on Thea's Blog (Uganda), 29/Aug/2010 12:48, 34 days ago
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My first Ugandan introduction ceremony turned out to be a bit of a surreal experience. Surreal because, at an event which is traditionally all about show and performance, we somehow found ourselves to be inadvertantly part of the spectacle rather than the discreet fly-on-the-wall spectators we’d planned to be. I’d been invited by my colleague Evarist, who had to bail at the last minute leaving us sadly without an interpreter, but I’d managed to drag along Duncan and new MMU volunteer Brendan. We’d been handed a few titbits of information beforehand, like the fact that the groom was Danish and the wedding was out of town but we could get a lift if we were punctual. But it later turned out that a few other details had been held back, such as the fact that we were going to be the only other mazungus attending and furthermore the real reason for inviting us was so we could substitute for the groom’s own family who couldn’t themselves be there. So we soon found ourselves in the bizarre position of being fake Danes among a rather modest, otherwise-Ugandan groom’s party. At one hairy moment it looked like either Duncan or Brendan was going to be asked to stand in as the groom’s father - despite him being older than the pair of them - but luckily the moment passed and they were let off the hook. In the end our only assigned task was to drink the traditional glass of milk offered by the bride’s family. Even this simple job Duncan and I utterly failed at, it being a bit too cow-y for our taste. The grass around Duncan’s chair was momentarily flushed white as if from an inexplicable chemical spill.In Uganda the introduction is traditionally far more important than the wedding itself, reflecting perhaps how pragmatism rather than romance is the dominant theme. During the ceremony, a complicated pre-nuptial agreement is symbolically signed between the two families, setting out the terms under which marriage is to take place. Critical of course is the bride price (an‘insurance policy’ is apparently a less sexist way of looking at it) which is usually agreed in terms of alcohol, cows and money. The two families and their friends sit opposite each other in large decorated tents. Each has an MC with a microphone who has been hired to do the negotiating. The MCs prattle on, cracking jokes, having little digs at each other and generally keeping everyone entertained. The negotiations are interspersed with a booming soundtrack of East African pop, country and western and the inescapable Celine Dion. The bit I liked best (and about the only bit I understoodas the whole thing was conducted in Lutooro) was when three different groups of beautifully dressed girls were brought in the arena – first some shy little ones, then some timid teenagers, then finally some elegant ladies – and the groom was asked to say among all of them who was his betrothed.I wondered what would have happened if he’d got it wrong.After a couple of hours the ceremony drew to a close and the milling and chatting began. We realised we might be heading for hot water when Brendan was asked what life was like in Denmark. Rather than spend the next two hours making up stories of ice-skating in Copenhagen, we decided it was probably a good time to slip away.It seems we’re not the only rent-a-crowd in Fort Portal at the moment. The NRM primaries are taking place on Monday, and the campaigning is noisy and hazardous to other road-users (I was nearly flattened by a fast-moving, honking motorcade on the way back from work). Anyway, someone said that they had been studying the faces in the campaign processions and apparently they’d seen the same people rooting for the incumbent MP on Monday, who’d been out on Thursday supporting his challenger. The conclusion being most people’s support can be bought for a few thousand shillings. It seems that voting preference here boils down to an uncomplicated equation of whoever promises to divert more money towards ones interests. Simple and fair enough I suppose.