This past weekend I was invited to a traditional ceremony called an "Introduction." A woman who works at Watoto's Fabrication Center has a brother who is soon to be married and thought it would be fun for me to see a traditional Ugandan wedding celebration.
The bride and groom meet for the first time during the ceremony.
An introduction ceremony is a traditional pre-wedding ceremony, based on the Buganda Kingdom tradition, in which the bride-to-be introduces her future husband (and his family and escorts) to her parents and relatives. It is a big celebration that lasts close to six hours and includes many cultural customs and traditions. It usually takes place a couple of weeks before the formal wedding ceremony (a ceremony like we would have in the U.S.). The family formally becomes one during this ceremony, and there are many customs that are followed to represent this happening. The bride remains inside and does not see the groom until after a meal is shared with the groom and the bride's family, which takes place about two hours into the ceremony. The bride also changes dresses throughout the ceremony, and each time the dress get more extravagant and usually more colorful. Gifts are often presented from the groom's family members and group of friends to the bride and her family. Many traditional marriages here in Uganda still implement the exchange of a dowry for the bride, and this ceremony often formalizes this exchange. Each woman wears a beautiful dress called a gomesi (pronounced gomas), a usually brightly colored silky dress with pointed sleeves and tied around the waist by a large belt, and the men wear what is called a kanzu, a long white tunic, often worn with a suit coat over it.
The bride and her bridal party receive gifts.
At one point during the ceremony, they asked me to get up and introduce myself in front of the few hundred people in attendance. This came as a surprise to me, and I was a little nervous. I assumed it was because I was the only Mzungu (Swahili word for white-skinned person) at the ceremony. I was also asked to help the groom's sisters present a gift to the brothers of the bride.
It was a wonderful experience, and I felt extremely honored to not only be in attendance but to be given the opportunity to take part in such a beautifully cultured and traditional ceremony.
The bride dances while wearing her final dress.
Hilary Gibson is a 2015 Noble-Watoto Fellow working at Watoto Child Care Ministries in Uganda. Gibson is from Shawnee, Oklahoma, and has one more semester left in the master of international agriculture program at Oklahoma State University, where she focuses on trade and ethics.