MBALE – Families would arrange marriages for their children and this method showed the social importance of marriage, especially as it concerned the families and relatives of the couple.
Every family groomed their children with a direct motive of getting married at a certain age, they gave extra time to the children, most especially girls, guided them on how to do domestic chores, garden work, behave and relate to be good wives and mothers.
But there is a change today as children start dating or hook up while at school, night clubs or pubs, in taxis or buses and probably move in without their parents’ knowledge.
According to Bamasaba [Bagisu] cultural leader Umukukha Bob Mushikori [head of Inzu Ya Masaba, Bamasaba cultural institution [at the age of 15, girls were kept at the old women’s homes or camps for training into marriage.
“At these homes [camps], the old women taught them the social values of their society, how they are expected to behave in marriage, how to speak and relate to their husbands, elders and how to appease their husbands to avoid break ups,” said Mr Mushikori
Mr Mushikori said traditionally, a young man was dependent upon his father and clan elders for permission to marry after circumcision and for the material goods required for bride-wealth and that the woman would also depend on the family and clan elders who were also much involved in the discussions and negotiations surrounding the marriage.
“And in choosing and identifying marriage partners, parents of the boy began planning how to get him a partner when he came of age,” added Umukukha Mushikori.
“They would make surveillance in homes, families and villages where there were young girls in bid to get the right wife for their male child and their yardstick rotated around the conduct of the parents, the relationship of the parents to those around them, the wealth status of the family, level of discipline of the family and whether the family has a history of any disease” said Mr Mushikori.
He said if a family had a history of sicknesses like Sickle cells, Epilepsis, STDs, TB, albinism and kind of disability etc, they would never allow their child to marry from such a family.
“They would also never allow their son/daughter to marry from families that practiced night dancing, sorcery, witchcraft, homosexuality, lesbianism and families that have thieves,” said Umukukha Mushikori.
According to history, the girls around the ages of 12 years began the process of scarring their faces and would cut the skin of their foreheads and rub ash into the wounds.
“The product of such actions being ornate keloids; women would never be allowed to marry if they had not gone through this and traditionally, this was a sign of clan membership and no boy would be allowed to marry from his own clan as this was considered abominable,” said Umukukha Mushikori.
Acceptance of the proposal
When the father of the boy’s proposal was accepted by the father of the bride-to-be, then the former would go back and prepare when to go back.
The father of the boy would then select a person to act as a mediator between the side of the boy and that of the girl who did the negotiations for bride price before.
A contingent from the groom’s home made up of his sisters, aunties, uncles and elders would then move to the bride’s home with bridal wealth.
On arrival the boy’s parents paid a marriage fee to the family of the bride; the father of the groom then negotiated with the parents of the bride and three cows were given and occasionally supplemented with goats.
And the groom provided the family of the bride with other gifts such as a spear, an axe and a hoe out of custom.
They would have a feast, dance and drink throughout the night.
And that at this time, the bride is expected to stay with female companions from the bride’s side and men are not allowed to cross into their territory.
The party returned to their village the following day with a gift of a sheep or a goat.
After the feast in her village, the bride returned to the village of her future husband, staying a night in the house with a family member.
“And the next day, the family member left and the mother in law took her around the home, to the land that belongs to the husband and the wife would begin work in her field the following day,” said
The role of Bride price
The Bamasaba [Bagisu] understood bride price as a symbol of the marriage covenant and security.
An elder, former spokesperson of Inzu Ya Masaba Mr Musira says Bride price made the marriage covenant, legitimized children born in that relationship contributed to prestige of the bride and her family and added to wealth thereby giving the bride in turn the right to privileges of the legally married woman.
“Bride price allowed the groom, the exclusive right of sexual access to his wife and it gave the right to her productivity as a mother and allowed her to welcome in-laws to her home and family, there was nothing like a wedding,” said Mr Musira.
“Bride price was understood as a kind of marriage certificate that certified public pledge, the husband’s right over his wife and children and empowered him to be called a husband [Umuseza],” adds MrMusira
But today everything is strange, the indigenous marriage practices of the Bagisu [Bamasaba] are no more, they are being changed by modernization through urbanization, migration and formal education.
Many a traditional leader in Bugisu sub-region are now condemning ‘exorbitant’ traditional marriages which they say are contrary to Bamasaba norms.
“Today, bride price has been commercialised to include besides many cows, manufactured items like mineral water, soda, bags of sugar, cartons of salt, beer, envelopes containing big sums of money for relatives of the bride and a variety of baskets of vegetables and fruits,” said Mr Augustine Wandende, the cultural minister in the Bamasaba [Bagisu] cultural institution.
Mr Wandende says although in traditional Bugisu [Bamasaba] marriage bride price was a small family affair, today many people are invited to witness this.
“And today, money is preferred to the traditional physical items like animals and food,” added Wandende.
There is general consensus in Bugisu today that commercialization of bride price has negated the noble intentions of bride price and that positive cultural values of the traditional system that are cherishable ought to be maintained.
Ms Anna Maria Nabukonde, a traditional marriage counselor says that a modern give away ceremony in Bugisu sub-region is something you will hate and like in equal proportions.
Ms Nabukonde says the local Bugisu [Bamasaba] traditional touch in marriage has been lost and everything is done the way it is done in Buganda, western and is so tiring financially, physically and mentally and at times you wonder why someone has to go through all that.
“And you will like it because of the Kiganda Kwanjula culture, the dress code and the displays as well as the value that many people continue to attach to it more than their won traditional marriage ceremonies,” said Ms Nabukonde.
She adds that marriage is not just a show of wealth but should be treated as an investment of your life into him and it should also be investment of his life into your life.
Ms Irene Namaleha says that as long as the Lumasaba’Lugisu language is not being spoken and is facing extinction, all traditional Bugisu/ Bamasaba society values will also be lost,
“A lost language is a lost culture, a lost culture is invaluable knowledge lost. We in Bugisu sub-region [Bulambuli, Mbale, Sironko, Manafwa and Bududa districts], it is lamentable that most children from elite back grounds do not speak Lugisu/Lumasaba as a mother tongue,” said Ms Namleha.
“I have observed that even at home parents of certain linguistic background do not consider it expedient to communicate with their children in a mother tongue, they speak English or Luganda and such children learn English and Luganda even the cultures from their parents and peers. How do you expect them to behave during marriage,” added Ms Namaleha
She added that such childrenargue that English is not simply valuable but an absolute necessity and so parents are content when their children are fluent in English and Luganda.