MARRIAGE is a very important institution in the Rwandan culture because it signifies the embracing of adulthood. It’s an abomination if a girl marries off herself without the blessing of her parents.
Last weekend I had a chance to witness a traditional marriage ceremony which was a blend of two cultures – Gusaba, the Rwandan traditional introduction ceremony and Kuhingira, Ankole’s (western Uganda) give-away ceremony. The New Times’s Jacqueline Uwera was introducing her beau, Charles Kwizera (above), to her parents in a give-away ceremony that was held in Ntugamo District, western Uganda.
A heavy downpour early that morning threatened to dampen the event (and our moods) in vain. But isn’t rain on such an occasion – in the African culture, that is – a blessing? Well, action kicked off as soon as the rain stopped, shortly after midday.
And it was a food festival of sorts when the groom’s family arrived. Food was served as guests arrived, but the groom’s side was served from a different tent outside the bride’s family’s compound before they were officially allowed in.
Just like during the ancient times, Gusaba and Kuhingira are still characterized by cultural tongue-twisting by the bride’s representatives and groom‘s representatives. This involves things like reciting one’s lineage and riddles, questions about old norms and many other traditional practices.
In this particular case, before the girl’s side asked for dowry (imano), representatives of the two families served each other with some soft drinks, including Heaven Wine – which was favoured because of religious reasons. But if this Gusaba had taken place several years ago, banana beer (Urwagwa) and sorghum beer (Ikigajye) would have taken the day.
Bride price or dowry, which is always in form of cows, is then given to the bride’s family by the groom’s, and an expert is always on hand to check if the cows are in a healthy condition. Kwizera’s family parted with 8 cows.
As for Ankole’s Kuhingira, when the bride’s side accepts to give their daughter ‘s hand in marriage as requested by the groom’s side, the former lines up young girls between the ages of 6-10, claiming that those are the only girls in the home.
However, the groom’s side has to insist and another batch of older girls with veils covering part of their faces is lined up. The groom is given the task of selecting his bride, who is usually part of this group. One wonders what would happen if the bride-to-be had an identical twin.
After the groom has selected his bride, he unveils her and officially shows her off. When the bride goes back into the house, she collects her belongings and is escorted by her brothers who officially hand her over to the groom. The Traditional Umugamba is the first item that the brothers of the bride carry out of the house. With cattle rearing being the main traditional economic activity carried out in both Rwanda and Ankole, the Umugamba consists of traditional milk containers.
When the bride is officially handed over to the groom, he officially puts a ring on her finger and...they are married!