A few weekends ago Ryan and I had the opportunity to go to our first Ugandan wedding! I put a few little clips of the reception in our most recent video blog, but I thought it would be fun to tell you a little bit about it as well.
We were invited to this wedding because the groom was a nephew of the family we lived with during our PST near Kampala. So, while we were back visit our host family during our IST training, we found out about the big event. There was a big extended family get together that we were a part of, and one of the brothers of the groom showed up with a plastic shopping bag chock full of invitations. He started writing them out on the spot to everyone - even people who weren’t related. Ugandan weddings are a big, the more the merrier type of event. So, we said we would be there! We were excited to be seeing our host family again so soon, and to be able to be a part of our first weddign in Uganda! When I asked my host sister what is usually worn to the wedding this was her response, “It really doesn’t matter, but you have to look fabulous!!!”
Before the big weekend came, we realized we would need to figure out a gift for the couple. Not knowing them at all, and having no Target registry to fall back on, we asked some of our coworkers at the college what kinds of gifts are traditionally given. Surprisingly, the first answer each of them gave was “glasses.” So, we wandered into a duka that seemed to have a lot of glasses and asked what a nice wedding present would be. We ended up picking out a tea set for two and were able to get it wrapped for about twenty five cents right then and there! Gift shopping - done!
When we arrived at what we thought was the church, we didn’t see anyone we knew. Our host family had planned to rent a bus (seriously) to drive them all from Kampala to Mbarara for the big event, but apparently they had not yet arrived. As we walked tentatively towards the church, we saw that there was a wedding already in progress. Having never seen the bride and groom before, we figured the wedding we were attending must have already started, despite the time the invitation had stated (time is so relative here!). As we began to walk into the sanctuary, someone asked us who’s wedding we were trying to attend. When we told them the names, they ushered us back out of the church and told us that that wedding was the next one in line. So, the current bride and groom processed out, and a few minutes later our wedding started! And, shortly after our bride and groom walked down the aisle another bride and groom were waiting for their ceremony to start! Our host aunt told us that no weddings occur during lent because it is supposed to be a period of mourning, so the rest of the year is chock full of weddings. She said some churches will have four or five weddings in them in one Saturday!!!
Ugandans have two events related to the wedding and each is a little different. The first is called an introduction ceremony. This takes place before the wedding and is hosted by the family of the bride. It’s a really cultural event where everyone wears the traditional dress, gives gifts like cattle and goats (and even houses sometimes!) and it goes on literally ALL day. This ceremony is the time when the bride is “introduced” to the grooms family, and culturally, the bride and groom are committed to one another. We haven’t been to one of these yet.
Then, the later event is the actual wedding. The wedding is hosted completely by the groom’s family. This was what we went to that weekend. I was surprised how similar it was to a traditional American wedding. They had five bridesmaids and groomsmen decked out in gowns and tuxes, the bride wore a white dress and veil, they did the vows, the rings, the readings, etc. They had a crazy photographer and crazy videographer who were all over the place taking pictures and distracting the guests from the real event. If it weren’t for the lack of English being spoken we might have thought we were at a wedding at home! The only really big differences we saw were 1) they took an offering, 2) There were a couple of pews worth of “mothers” and “fathers” who all were seen as the responsible party in raising the children to be married (it takes a village!), and 3) the bride and groom never kissed. Public displays of affection between couples are really frowned upon here, I guess to the extent that even the newlyweds shouldn’t be seen kissing in public!
After the wedding we headed to a huge reception at the home of a friend of the family. Their backyard was completely decked out with a stage, tents, ribbons, archways, flowers, etc. It was a sight! We started with eating (we were told by an aunt that the Ankole people always eat first!). On the menu: the traditional special occasion Ugandan meal - Matookye (mashed ripe bananas), groundnut (peanut) sauce, rice, meat, cabbage, beans, and fruit. Everyone got a soda, and there were jerrycans full of local brew waragi every where. Then, while everyone ate, traditional dancers entertained us. The bride and groom processed in and danced around a bit. Various family members from the crowd jumped on stage and joined in the dancing. There were lots of speeches, and a big cake cutting! After the cake was cut, the bridal party walked around with huge platters with chunks of cake (not pieces, chunks!) and everyone just grabbed one with their fingers. Another funny aspect was that as the reception was going on, the photographers walked around selling photos they had just taken of the bride and groom at the wedding and before hand. So, no favors but if you wanted you could leave the reception with your very own wedding photos!
All in all, it was a great big event with lots of joy and celebrating! One aspect of Ugandan culture that has been clear to us right from the beginning is the importance of family. This wedding definitely confirmed it - the whole entire extended family rallies around to celebrate and support the union of the bride and groom. It was a great event and a great time to be a part of our Ugandan family!
Thanks for reading!