By Rashim Nabanja.
A few months ago, a friend of mine asked me to help her plan for her kukyala ceremony. She had finally made up her mind and wanted her parents to know about the man in her life.
With a budget of Shs10 million, we managed to cater to everything including décor, food, outfits, music and the makeup. Her number one strategy was having something simple unlike the exaggerated kukyala ceremonies were people invite over 100 guests and even hire musicians to perform.
Jalia Mujabi, the bride, had a guest list of just 30 people, 15 of them coming from the groom’s side. On the day of the ceremony, everything went on smoothly, the groom brought multiple gifts for her family and made her look really respectable.
Personally, I thought the entire event was simple, classy, and right, until a few days back when I was told this is not how a real kukyala ceremony should go down.
While having a chat with Hamida Namatovu, a Senga well versed with preparing brides for marriage, I got to discover that for some good time now, kukyala has been changed to something totally unexplainable.
For the first time, I realised that traditionally, its an indoor family visit that does not need decor, or bridesmaids, or music.
What kukyala is really about
According to Senga Hamida, a true kukyala ceremony is all about the groom visiting the bride’s paternal aunty (senga), this is where the word ‘kukyala’ originates from.
Senga Hamida says, when a woman is sure that she has found the right person and they have agreed upon spending their entire life together, she needs to let her father know about her intentions with her soul mate.
However, when it comes to issues concerning marriage and love affairs, it is forbidden for a bride to discuss them with her father, and this is where the senga comes in.
Senga Hamida says the process of legalizing a marriage begins with a kukyala. A groom needs to visit the bride’s Senga so as to discuss the journey of beginning a legal relationship with her daughter.
Since the bride-to-be can’t speak directly with her father, the senga steps in to help her out. However, she would need to see the groom and hear about his intentions and family background, so as to make a clear explanation to the bride’s father.
During the process of preparing for a kukyala, the bride needs to inform her senga about the date and time of the forthcoming visit from the groom, so that she can be ready to receive the guests.
On the day of the visit, the groom-to-be is required to come along with one to two people with him. It could be a friend and a family member, or either of them.
However, senga Hamida strongly advises grooms that in case you are not well versed with the origin and background of your family, you should bring along a family member that has a clear knowledge of it.
“This is so because the senga needs to make sure that the families do not have any possible blood links and come from different origins and clans,” Hamida explains
What takes place at the senga’s home?
After the visitors arrive, the senga welcomes them inside the house and the ceremony begins.
The groom explains to the Senga his intentions and why he has come to pay the visit.
“He basically talks about why he would want to marry a daughter from the family he has visited and in the process, the Senga asks questions that she feels are relevant basing on what more she would want to know about him,” Hamida explains.
However, the senga doesn’t make the final decision, it is all based on the father of the bride.
The groom will have to come with a letter, written by his father to the father of the bride elaborating more about what she would have explained to him. This is why the groom will have to provide the senga with what is locally known as ‘Mafuta’
‘Mafuta’, also known as transport, is the money that the groom gives the senga to help her through her journey to the bride’s father, so that she can explain to him that his daughter has found someone and is ready to settle down.
Aside from the transport, the groom also brings with him some gifts for the senga and her sisters and also provides them with some money that will help them prepare for the kwanjula ceremony.
However, according to Senga Justine Nantume, during kukyala, a groom doesn’t necessarily have to bring a lot of gifts. He should bring something average because this is less of a ceremony and more of a visit. The only reason gifts are carried is simply because when a person visits someone in Buganda, they usually bring something small with them.
Among the things that a groom may bring include; meat, sugar, bread and salt. She however strongly cautions grooms about what not to take when it comes to this visit, “Things like carrots, eggplant, bananas, and pumpkins shouldn’t be taken part of the gifts a groom takes.”
She further explains that some of these things are considered vulgar for example carrots, eggplant, and bananas resemble a man’s private parts, and pumpkin is what they normally refer to as a woman’s private parts in the local language.
The gifts come out at the end of the visit as the groom is leaving.
For a kukyala, it is usually not necessary for the groom to meet the bride’s parents because you would be distorting the meaning and purpose of the ‘kwanjula’ ceremony. Kwanjula is the next ceremony where the senga introduces the groom to the father of the bride.
However, senga Hamida notes that the parents of the bride and those of the groom can meet and talk about the possibilities of the kwanjula ceremony, bride price and also get to know more about each other prior.
Choosing the dates of the kwanjula
When the father of the bride agrees to the groom’s request, the next step would be choosing the wedding and kwanjula dates.
According to senga Hamida, choosing the dates of these two days is left to the senga and the bride herself, “This is done to make sure that the dates of the ceremonies don’t collide with the days the bride is to have her periods.”
Senga Hamida at this point urges people to go back to the right procedure of a kukyala rather than being influenced by what they see on television from celebrities and prominent people.