By Elizabeth Kameo
In years past, weddings in Ugandan were simple affairs. Guests were served a little popcorn, some roasted ground-nuts, a piece of goat’s meat or chicken and a cupcake, all wrapped in a paper bag. Each with their small slice of wedding cake in hand, the excited guests about the wedding for weeks.
That was then. Weddings are now social symbols, vehicles for families to celebrate their achievements and emphasize their status. Bigger and fancier by the year, couples and their families are spending sheer heaps of money to emulate the matrimonial outrageousness. Forget about the paper bag and the g-nuts. What they want is the chauffer, the lakeside, the live band flown in from abroad, the grandest cake and so on. In short, they want anything that raises eyebrows.
But let us take a moment and look at history! The truth is Ugandans have always had a penchant for over-the-top nuptials. Here are a few of the most memorable from the not so recent past.
Idi Amin and Sarah Kyolaba, 1975
Repeating a wedding due to ‘public demand’
True to everything he did, Uganda’s most infamous former leader married his 5th and last wife (Big Daddy reportedly fathered an estimated 43 children) in such ostentatious styles for not only did he drop jaws in Uganda; he took the entire world by storm. More precisely, it was the reception that was memorable. After marrying Sarah Kyolaba, a former go-go dancer in the jazz band of the Masaka-based Mechanised Unit, in a low key wedding ceremony some months earlier, Amin decided to do it all over again while in the spotlight of Uganda’s then-controversial hosting of the meeting of the Organisations of Africa Unity (now the African Union). When heads of state from all over the continent flew into the count for the summit, Amin made sure the festivities continued straight into his second wedding party.
In fact, he held two successive receptions, due to what he called “public demand”. Together, the receptions were said to have cost an estimated £2 million British pounds. Amin’s best man was the late Yasser Arafat, the former Palestinian leader. Amin himself cut the wedding cake with a sword. International dignitaries from all over the world were in attendance. Amin parted ways with his last wife 8 years later in 1983, and never saw each other again.
Pastor Samuel Kakande and Margaret Emily Pendeza, November 1997
The bride, groom and entourage flew in on a private plane
It may have been his second time around, but this controversial man of God, who prefers to be known as a prophet, pulled out all the stops to ensure that this was a wedding to remember. The leader of Kakande ministries, then Holy Church of Christ married the Congolese Margaret Emily Peptide, a tall light skinned beautiful Congolese, in the eastern town of Bunia in that nation at the Culte Francophone Cathedral, Butembo.
He was accompanied to Bunia by non-other than a then UTV film crew, which was promptly forbidden from filming and its equipment confiscated by, Congolese authorities for failing to obtain advance clearance. Plans to have an initial party at the Bunia airports Karibuni lounge and attempts to use the V.I.P lounge apparently failed so, Kakande chartered a 20-seater Eagle Aviation Fokker plane, which whisked the couple and their guests back to the country.
On arrival, part of the bride’s party was briefly held at Entebbe International Airport because they lacked travel documents but were issued temporary papers after paying a $200 fine. The couple, clad in matching cream suits, was finally escorted by a convoy of about 50 vehicles, which proceeded to Lugogo Stadium, where they hosted a tightly guarded reception for hundreds of guests.
Kakande hosted a second reception a few days later at his church premises in Mulago, where hundreds of his followers were invited to feast and make merry with the newlyweds.
Kakaba Ronald Mutebi and Sylvia Nagginda, August 27, 1999
Feeding subjects throughout the Kingdom of Buganda
The marriage of Buganda King Ronald Mutebi marked the crowning of the first Queen of Buganda in half a century. Held just months before the century end, it was dubbed here in Uganda the Wedding of the Millennium. True to royal form—and on a level that had not been witnessed in Uganda for years at the time—the king and queen of Buganda were wed in lavish style. Ugandans got their own version of what the British experienced when Prince Charles wed the late Princess Diana. The King’s attire alone was literally priceless—since the designer refused to say how much it cost. He wore a robe of richly woven golden threads embroidered with diamond studs and a golden crown. The queen’s tailor-made wedding gown was said to have cost tens of millions of shillings.
A Lincoln and a Lexus were imported specifically to chauffeur the bride and groom, while the President’s Protection Unit made sure no harm came to the royal couple.
The ceremony took place at Namiirembe Cathedral, with a guest list of international and local dignitaries in attendance including President Museveni and the first lady and Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini among other royal delegations from all over the world.
Three thousand guests wined and dined With the Kabaka and Nnabagereka at an exclusive palace reception. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of the king’s subjects feasted away at separate functions around the kingdom, all sponsor the Kabaka himself.
Agnes Babirye and George William Mugerwa, April 1999
Presidential driver used a tractor as his wedding ride
The lady city tycoon made news when she married then Presidential driver George William Mugerwa in ostentatious style. The bride and groom, who tied the knot at Rubaga Cathedral, then made their way to their reception at Namboole Stadium in nothing less than an earth excavator decorated to the nines with flowers, balloons and palm leaves. The tractor led a convoy of 50 vehicles, which were also escorted by motorcycles and traditional dancers. At the time, the businesswoman bride was constructing a shopping mall along Luwum Street, which probably explains her easy access to the tractor.
Silver and Jalia Kyagulanyi, 2007
Arriving on a boat
What could possibly be more festive than a wedding? The answer is a wedding on the lake, especially one at which the groom and his entourage arrive gracefully by boat, just in time for the exchange of vows. Destination nuptials seem to be all the rage among cruise lines and tour companies in richer parts of the world. That doesn’t mean Ugandans haven’t borrowed a leaf. Local musician and composer Silver Kyagulanyi embraced the trend in a somewhat different way. Sure enough, Silver made his grand entrance aboard a boat with his groomsmen. After the boat had docked at the Speke Resort Munyonyo, he and his bride exchanged vows lakeside, where they then hosted hundreds of guests to a wedding feast.
Moses and Shamim Kayondo, 2002
First man to use Speke Resort Munyonyo carriage
Although local businessman Moses Kayondo tends to keep his private and business lives quite separate, we cannot say he did the same when it came to his wedding. On the contrary. Kayondo made sure his nuptials, which took place at the Speke Resort Munyonyo, were no silent affair. His was the first wedding in Kampala in which the bride and groom arrived at the reception in a horse-driven carriage, which caused no small stir. (Resort owner Sudhir Ruparelia had at the time just brought the cart and animal into the country.)
Isaac Kiwewesi and Barbara Sasha Mugabi
This controversial pastor tied the knot at a wedding that broke matrimonial spending records. The fete was estimated to have cost Ush 300 million. The invitation list stretched to 10,000. The wedding cake alone was said to have cost tens of millions of shillings.
And while no one could put a price on the brides wedding gown, it was rumoured to have cost a staggering sum. A flowing, simple modern gown, it prompted speculation for months regarding where she got it.
The wedding venue was Namboole e International Stadium, which was filled almost to capacity, with born again Christians from all walks of life and churches all over the city. A reported 50 ushers/bouncers made sure no one got in without an invitation card.
Dr Frank Mwine and Hope Asiimwe, 2004
A wedding in the wild
Dr Mwine and his bride chose to leave the bustle of the city and the hordes of guests and troubles that come with a city wedding. Instead, they escaped to Murchison National Park for their nuptials. They enjoyed a sunset cruise down the Nile and took in the usual safari sights on their important day. Their wedding was made up of very few invited guests, who stayed in a luxury safari lodge for the weekend. The wedding was later used by the Uganda Wildlife Authority as an advertisement of sorts for the park through stories in newspapers and pictures of the couple and their guests enjoying the sunset cruise.
Jose Chameleone and Danielle Atim, June 7, 2008
A celebrity, a chopper
They called this one the wedding of the year. It also may well have been the one that jumpstarted the helicopter trend; groom and groomsmen arrived at the ceremony aboard a chopper chartered from the Serena Kampala to massive crowds that gathered at Biina Trading Centre, near the landing site, from Mutungo, Luzira, and Kitintale to witness the wedding. The two were married at St. James Catholic Church by the bride’s father amidst security provided by mean looking bouncers, the police and the army. After they recited their vows, the newly-weds were whisked away aboard the waiting chopper to the Speke Resort Munyonyo before heading to an elegant reception at Kampala Serena Hotel. At the Serena, Chameleone and his bride were announced by a volley of fireworks, bubbles, and fake snow. Afrigo Band, Silk Mobile Disco and Crane Performers entertained the guests. To ensure that no one left hungry, Chameleone and Daniella served a 12-tier cake.