MANY men will not dare marry a Mukiga woman. "They are very tough, they can beat up a man," says one man. The way they talk, even their physical appearance, intimidates him, he said.
His fears aren't entirely baseless. The Bakiga are known to be very hot tempered; a Mukiga woman will not hesitate to lift a saucepan of food off the fire and splash it in your face if there is nothing within reach to hit you with. But behind the aggressiveness lies lovers who will stop at nothing to please their men, or women.
The Bakiga of southwestern Uganda migrated from Rwanda centuries ago. They are slightly over 1.6 million, about seven percent of the total population. Their district, Kabale, has one of the most beautiful landscapes. Because of its undulating hills, it has been dubbed the 'Switzerland of Africa.'
The hills lie in picturesque chains of ridges, and between them wind streams, bordered by papyrus swamps. Homes are built on tops or sides of hills. It is a millet zone, too cold for bananas, too hilly for cattle. It is here in the hills that the Bakiga grow their millet, maize, peas, potatoes and tend their flocks of sheep and goats.
Historically, the Bakiga had no kings. They are independent spirited, energetic, straight-talking, aggressive people. They are brave and natural born warriors.
Romance and marriage
May Mandelbaum Edel writes in The Chiga of Western Uganda, that as a girl approached puberty, she started conducting herself in a ladylike fashion. Tomboyish manners like whistling and climbing would be unseemly. She would prepare herself for matrimony by 'pulling' her labia minora, in which she would be instructed by friends a little older than herself.
A girl had to stay pure. It was terrible if an unmarried girl became pregnant. A mother could try to help her to abort or conceal it but once the men - her father and brothers learnt of it, they took drastic action. The girl would be beaten to confess the name of the lover, yet it was taboo for a girl to reveal the name of the man. The girls rarely confessed. If the girl never ran way, her father would kill her, usually by throwing her over a cliff. Kisizi Falls was most used for this purpose. Or, they would be dumped on Akampene, a small island in Lake Bunyonyi.
If her parents managed to marry her off to her lover, when the child was about to be born, she would retire to a secluded place in the bush, bear it there and strangle it. She would then be purified by a ritual specialist.
A Mukiga boy's experiences of sex began as early as he liked, and the wives of his elder brothers were not inaccessible to him.
Men preferred young wives. Marrying off a daughter before puberty was frowned upon. It was also inadvisable to delay too long after puberty. There is a proverb that says, 'vegetables are sweet to eat while they are still tender'
Like in many African societies, negotiations for marriage were carried out between the families, not the bride and groom. The couple had no say in the matter. The negotiations were conducted with great formality and deliberation. Visits would sometimes go on for more than a year. Stephen Rwangyenzi, the director of Ndere Troupe Centre, said a Kiga marriage started with "okuriima, scouting for and spying on the girl and her family."
If all went well, the process would be initiated by a go-between, kiriima, acting for the groom's father would go to formally request for marriage, okugamba obugyenyi.
No matter how desirable the match, no self-respecting father would consent the first time the suitors came to ask for his daughter.
Next was, (and still is), okujuga, the paying of the bride wealth.
Okuhingira, was/is the occasion of handing over the girl to the groom's family. But the ancient way was detailed. When the grooms arrived to claim her, the girl would be whisked off and hidden in the back of her mother's hut.
After hours of debate and numerous extra demands had been met - a cow for the bride's maternal uncle, and perhaps a sheep or goat for the bride's father, everything would be ready.
The bride, hidden in her mother's hut and dressed in her best would begin the rhythmic weeping, okugabuka. As she sobbed, she had to say words suitable for the occasion. 'Oh, good bye, I am going away from home now, I'm going to be lonely…'Pride was taken in doing this well and a girl would be praised for the quality weeping. The groom's party would spend the night feasting and dancing.
The next morning, the bride would be brought out against her strong resistance and all the other girls would help her. One by one, her brothers would drag them out of the house. Clothing would be torn in the tussle and ornaments not carefully taken off in advance could be broken.
Finally, the bride would be seized, her head would be ritually shaved, and she would be carried off on her brother's shoulders. The party set forth amid a lot of weeping. The bride, her head well covered, would be carried on her brother's shoulders all the way to her groom's house.
At the groom's home, celebrations would be on for okutaasya, receiving the girl. The groom, well washed and groomed would be eagerly and nervously waiting for her. On arrival, she would kneel at the entrance. The groom would tap her with a little twig, saying, 'ogamba rumwe gambe kabiri, 'you may speak once, but I will speak twice,' indicating that he will be master in his household. She would be led into the house where her mother-in-law greeted her.
She would go to the back room and weep some more, while the groom's relatives and her escorts feasted and danced. She could eat a little, daintily, but if she forgot her manners and started eating greedily, the married woman who had accompanied her, and who would spend the first night there with her, would pinch her to remind her that she was under observation.
Towards cockcrow a special ceremony would take place. The girls would be awakened and they would begin to sing. The bride's brothers would be given beer and they would go into the inner compartment of the hut and bring out the wailing bride.
The groom would urinate on a stool and he would dip his hands in the urine. The brothers would pull off the girl's skirt and seat her in the hands of her husband on the stool. She would be struggling all the while. As soon as he touched her genitals, she would be released, and the groom and his brothers would leap and dance and break into their best ceremonial boasts. All those who had shared in this ceremony (except the bride's brothers) were, in a sense, supplementary husbands and had the right to sleep with her when all the marriage rites were over.
The next day, when her escorts left, the groom would buy off his sisters and his mother with gifts, so that he would be left alone with his bride at last. When he came to the bed where she would be lying, her rhythmic weeping would become more intense. Her mother would have earlier instructed her not to cry too loud or too long, lest everyone laughed at her.
The girl would often struggle vehemently to avoid the embrace of her husband. To aid her, the escorting woman would have earlier greased her with butter. Sometimes she actually succeeded in holding him off for a time. When her husband finally succeeded in consummating her, known as okushwera, her struggles would cease and she would be expected to be ready to receive him thereafter without protest.
When this was over, her husband came out into the courtyard, proudly victorious. His sister would go in to dress the bride and give her food, but she would refuse to eat until her husband had given her gifts. All the girls would attempt to treat her gently and make her feel at home but she would remain sulky and silent.
After a few days, the couple would visit the girl's home 'to finish the butter,' known as okwaruka. If he had not found his wife a virgin, now would be the time to complain to her father, by showing him a pierced handle of a hoe. The father would hush things up by giving back some of the bride price.
Back at the groom's home, "The new wife would go into a two or three month-long of induction, okwarama," said Rwangyenzi.
Once settled in, the new wife's main role was to grow food.
Polygamy and wife sharing
This was the norm. A man would give the senior wife a gift before taking another wife, 'because he would no longer keep her warm at night'
The husband paid careful attention to each of his wives, and would sleep with each wife in turn, usually spending two nights in each hut. He had to divide any gifts equally to allow no jealousy to develop. Usually co-wives would go about their ways separately, on good or at least neutral terms with each other.
A woman could occasionally console herself in her loneliness with another man. No man would be jealous provided his wife confined her favours to his own brothers and lineage kinsmen and observed good behaviour, such as conducting her liaisons quietly in her own hut and never in the bush. If a good friend visited, the man would give him one of the huts, and a wife to 'spread the bed for the visitor', okwarira.
A woman would never sleep with her father-in-law or his age mates.
Marriages were on the whole, permanent. In case of disputes, the elders were the first court of arbitration. A woman could go away in anger to her father's home, but she usually returned. In rare cases, she would go off and marry another man. Rwangyenzi said today's Kiga marriages feature the introduction, settling of the bride price - mostly in cash, the give-away, and a church wedding. "Paying the bride wealth and the give-away ceremony are usually combined these days.
Adapted from The Monitor News paper
- Geoffrey T. Muhoozi is a Ugandan trained Public Relations Practitioner and Journalist. He Studied at Makerere University Kampala and read Mass Communication with a bias in Public Relations. In between the course, he studied the Art of Public Speaking. He joined Uganda’s Leading Daily, The New Vision during his second year and practiced journalism till he left for The United Kingdom.In the UK, he persued an NCC International Diploma in Computing at London College of Business Studies and Computing. He went on to do a Masters Degree in Business Administration [MBA]specialsing in Marketing. In spite of being in The United Kingdom, he still contributes for The New Vision and The Sunday Vision newspapers when time allows.