The danger of diluting cultural significance

I recently attended an introduction ceremony (Gusaba) and witnessed drama that left everyone questioning the essence of this cultural ceremony.
 Doreen Umutesi
Doreen Umutesi

I recently attended an introduction ceremony (Gusaba) and witnessed drama that left everyone questioning the essence of this cultural ceremony.

The grandfather of the bride caused commotion when the sound of cows mooing played through the microphones. At first, the old man thought that the cows were arriving in for people to see and his face lit up since a hefty 10 cows were paid for his granddaughter’s hand.

The mooing continued for at least a minute. When the emcee asked the bride to come out, instantly her grandfather stood up and told the emcee to stop fooling them and first let the cows reach the yard. This is when all hell broke loose! At first everyone laughed at the old man since he didn’t know that the mooing of the cows was actually a recording. He didn’t even know that the cows being offered were in monetary terms.

I really felt the old man had a reason to be upset since, to him, culture was in jeopardy. He grew up seeing real cows offered as bride price. If many elders hadn’t intervened to calm him down, he wouldn’t have let his granddaughter get married.

In Rwandan culture ‘Gusaba’ is the ceremony where bride price is offered to the family of the bride to be. Since time immemorial, bride price in Rwanda has always been paid in cows. The family of the bride determines the number of cows offered. In days gone by bride price would vary depending on the status of the families. Some families would even ask for more than a hundred cows, which is not the case today. 

Having herds of cattle was prestigious in Rwandan culture and although is still considered prestigious its on a small scale now.

Currently the culture is changing since people are paying bride price in monetary terms. To some extent, some families prefer money to cows because they don’t have fields where the cattle can graze.

Today, a few people have ancestral homes in rural areas with farms where they can rear cattle and this is a result of our history. Initially people would rear cattle communally but with markings indicating the owner. Today communal rearing of cattle is a challenge and the tradition is phasing out.

Therefore if we are going to compromise our culture at least let it be justifiable. In addition, if there are no cows at the ceremony then don’t play recorded animal sounds. It confuses the elderly!

 

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