A journalist narrates her interracial marriage to a Ugandan man. Pam got married to Josh and the experience was a thrilling one for her and she wrote a beautiful story about her Big, Fat, Ugandan wedding, with all its color and thrills. Enjoy.
It’s hard to believe one year has passed since the most colourful day of my life — my Introduction (traditional Ugandan Wedding). It was colourful in every sense of the word… the clothing, the different tribes and races, the dramatic reveal of the bride and groom, and all the surprises that come with planning a cultural wedding in a culture that is not your own!
Settling on a date
The first challenge was settling on a date. By the time my family and all of Josh’s extended family had their input, we landed on a date that gave us a mere three months to prepare! If we had gone for my Kiwi-style wedding, three months would be feasible… but when planning for two MASSIVE Ugandan-style weddings, to call the timeframe ‘a bit tight’ would be an understatement.
Yes — you heard right — TWO weddings! And if that wasn’t crazy enough, they were scheduled just one week apart.
The first, an Introduction, initially sounded like a fun cultural experience, but turned into quite the political ordeal. The second was more of a western-style traditional church wedding… or so I was told. Look out for my next post and you’ll see what I mean!
An Introduction is where the bride formally introduces her betrothed to her extended family and clan. Meanwhile the groom and his entourage come to impress with a dowry comprising several different animals (especially cattle); outfits of the traditional attire, and nowadays often even including a plethora of consumable goods — even furniture!
The Issue of Dowry in my Ugandan wedding
Being mzungu (white/foreign), we had decided in advance that a dowry was unnecessary, but that we would maintain most of the other Ugandan wedding traditions. A few months went by where all families involved seemed to be at peace with the idea. However, that all changed as the date drew closer!
Firstly my community in the north started saying we couldn’t call it an Introduction or traditional wedding because there wasn’t going to be a dowry, which apparently was the whole point of the occasion — news to me! Then the clan leaders decided it could be an Introduction, but Josh would have to bring “gifts.” Finally it was agreed that Pastor Joseph and I should appoint several leaders from the family, clan and community who would be the recipients of these gifts (at this point I’m getting the vibe that I’ve become a bride with a price).
The Real Preparation For my Ugandan wedding Begins
The issue of dowry was one of many. In Uganda, whenever there’s a sizeable occasion, fundraising is a must. This involves appointing a committee and having weekly gatherings where people come to make financial contributions. I had no qualms about people contributing to our Introduction, however, the committee who handled fundraising became so invested in the event that they also felt at liberty to decide on how many people to should come, what food would be served, how it would be decorated, the entertainment, how many cakes the bride should give as gifts, how many outfits she should wear, how many bridesmaids she should have… you name it — they had an opinion about it.
After failing to influence a number of decisions, I made peace with the situation and diverted my attention toward the few things I could control — the colour scheme, the invitations, my attire, and that of my 16-person bridal party. Being a creative type, I relished in the opportunity to make these details beautiful and somewhat of an expression of my taste.
Having had my family and Kiwi bridesmaid, Sophie, in the country for a few weeks, we were all set to head to the north to prepare for the Introduction.
Time for the introduction
We arrived in Lira (the nearest town to Pastor Joseph’s home) with 5 days to prepare. It was a hectic time of running around to get outfits organised and hair braided. Finally, the day before the event, we were ready to travel to the village to set up.
If all the excitement and a full head of braids didn’t make it hard enough to sleep, the truck which arrived at 2am to set up eight tents on our doorstep certainly did the trick! Despite the lack of sleep it was a thrill to see all the decorations go up, and guests arrive from far and wide. Being the bride, I wasn’t allowed to show my face until half way through the festivities… but I found a few opportunities to peep (between getting my makeup done and organising the bridesmaids).
The first thing on the agenda was the arrival of the groom’s entourage, closely followed by a secret gift-giving ceremony. After the groom’s entourage were seated and the cultural dance group had done their thing, it was time for the bridesmaids to march.
Bridesmaids Show off in a Ugandan Wedding
This is the most exciting and dramatic part of the day because the bride could be revealed at any moment! The bridesmaids came out dancing in groups of 5 and knelt on a mat waiting for the groomsmen to come and suss them out. The groomsmen circled each group of bridesmaids speculating on whether one of them could in fact be the bride; (of course they knew none of them were the bride, but it’s all part of the act).
Somewhere between the groups of bridesmaids coming out, two of my so-called “aunties” had the privilege of searching out the groom from among his groomsmen. When they had found him they dragged him out, and danced him around the stage, showing him off to the crowd — the look on his face says it all.
The Bride is Revealed
Finally, after the third group of bridesmaids had done their thing, it was time for my big reveal! I got to dance out down the red carpet, maid of honour at my side. This was the moment everyone had been anticipating, and the thousand-person crowd let out a mighty cheer.
I remember having some nerves but being totally thrilled at the same time. I could feel the joy and excitement of the crowd, as their beloved daughter (as they endearingly call me), graced the stage. After dancing all the way around the stage, I knelt on the mat next to my maid of honour, and the bridesmaids circled around us.
Joshua came out with his groomsmen dancing around the circle of ladies trying to figure out how to break through to access the bride. This involved some negotiation (for dramatic effect) and was finally settled upon the provision of an envelope with a little cash inside.
He didn’t waste any time to take my hand and summon me to dance with him, much to the crowd’s delight. I remember feeling overwhelmed with emotion at this point — it really felt like we were getting married!
After the bridal party were seated, Josh and I had to introduce one another to our parents; and our parents welcomed their new in-law into the family. The celebration continued with speeches, a sermon, more gift giving and a dress change for the bride; and maid of honour, followed by cake cutting, dinner, and, of course, more dancing.
Despite the manic preparation phase, it turned out to be such an incredible event. My community in the north were blessed to celebrate our union; (as very few were able to attend our official wedding); and the presence of God made the whole experience so glorious.
It was certainly a day I will NEVER forget.