Ugandan wedding avaWhat you should know about Ugandan weddings is that they’re loud and cheerful, full of strangers, there’s not much physical affection seen between the bride and groom, and that the couple’s families play a large role in the selection of a future spouse. From this post, you’ll also find out what the bride and groom and their guests wear to the wedding, what they eat at the reception, what unique and surprising wedding rituals are performed during and after the wedding, and so on.

Background check before the wedding

In Uganda, couples have the freedom to choose their own partners, but their families must agree to the marriage before it can take place. If either parent does not approve of the union, the couple cannot be married in the church.

Although there are no strict rules about who can marry whom, there are some customs and traditions that are commonly followed. For example, it is customary for individuals to marry within their own religion. Additionally, it is generally not acceptable for two people from the same clan to marry. To ensure that there is no overlap between the couple's clans, families will often perform a “background check” of sorts before consenting to the marriage.

Bride and groom’s wedding attire

In Uganda, it is customary for brides to wear a gomesi on their wedding day. This traditional dress is made of silk, cotton, or linen fabric and is brightly colored, featuring a floor-length design. The gomesi is distinguished by its pointed, puffed sleeves and square neckline, which features two buttons on the left side. A large belt or sash is typically tied around the waist to complete the look. It is also common for brides to change their dress multiple times during the wedding day.

For grooms, the traditional attire is a kanzu, which is a type of tunic. The kanzu can be ankle or floor-length, and is often white or cream in color. However, the garment is adorned with colorful embroidery (typically, maroon) around the collar, abdomen, and sleeves. To complete their outfit, grooms wear a kofia – a brimless cylindrical cap with a flat crown that is popular in East African regions.

What do wedding guests wear?

Women attending a Ugandan wedding may choose to wear a suuka, a long cloth wrapped around their waist and shoulders, or a floor-length dress known as a busuti. The suuka and busuti are often brightly colored and feature intricate patterns or embroidery, making them an elegant and traditional choice for wedding guests.

Meanwhile, male wedding guests or members of the wedding party typically wear a kanzu (a long tunic-like garment that is usually white or cream-colored and adorned with embroidery), paired with a suit jacket. This outfit creates a stylish and formal look that is perfect for weddings.

Ransom for the bride

Ugandan grooms-to-be pay sort of a ransom or dowry to the bride’s family. It can be money or cattle. And this ransom symbolizes that the bride no longer belongs to her family but becomes a part of the groom’s family. The size of this ransom depends on the groom’s financial capabilities.

Ugandan wedding ceremonies

Most Ugandan couples have 2 wedding ceremonies – a church ceremony and a traditional ceremony called “kwanjula”.

Many Ugandan couples choose to incorporate the tradition of kwanjula into their marriage ceremony as a way of introducing their families to each other. During kwanjula, the groom's family and a small party of friends visit the bride's family at their home. The groom is represented by an assigned speaker, typically an elder who has extensive knowledge of Ugandan culture.

Upon arrival, the hosts greet the visiting party and the Omuko (the bride's closest male relative) is given a rooster as a sign of respect. The guests are then served roasted coffee, presented by the hosts' chosen elder as a symbol of the bond between the two families.

The visiting elder then formally requests permission for the groom to marry the bride, and elders from both families engage in discussions that may include proverbs and fables. The kwanjula ceremony also involves music, dancing, and clapping, with bridesmaids encircling the bride to prevent the groom from reaching her until he has completed certain tasks or made additional payments. Overall, the kwanjula is a joyous and celebratory event that symbolizes the union of two families in Ugandan culture.

No kissing in public

Ugandan brides and grooms typically act rather reserved in front of their guests. They don’t kiss or hold hands. Although, they might hug. Traditionally, physical affection between the Ugandan newlyweds isn’t displayed in public.

Ugandan wedding dinner

After the kwanjula ceremony, it is traditional for the groom to share a private meal with a few members of his wedding party. This intimate dinner typically takes place in a darker room with mats on the ground, and the bride's family serves the guests traditional foods such as matooke, rice, vegetables, and beef. This private dinner provides an opportunity for the groom and his guests to relax and reflect on the day's events, while also enjoying a delicious meal.

The newlyweds also feed each other a piece of their wedding cake and toast their union with champagne. However, it is important to note that in Ugandan tradition, the cake is typically served before the meal, not after, as it is traditional in Western-style weddings.

Okunabbya omugole bathing ritual

After the wedding, the newlyweds arrive to the groom’s house together, but they can’t consummate the marriage until they perform another wedding ritual. It is called the “okunabbya omugole” ritual. The couple stands beneath a tree and bathes in the same herb-infused water. Next, they return to the yard together singing and the bride’s new mother-in-law pours a bowl of water on her back. The bride’s brother or another closest male relative then gives his permission for this union, and the couple starts living and sleeping together.

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