Culture not being static but progressive, I don’t think young men and women today would have been able to go through the tasks that one had to accomplish to marry in the ancient times in the Rwandan culture because it required a lot of resilience and understanding.
In the past, marriages where arranged, today; one has the sole responsibility to carefully choose the person they will spend the rest of their life with.
In the ancient times, marriage in Rwanda was based on the historical relations between the two families. Family friends would marry into one another. In fact marital ties would be established when the couple was still young.
Elders from the groom’s family would approach the bride’s family when the couple was still young, in a ritual called ‘Gufat’irembo’ literally meaning booking for the bride.
The family would affirm the ties by exchanging gifts which usually comprised of alcohol.
Today, Gufat’irembo is done but the only difference is that the couple knows one another unlike the ancient times the couple didn’t know each other.
After booking the bride in the traditional Rwandan setting, when both families thought that the children were old enough to start a family, the next ceremony would be Gusaba (paying dowry to the brides’ family). Still this kind of ceremony is held and usually cows are offered as bride price.
Marriage is legalised by payment of the bride wealth. It is paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family. In the Rwandan culture there is no ritual other than marriage to mark the beginning of adulthood.
In Rwanda, marriage is considered as a basic social institution and the pressure to marry and start a family is experienced equally by young men and women. However, most couples today select their own mates with the approval of the family members, at some point.
Currently, after ‘Gusaba’, a civil wedding is held since one has to be legally married in Rwanda, unlike in the ancient times.
A religious wedding and a reception are held after the civil marriage because a matrimonial certificate is supposed to be presented to the religious leaders before the couple ties a knot in a church or a mosque.
‘Gutwikurura’ the ceremony in which the bride’s family brings all her household items with which to start a home with her husband is celebrated today in most cases immediately after the reception.
During the times of our forefathers, the Gutwikurura was held a much longer period after the Gusaba.
The essence of this ceremony was to provide the couple with enough food that could sustain them for months since it was not ethical for the bride to go to the garden. The couple had to enjoy themselves, I think it seemed like a honeymoon for them.
According to the Rwandan constitution of 2003, Article 26 states, “Only civil monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is recognised. No person may be married without his or her free consent.”
It further stipulates that parties to a marriage have equal rights and duties during the subsistence of a marriage and at the time of divorce.