Ankole is a traditional kingdom in Uganda. The kingdom is located in South-Western Uganda, east of Lake Edward. The people of Ankole are called Banyankole (singular: Munyankole) in Runyankole Language. The Banyankole consists of two major groups: The Bahima, who are majorly rear cattle, and the Bairu, who are agriculturists.
How much influence should aunties have on their nieces? In many African cultures, aunties provide counseling to their young nieces as they age from adolescence to adulthood. When it comes to marriage, these aunties prepare their nieces for the challenges that lie ahead.
But for the Banyankole people in Southwestern Uganda, the aunt had more than the above, especially during the marriage. The primary responsibility of the aunt was to confirm that the groom is potent and that the bride has defended her virginity before the marriage is consummated. As a potency test for the groom, the aunt was sometimes required to have sex with the groom for confirmation of his potency and virility. She also had to “test” if the bride is still a virgin before they are allowed to consummate their marriage.
In other traditions, the aunt is said to go as far as listening in or watching as the bride and groom have sex in order to prove the couple’s potency.
The common thread in the Ankole marriage like many African traditional marriages is to create closeness to the bridal family. This is done through a third party called the Kateraruume (literally meaning somebody who will remove the dew from the path).
Even today when couples go for the official introduction and marriage after they have been co-inhabiting, this go-between is key in initiating the marriage negotiations.
The Kateraruume is a highly respected person representing the groom’s interests and is charged with facing the bride’s family and ensuring that the bride’s family is willing to accept the groom’s family to formally discuss the marriage.
In case the proposal is endorsed, the man’s family approaches the girl’s family with the Kateraruume leading them there. At the home of the bride’s family, the go-between knocks at the gate and is invited in with the groom’s entourage after some teasing. The entourage usually comes with beer.
The Kateraruume then indicates to the girl’s marriage panel that he is on a marriage mission. The go-between then explains his mission and is asked many questions by the girl’s family. Later, they discuss the marriage payments, which can be picked any time after the two families have agreed, sometimes on that same day.
This is followed by preparations for marriage. In Ankole tradition, the marriage payment included cattle, which may go to over 10. These gifts are presented to the bride’s family symbolizing the ability of the groom to take care of his woman.
THE BRIDE AND GROOM TO BE:
During this ceremony, the bride and the groom are not parties to the discussions. The bride is usually hidden while the groom has to keep quiet throughout the discussions and wait for the outcome. In this case, however, the groom-to-be is ‘king’ because everything is done on his behalf.
In traditional Ankole society, a man marries a woman. A woman never marries a man. It is taboo if a woman seeks out a man’s hand in marriage. Also, it is the man who chooses not the woman. Therefore, the woman has to be ‘marry-able’.
Unlike today where men treasure small-sized women for marriage (I hope you have heard of words like portables and songs like obukazi obutono bulimu ekyama– “those small women last longer” or literally “those small women have years in them”), in the Ankole tradition, slim girls were unfit for marriage.
That is why among the Bahima (section of the Banyankole) girls who were about the age of marriage were forced to feed on milk until they were very heavy. “They could barely walk,” an Ankole elder once joked during an introduction ceremony.
THE GIVE AWAY (OKUHINGIRA)
Unlike today where the men feel cheated by paying the bride price, in the typical Ankole tradition, a groom gains from the marriage.
Actually, the gifts (the emihingiro) that the bride comes with sometimes are more than those paid by the groom as bride price. For example, among the Bahima-Banyankole, the aunties and uncles give cows to the bride during the kuhingira.
Younger girls and boys called the enshagarizi then escort the bride to the groom’s place after the blessings from the elders. Today, the groom’s side has to organize the transport for these people because they are very important for any marriage ceremony in Ankole. Going back is not necessarily the role of the bridegroom.
After the kuhingira, the bride’s side is still being controlled though. The bride according to the culture is not supposed to do any work until the cultural initiation. This is done after about ten days from the giveaway day.
During this initiation, the bride is made to light fire in the kitchen in the tradition called okukoza omumuriro (helping the bride to start toughing fire).
Because of modernity, however, some brides have left the bridal room (orusika) the day after marriage to continue looking for a living in the competitive world where every minute lost contributes a lot to poverty in the homes.
So, many people in Uganda may find it hard to understand the Ankole culture and language but many know the words okwanjura, okushwera and okuhingira irrespective of the language they speak.
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