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Witnessing our traditional marriage cultures (okushwera to okulira ente)

I recently witnessed our traditional marriage culture from the time the people come to okushwera until when the ejugano are brought home. Culture is interesting and I think we were so lucky to have gone through the whole process as it was before. It’s rare that the whole process is followed which I think is sad considering future generations will miss out on the aspects that made Africa and our cultures unique and noteworthy.

You start off with hosting a small entourage from the boy’s side. These always include his father, brothers and close uncles. Women should be as few as possible because in the ankole culture, abakazi tibakushwera (women don’t go to decide on the enjugano aka dowry). This small meeting between the boys family and the girls family is to ascertain from the boys side their purpose of coming and to decide on the enjugano.

The boy’s side is always led by a katerarume who is also called kyebembera (leader of the entourage). A man who’s assumed to know both families. He will be the one talking mostly on behalf of the boys family and will be the one answering gruelling questions from the girl’s uncles, kinda like a PAC meeting.

The boys family must have a photo of the girl and a letter written to him by the girl. These two they ask of the boy to be sure he knows and probably has met the girl he wants. The questions nowadays are a formality to mimic the past happenings which I am told were more brutal to the extent that some times, the boys family would abandon the whole mission, and the girl too. Or it would result into okukiriza where the boys family would literally kidnap the girl and go to a faraway place and start a new life.

After the okugamba obugyenyi or okushwera, the girls family will now get a time agreed upon by both families to go and okuteera ente ( select the cows or enjugano) from the boy’s family farm.

When the girls family is going for this activity, they go with enkoni (herding stick). These are men who understand and identify good cows – apparently, they must wear a serious countenance, no smiling or joking around – and select the best cows in the herd. In the former days, this caused the boys family to select their best cows and hide them at a neighbours farm.

This trick was later found out and countered by a KGB level of spying were, the girl’s family would identify an insider or neighbour who knew all the cows well and would alert them if any was hidden. As the team was coming to kuteeera-ente they would also go to where the cows were hidden and, if they liked them, they would include them in their selection and then leave, because the obligation of delivering the chosen ones is also for the boy’s side.

The girl’s side will only send like one person to go and join the team bringing them so as to direct them to the home.

A day is agreed upon when the enjugaano will be delivered and the girl’s side organize a small function called okwakira ente (to receive the cows). They call elderly neighbours, the girl’s uncles and aunties – but the aunties are always in the background and don’t actually speak because these are “preserves” of the men.

When the boy’s side arrives with the cows, they stay at the eirembo (gate). The girls family will meet them there to look at the cows brought and affirm if it’s their selection that was brought and will then officially accept them. That signifies that both parties can now trust each other and obuzaare (relationship) has been formed.

Then the girl’s family will okuhembera ente (light a soft fire with smoke) for the cows. This is done by the girls younger sister or a younger girl relative. In case there’s no sister, this was to show the young girl that it’s honourable for her and her family when she’s given away and married in the proper way, not kawudo kakubye edinisa.

After the kuhembera, the pare starts and this party is called okulira ente (literally translated, eating for bringing cows).

For this pare, the girl’s family must cook a lot of food as the people who brought the cows are assumed to have travelled a long distance and are weary and hungry. In the former days as the boys family was coming, they would select mega eaters who would do justice to the food. After this pare, both groups exchange pleasantries, they hug and the visitors depart.

If I have missed out any stage, let me know in the comments. If not thank you for reading �

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Written by Emmanuel Mwesigwe

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