the bridegroom was indeed with them. After some exchanges the main two aunts searched through the guests, found the bridegroom and brought him to his seat at the front.
Hoorah! We now had a bridegroom, but wait! confusion! another wedding party of guests arrived and were seeking to enter.
Once the new arrivals had been seated they were asked why they had come. They replied they were here for a wedding. It was decided to bring the bride out to see if it was the one they were seeking or if they had the wrong place.
The aunties lead the bride, covered in a green shawl, to the mat, where first the newcomers, then the groom’s party looked under the shawl and the latter confirmed that this was the bride they were expecting. The bride and aunties withdrew back into the house.
Then some other aunts were called to see if they knew the new guests. They looked them over and decided that they did and they found the groom, who was brought to the front with his supporters.
Now the wedding of the first bride and groom could take place, but actually only the groom was present at the ceremony and prayers, kneeling on the mat with the cleric and other senior men. The bride price was negotiated and paid, followed by the signing of the marriage certificate. This certificate, with notification of the bride price, was sent to the bride to sign her approval. Only then could she be brought out of the house, paraded around and presented to the guests. Flanked by her aunts she stood on the mat and received presents from the guests. She was then greeted by her new in-laws and presented with a bouquet of flowers to assure her that she would be cherished as one of the flowers would be. She was then lead to her husband and they embraced.
The happy couple posed for photographs.
The bride was then lead back into the house and shortly after the groom was invited by the aunties to enter the house for a special meal. We were told this meal involves copious amounts of food being pressed on the groom, which he is obliged to eat as much as possible.
Outside, another ceremony took place on the central mats. The second groom and his attendants undertook a marriage to take place at a future date, as it was considered the couple were not yet ready to marry, but the bride price was agreed and ceremony performed.
During much of this, guests were being served food. After the guests, most of the neighbourhood seemed to collect a plate as well. Children gathered to watch the dancing.
There followed speeches by some of the invited guests and it then seemed the main events were at an end. As it was now early evening we decided to take our leave, but I’m sure the celebrations continued for long after.