Monday, 16 September 2013

The Ugandan Adventure: Part V: A Tale of Two Weddings (Chapter Two: How I Almost Got Married)

Yesterday I referred you to a Ugandan church wedding in which I committed the unforgivable sin of taking numerous photos of the bride as she processed up the aisle. Today is quite different: a traditional Eteso wedding. Indeed, it is has given me a few ideas for my own wedding (which may have taken place a lot sooner than I had intended it…)

Wedding 2: Cows, goats, and mistaken identities
It took about three hours of travelling across pothole-ridden roads to arrive at a small village in the district of Palissa. Along the way, we merrily discussed my own status as ‘bachelor’; ‘What would your parents think if you brought home a black wife?’ I was asked. ‘I think they would have more questions over me bringing home a wife in the first place’ was my response. We all laughed. It was a witty little joke with witty little consequence.

Or so I thought. Or so I thought.

But first, the wedding. In an Eteso wedding, it is the groom who comes to the bride’s village, rather than the other way round (as in some other cultures I have been to, such as South India). The groom enters the village ‘square’ with his whole family (essentially most of his village); after cutting a ribbon, nearly a hundred people streamed through a little archway. What is more, there was a bubble machine. (I say this was a ‘traditional’ wedding: it had a traditionalist ritual and was next to a few mud-huts. Other than that, it had a DJ blasting out Ugandan Christian RnB Afro-pop - which is quite an interesting concept, to say the least). Nevertheless, it turns out the groom was late; accordingly, the Master of Ceremonies called for him to pay a fine to compensate the guests, which I think is an excellent idea. In Western weddings, brides so often turn up late that I think it is high time they gave financial compensation to us the poor and miserable waiting guests.

Once the groom was seated (hidden in the crowd of his family - we’ll see why in a bit), the bridal procession began. Sorry, did I say ‘procession’? I meant ‘processions’. You see, at an Eteso wedding, there is not one, nor two, but five bridal processions. And the bride only turns up in the last one. To explain: in the first procession, the bridesmaids (who effectively act as servants throughout the whole service) processed up, and knelt before the groom’s family. To the sound of Afro-pop, the groom’s aunts then got up and circled round the bridesmaids, looking for the bride (it felt akin to a marital version of pass-the-parcel). When they finally realised she was not there, aunts decided upon whether the bridesmaids themselves should be the bride. (I like this idea of having alternative brides in case the bride doesn’t turn up. Perhaps I shall include it in my wedding liturgy). Nevertheless, the gathering wholeheartedly said, ‘No’, after which the bridesmaids responded, ‘We shall go look for the bride, but we need money for transport!’ The groom proceeded to give them money.

Is the bride amongst these
young girls?
This was all good fun. And it happened another four more times. And each time, the aunts would circle round, looking for the bride, and each time the group who had processed in would ask the group for money for transport. Considering that it was obvious that the bride was in one of the nearest huts, I thought this was a bit harsh on the groom, who had already paid a fine for being late. Nevertheless, in the words of Sean Connery in the film, The Man Who Would Be King, ‘Different cultures, different customs’. The second procession consisted of young girls from the village; the aunts thought this would not be a good match as it would be ‘defilement’ (i.e. paedophilia - never expected that mentioned at a wedding liturgy). After the young girls had left, the elderly ladies of the village processed in; once again, the same ritual followed.

Is the bride amongst these
elderly ladies?
After this, the bride’s distant cousins processed in. It was here that I almost got myself into a bout of trouble and, were it not for my cowardly nature and the good graces of the Lord, I may have been writing this as a married man now. You see, some of the bride’s cousins were exceptionally beautiful - one, in particular. I turned to my guide and translator from the village, and jokingly asked him,

‘Who is that girl there?’ said I. ‘She is very beautiful! Is she married?’

He laughed. ‘Ah, no, no, no, she is not.’

He was then silent for a while.

In an alternative universe, this girl
is now my wife.
‘Would you like to talk to her afterwards?’ said he.

‘Well… maybe…’ said I, still naively flirtatious.
‘Ok…’ he said, more serious and sombre previously. ‘Shall I ask for her parents to be brought as well?’

I was confused. ‘But why should you bring her par-’ And then I realised. In the Ugandan cultures, if you are considering marrying a girl, you would meet her parents at the same time. ‘Er…’ said I, ‘probably not! We do marriage a little differently in England…and my parents would be somewhat upset…’ I added hastily. He seemed disappointed. For my thought, it was a very close call.

The bride is found
It was in the final procession with all the groups combined that the bride was present. Once found, she proceeded to search for the groom. And upon finding him, everyone started singing a song called, ‘Mr Handsome’, as he was presented to the gathering. For my future wife, if you happen to be reading this, know that this is the song I want played for me at my wedding.

The song I want sung at my wedding, as I enter the church [the song begins after one minute, though the music video is objectively the greatest ever made):
The groom subsequently discussed the dowry with his father-in-law (once again, unlike in other cultures, here the groom, not the bride, pays the dowry), which added up to a total of nine cows, nine goats and three million Ugandan shillings (just less than a thousand pounds). ‘Why nine cows and not eight?’ I hear the full multitude of you cry (for you are well acquainted with Eteso culture). Well, it because the groom had had a baby with the bride without the bride’s parents permission, and thus had to pay for the dishonour. Naughty boy.

The price of impatience: an extra
cow for the dowry
You're getting engaged?
Congratulations! Have a lollipop
Finally, the couple got engaged (yes, not married yet, but engaged). They presented each other with rings, and then sat down together. At that point, they were officially married, though not technically: that would happen later in the evening (if you get what I mean…). Presents were brought en masse to bride and groom (the usual: suitcases, chairs, fruit, lots and lots and lots of coca-cola). Finally, seven hours after it had begun, we all feasted.

And that, ladies and gentlemen (in an unusually long entry for my Ugandan blog) is an Eteso wedding. It is also the story of how I narrowly missed getting hitched myself. What does tomorrow’s entry have in stall? Let’s just say it involves dozens of people paying me homage whilst I sit upon a throne…

'Different cultures, different customs'
Coca Cola as a wedding gift

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