One disappointment I have had in my many travels abroad is how rarely I’ve gotten to dress up in local costumes. But even that has now been cured!
This past weekend, we went to the introduction ceremony for one of Faith’s workmates named Aisha. The introduction is an event that happens before a formal wedding, and traditionally was when the families of the bride- and groom-to-be would meet, and gifts would be exchanged. Far from being a formal affair, the introduction is full of joking, acting, and synchronised dancing.
Because it’s such a unique event (I don’t think I’ve been in any other culture that has an event with a similar function), I thought I’d try to describe it through text and images. Keep in mind that we arrived at least three hours late (which is late, even by Ugandan standards) and everything that was spoken was in Luganda, so I was reliant on friends to translate what was going on. It was an all-day event, so I shan’t give a thorough recap anyway– just some of the highlights.
How we came to be so late is a story all unto itself. but suffice to say that it was a tale of getting caught in Kampala’s unpredictable, pulsating rains.
Now, to the introduction itself. The guests are arranged around a large, open, rectangular area. At one end sit the members of the bride’s family; at the other sit the groom’s family. Along one of the long ends sit a whole lot of other people. As the name suggests, one purpose of the introduction is for the two families to meet each other. So in the open area, different groupings of relatives (brothers, aunties, etc.) are paraded out before the other family and introduced.
One symbol during the ceremony which is somewhat uncomfortable, but unavoidable in this culture, is that the men stand while being introduced, while the women kneel. But one aspect that is whimsically delightful is that everyone enters dancing and with great flourish.
After the bride’s aunties have been introduced, one of the most intriguing elements of the ceremony occurs. Hopefully one of my Ugandan readers can explain the origin of this:
Only one of the aunts is supposed to have met the prospective groom already. That aunt relays some tall tale about how she met the man in question, and why he is a suitable mate for the bride. Then to prove that she knows him, the aunt walks in among the family, and identifies the groom sitting amongst them. When she correctly identifies him, there is much rejoicing and ululating and the aunt then parades the groom out.
Even though the introduction is different from a wedding, I’m still tempted to make comparisons between the ceremony surrounding Ugandan vs American brides. Just as in the US, the bride is out of sight until most of the other major figures have appeared on the scene. And similarly, there is massive fanfare when the bride enters, including, in this case, fog and sparks (there’s a video of this, among other scenes from the introduction, on my Facebook page).
One aspect of bridal custom that is vastly different, however, is dress. American brides will have one dress on which they spend lots of money, and the selection of which requires a great deal of time and anguish. But Aisha and her maid of honour wore several dresses throughout the introduction.
One of the most important functions of the introduction comes near the end: the giving of gifts. In anthropological terms, Ugandans have a brideprice rather than a dowry, meaning that all gifts are given by the groom’s family to the bride’s. It was quite impressive to see the gifts keep coming and coming until they filled the entire central area.
After the gifts are accepted by the bride’s family, an assembly line forms to move the gifts out of the central area with ruthless efficiency.
After the ceremonial aspects of the introduction were over, it was time to eat! We were ushered into a restaurant adjacent to the open ground where the introduction had taken place. I wondered how they would ever fit all the guests into such a tiny space. I don’t know where they put everyone, but some people stayed under the tents and appeared to be eating in there.
If you’re a Ugandan reading this, hopefully you can shed some light on the significance or symbolism of the things I’ve described and photographed. If you’re an expat living in Uganda, hopefully you will have the chance to attend a friend’s introduction — although if you’ve lived here for any length of time and haven’t been invited to an introduction yet, it’s time to start making more friends! For everyone else, don’t you want to come visit Uganda???