OKWANJULA (introduction ceremony), is an important cultural rite in Uganda. It marks the first stage into marriage before partners proceed to a formal wedding. However, what started out as a small, secret traditional ritual is fast turning into exhibitionist pop fluff that is fast losing meaning.
Kwanjula at Hotel Diplomate? That invitation card read like a sham. We have always known kwanjula to be a private and strictly home affair where a man is introduced to his future in-laws at her home. And arenâ€™t invitation cards to Kwanjula a novelty?
Lawrence Owori, the vice-chairperson of Simba Fans Club, says: â€œKwanjula among the Baganda was supposed to be kept secret and in-house. There was never a tent at a kwanjula function. No spokesman was hired nor were there invitations.
It was always a quiet affair that would pass off without even the immediate neighbours getting to know.â€
Owori has spoken at hundreds of introduction ceremonies in the past 20 years.
â€œKwanjula happened after the girl told her senga (paternal auntie) about her desire to get married. It is the senga who would inform the girlâ€™s father with whom they would agree on the day when the groom would visit the senga (okukyala),â€ says Florence Namubiru, a hair dresser.
The groom with two or three relatives would visit the girlâ€™s aunt and agree on the day of the introduction.
Owori says traditionally, a suitor would go to the girlâ€™s parentsâ€™ home with only four people â€” his grandfather, his paternal auntie, an eloquent uncle who would normally do the talking and a mutaka (a member of the gentry).
The group carried three gourds of beer â€” one was called Luggula luggi, which they offered to the future father-in-lawâ€™s house. Without that they were deemed trespassers and fined.
Another gourd was termed enjogeza, which the suitor and his entourage shared with the father-in-law while they got to know each other. After talking, the suitor would ask to be â€˜bornâ€™ (accepted) into the family.
So he would give his father-in-law, the third gourd of beer. The father-in-law would reciprocate by drawing some water from his familyâ€™s drinking pot and giving it to the suitor, along with coffee beans.
The suitor would then give a kanzu (tunic) to his father-in-law and the omuko (brother-in-law); then a gomesi to his mother-in-law and the senga. WIth these, much of the ritual was done.
â€œWhat is left then was the giving of omutwalo (usually a material thing chosen by the father of the bride as the ultimate bride price). However, omutwalo rarely went beyond tobacco leaves and cowry shells.
It was even considered blasphemous for a man to take a goat into his father-in-lawâ€™s courtyard as Omutwalo because goats bend over and expose their private partsâ€
The groomâ€™s entourage also went with a small pack (this has evolved into a suitcase) that was given to the bride. This was meant to include clothes and was checked by the senga before a man could be accepted.
Today, however, the suitcase has evolved from including just the gomesi and kikoyi to including lingerie, shoes, jewellery and perfumes.
Everything has changed. Kwanjula has now become a public occasion where suitors take lots of gifts, including cars, furniture, beer, television sets and refrigerators.
The changing trends of kwanjula
At his kwanjula in Gomba, Godfrey Kato, promised to connect his in-lawsâ€™ house to electricity.
These days, the sengas also use the opportunity to get money out of the suitors. For example at the kwanjula of Omulangira Ndawusi, a presenter on Radio Simba, the senga claimed that she could not identify the suitor because of poor eyesight. Ndawusi gave her sh200,000 to buy spectacles.
Traditionally, a gomesi was given to only the girlâ€™s mother for raising her and the senga for teaching her about culture. But today, every senga and maternal aunt of the bride will want to get a gomesi at the kwanjula. Kasolo Serunyiigo, an educationist at Bulange, says this is an extortion scam.
â€œPeople make outrageous demands. Many fathers hike the Omutwalo when they hear their daughterâ€™s suitor is rich.â€
Owori also gives an example of a suitor who was told to renovate, (read rebuild) his in-lawsâ€™ house in Masaka before he could be allowed to come for the kwanjula.
In Buganda and Busoga, it is now obligatory for a suitor to prove that he has contributed to the kingdomâ€™s finance department by showing two â€˜certificatesâ€™ which the kingdoms use to raise money.
But when asked whether this was also extortionist, Kasolo says it is a way of fostering loyalty and support for the Kabaka.
Today, suitors even hold meetings to raise funds for a kwanjula. Traditionally, this was blasphemous; a wife was never fundraised for.
These days, the suitor is compelled to contribute money to the girlâ€™s family to organise the kwanjula. But this is considered a negative digression.
These days, some suitors do not even go to their intendedsâ€™ homes. There have been cases where the girl introduces a photo of her suitor to the guests. This especially happens where the man is abroad and cannot come back home for the function.
Women have also taken advantage of the exhibitionist trends to fleece unsuspecting suitors. Owori tells a story of a pastor who a woman introduced to a fake father at a rented home. All her â€˜relativesâ€™ were hired.
Two weeks after the function, the woman disappeared. When the pastor went to his â€˜in-lawsâ€™, he found different occupants. These were the owners of the home and had just rented it to the con woman for the function.
Kwanjula dies at the alter of pomp