The Njovu Clan is one of the 56 recognised clans of Buganda. Therefore, its traditions, customs and norms are not different from those of other clans. They are part and parcel of the culture and heritage of the Baganda people. The Clan has no culture peculiar to itself.
It must be pointed out that these traditions and customs exist in a traditional religious environment. They have been handed down from generation to generation for centuries, and they have become part and parcel of people’s lives. For this reason, the Baganda have been described as being notoriously religious.
The traditional religion of the Baganda is the religious system which the Baganda forefathers developed in response to their life’s situations. This religion, up to a point, gave the Baganda satisfactory answers to their problems, especially those concerned with birth, marriage, death, the hereafter, misfortune, suffering, sickness, and so on. It also quenched their religious thirst, and helped them to find a meaningful interpretation and understanding of the world in which they lived.
The religion of the Baganda is reflected in their rituals, practices, ceremonies and festivals, shrines, sacred places and religious objects, art and symbols, names of people and places, beliefs and customs, proverbs, riddles, myths and legends, values and morals, as well the people who conduct traditional religious matters. This is what makes the Baganda notoriously religious. All aspects of the lives of the Baganda therefore are influenced by traditional religion, and everything they do, whether knowingly or unknowingly, has a religious connotation.
The Baganda believed and still believe in the existence of a supernatural force that makes things happen without necessarily man’s involvement. This invisible force is what makes the Muganda to be religious. This concept of religion has been with man since the time of creation. The traditional religion of the Baganda is the product of the thinking and experiences of our fathers. It is an essential part of the way of life of the Baganda people. Its influence covers all aspects of life, from long before the Muganda is born, when he/she is still in the loins of his/her parents, when he/she exists as a living human being and even after his/her death.
It should also be noted that certain changes brought about by external religions, mainly Christianity and Islam, have impacted upon the traditions and customs of the Baganda and therefore their traditional religion. External religions have made great influence upon the Baganda through their faiths, their teachings, their ideals, and their schools and hospitals which have accompanied the Christian Gospel and Muslim Dawa.
It must be pointed out, however, that the coming of universal religions found the Baganda with no religious vacuum since they had their own indigenous religion; and that despite the spread of universal religions and the abuses that were levelled against African traditions, the Baganda have failed to totally abandon their traditional religious beliefs because of their significance and usefulness to their survival. In any case, the beliefs, practices, ceremonies, and festivals are part and parcel of his existence. They are part and parcel of their culture; and are implied in the integrated patterns of human behaviour that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of social groups.
In addition, modern changes, brought about by external contact and cultural influences, have exerted and are still exerting great influence on the traditions and culture of the Baganda.
Unavoidably, certain aspects of these traditions and culture have become or are becoming outdated, but strong values, virtues, beliefs and practices will survive while weak ones will perish. Many of them will be changed or transformed to meet the needs of the changing times.
In the following notes, traditions and customs are discussed alongside modern changes and
trends. Information on this has been gathered through research involving:
• A review of literature on the customs and traditions of the Baganda put out by eminent writers among whom are J. Roscoe, Sir Apolo Kaggwa and M. B. Nsimbi;
• Consultation with Hajj Mahmoud Ssekimpi Ssemmambo, the Katikkiro of the Njovu Clan and with members of the Clan’s top executive committee, and with some leaders within the Njovu Clan; and
• Discussions with people who are considered authorities on these matters such as Omutaka Dr. Adam Kimala, Ssenga Joyce Nnalujja Tomusange, Mr. Edward Ssemukuutu, and Mr. Kefa Ssentoogo Ssenjoobe.
• Personal observation at many traditional ceremonies and festivals.
Birth customs and Traditions
There is great joy when a wife is expecting a baby. Children are looked upon as the buds of society and as a continuation of the life of their parents, the family, the clan and the community. Therefore, the birth of a child in the family is one of the greatest blessings from God to that family; and it is greeted with great joy and satisfaction.
The pregnant woman informs her husband and her friends, her mother, her mother-in-law and other close relatives. Before long, other people get to know about it. Pregnancy is a great moment for the woman and her family. For the young woman who has never had children before, the pregnancy is proof of her fertility and ability to bear children, thereby feeling liberated from the stigma of barrenness. She is now more assured of her marriage and she is treated with greater respect than before by her husband’s relatives.
The pregnancy is the first indication that a new member of the clan and of society is on the way, and steps begin to be taken immediately to ensure the safety of the baby and the mother during and after pregnancy.
Steps taken to ensure a safe birth and safety of the child
The pregnant woman has to observe certain regulations and taboos in order to protect the baby and herself. In traditional Kiganda society, she has to leave the marital bed and stop sleeping with her husband altogether after about the 6th month of pregnancy and until roughly three months after delivery. It is great taboo for her to be intimate with a man who is not her husband because it is believed that the baby will die. She is barred from eating certain foods that are considered harmful to the baby and her, e.g. salt, yam leaf broth (ettimpa), lima beans, ripe plantain (gonja), certain types of fish, fat meat, grasshoppers (enseenene) and pork because of their fat content. She is advised not to assume certain postures that can affect the positioning of the baby in the womb and eventual delivery, e.g. sitting sideways. Old women help her to put the baby in a proper position (okuteereza omwaana mu lubuto) and they give her herbs to soften the passage of the baby when delivery comes (okumenya). A pregnant woman is not supposed to attend burials. It is great taboo for a pregnant woman to touch her husband’s, fetishes, spears, or shield because it is believed that the pregnancy makes the woman ritually unclean.
The pregnant woman receives traditional ante-natal care. From the moment she finds that she is pregnant, she begins taking certain herbs and medicines to safeguard the baby and herself, and to be assured of a safe delivery. She also bathes in certain herbs and medicines for the same reason. These herbs and medicines are normally supplied by her mother-in-law, her own mother, and her aunts and even trusted old women who are known to have a “good” or “lucky hand”. She is massaged during pregnancy. She normally bathes in cold water in order to make her strong and immune to certain weaknesses and ailments brought about by inactivity. She is supposed to keep herself out of the public eye to avoid the evil eye.
The pregnant woman, especially one who lives in an urban area, receives modern ante-natal care services from a health facility, such as a clinic, dispensary, health centre, or hospital, where:
(a) she can be counselled and guided on primary healthcare, motherhood, reproduction, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, feeding and nutrition, and immunisation against killer-diseases;
(b) she can be tested and treated for syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS;
(c) she can get medication for prevention of malaria; and (d) she can obtain prescription for iron and vitamin deficiency.
It should be stressed that it is the common practice at present for the pregnant woman to adopt both traditional safety measures and to receive a combination of both traditional and modern ante-natal care. This is indicative of the strength of African beliefs which cannot easily be done away with.
Traditionally, the pregnant woman delivers her baby at her home, or at her parents’ home. Some women feel more secure to give birth at their parents’ homes.
Whether the birth takes place at her home or at the home of her parents, the woman delivers the baby in a banana plantation among her own people. She is aided by a traditional midwife who has been her chief helper and confidant during the pregnancy (mulerwa). The main role of the midwife is to ensure a safe delivery and the safety of the mother and baby.
The expectant mother is also surrounded by elderly women who have had long experience of delivering births, caring for new mothers and babies immediately after birth, and keeping confidential information about the birth, e.g. anomalies of birth. When she is in labour, they prepare the birth site, and prepare a fireplace on which they boil water and various herbs and medicines for the mother and the on-coming baby.
The midwife and these women assist the expectant mother in her labour pains. They all have their toughest moment when the baby is arriving: they labour at all cost to save both mother and baby.
By tradition, men, including the father of the baby, are not allowed anywhere near the site of birth.
The banana plantation where the baby is born symbolises fertility and continuity on the part of the mother. The banana plantation has special importance to the Muganda. Many of the Kiganda practices, beliefs, ceremonies and festivities are connected with the banana plantation (olusuku).
Immediately on arrival, the baby has to give its first cry. Normally, an implement, such as a hoe, is sounded to call for response from the baby. Where no such instrument is available, the baby is held head up and legs down. The baby normally responds by uttering a sharp cry. The cry is a sign that the baby is alive and is getting familiarised with the new surroundings and to the new world outside the womb.
While the midwife is busy helping the mother to regain her strength and posture, the baby goes from hand to hand among the elderly women to check the baby’s physical status. In particular, they establish whether the baby is deformed or lame or is otherwise abnormal. This shows that a child in Buganda is not an individual property but everyone’s responsibility.
The elderly women remove the placenta from the baby. The placenta, which is regarded by the Baganda as the second child, is buried and thus stored permanently (okufugika) on the banana tree as a symbol of fertility and blessing for both the mother and baby. The placenta of a baby boy is buried in the soil surrounding a beer banana tree (ekitooke ky’embidde); while that of a girl is buried in the soil surrounding a food banana tree called Nnakitembe. The beer banana is regarded as the “male” banana; while Nnakitembe is regarded as the “female” banana.
The Baganda believe that actually two babies are born: the human child who is brought home; and the other one who remains at the labour site, i.e. the placenta stored in the banana plantation where the birth takes place. They also believe that at death the human child joins the other child who was left in the banana plantation and that they become one once again in the soil as they were in the womb.
The Baganda also believe that the baby represented by the placenta does live on as a spirit, and that he/she dies in human form as the human baby is entering this world so that the human baby who has been receiving nourishment from it (the placenta) may live.
The umbilical cord is left on the baby until it peels of marking the end of the period of confinement for both mother and baby. The peeled part (akalira) is kept in the safest place. Negligence on the part of the mother reflects a lot about her character.
Next, the elderly women wash the baby with traditional local herbs which are known to invigorate the baby, to prevent infection and to combat evil. This step is taken to protect and safeguard the new-born baby from harm which can be caused by illness and evil-minded people. It is also taken to ensure a bright future for the baby. This can be regarded as today’s immunisation against dangerous diseases and other related evils that hinder the proper growth of the child.
Then, the mother is led into the house by the elderly women and she moves into confinement. The women prepare the place of confinement (akaali) for her and the baby. It is a curtained part of the sitting room or lounge.
There is once again great joy when a child is born. The news of the arrival of the baby travels fast, and quite soon relatives and well-wishers come with gifts to congratulate the mother and to praise God for the blessing. After the birth, the mother is accorded greater respect and honour by her husband’s relatives. The gifts given indicate the beginning of life and property ownership, from a world of nothingness to a world of property of ownership (the material world).
The arrival of the baby has great significance. It is the final seal to the marriage because once a child is born, the marriage is complete. The mother is now fully integrated into her husband’s family and kinship line or circle. Furthermore, there is now a new member of the clan and of the Baganda community at large. This causes great joy and satisfaction.
The mother and baby immediately after birth
Traditionally, the mother is given herbs to enable her to suckle the baby successfully and to protect her from evil-minded and jealous people who can cause her misery. Some of the herbs are intended to increase her supply of breast milk so that the baby becomes strong and healthy, and to increase the child’s level of resistance to disease and evil. She is also provided with certain healing and life-giving herbs and foods to enable her have a good recovery from the arduous task of producing a baby (okumukulisa okuwona olutalo lw’okuzaala). She bathes in a cocktail of herbs and local medicines to make her strong once again, and to prepare her for bearing another child.
Old women prepare a bath consisting of mixture of traditional herbs (ekyoogero) in which the baby is bathed for the next two years. The baby is given some of this mixture to drink. This herbal cocktail serves the dual purpose of protecting and safeguarding the baby so that it has a bright future in which it will not be attacked by disease; in which it will not suffer from misfortune, witchcraft and sorcery; a future in which it will enjoy good fortune, happiness, longevity, prosperity and wisdom.
Medication in Buganda is a continuous process, as seen above. The moment a woman expects a baby, herbal medication is administered and this continues until when the child is born and even after in all other proceeding events in his/her life.
Confinement and introduction of the baby to the public
Following the birth of a baby, both mother and baby remain in confinement inside the house until the umbilical cord peels off and dries. Where the baby is a boy, the period of confinement is three days; but where the baby is a girl it is for four days. It is believed that the baby born is normally stronger than the baby girl; so his period of confinement is shorter.
The period of confinement is intended to give time to the mother to rest and recover, and to make her first observations about the baby. It is also intended to give time to the baby to get familiar to its new environment outside the womb as it begins its long journey in life.
It is usual to hold a small thanks-giving ceremony at the end the rest period where a gathering of relatives, friends and neighbours are invited to welcome the new baby and congratulate the mother. It is the custom to give the baby and mother gifts. It is also usual for the father-in-law to give the mother a goat as a token of appreciation for her role in enhancing the family and the clan. The goat is slaughtered and its blood creates a permanent bond between the child, the mother, the clan, and the earth.
The ceremony has a lot of significance and meaning. The mother is rewarded for proving to be profitable by bearing a child to the clan and society. The child is initiated into the community. The values of communicating, sharing, giving and receiving, and rejoicing for birth are promoted through the meal that is prepared and served for the occasion. Society is given the opportunity to receive both the mother and child when they come out into the open after seclusion. There is a renewal of the life of the community with a new rhythm for everyone around marking the birth of a baby.
The first naming of the baby
After about two weeks after giving birth, the mother has customary ritual sex with her husband to endure the health of the baby. The ritual consists of the woman stretching out her legs and letting her husband jump over them. The woman is considered cleaned because she was regarded as “impure” under pregnancy. After this, the child is given a name.
The naming can be done by the paternal grandfather, usually from names of the departed but at times from those who are still living, e.g. the grandfather’s brothers or the child’s uncles.
Quite often, though, the name given may relate to a noted abnormally, e.g. a cleft lip, e.g. Nnakimu; or it may relate to an event at the time of birth or to the time of birth, e.g. Lutalo (War); or it may reflect the feelings of the parents and mark the occasion of the child’s birth, e.g. Muwumuzza; or the name may describe the child or its background, e.g. the baby’s habits, the place where the child was born, what was going on in the village, town, country or even the world, interests of the parents or community, etc. Such names are usually give by parents themselves or people close to the baby.
The name given at this time may become permanent, but it is usually regarded as temporary. The baby is called by that name until the actual naming ceremony when the name can be adopted as permanent while the child is given an additional and more official clan name.
The umbilical cord
After the birth of a baby, the umbilical cord is dried up and kept with great care by the mother until the baby-naming and confirmation ceremony and festival. Loss or poor custody of the umbilical cord signifies extreme negligence and carelessness on the part of the mother. She is therefore put to great task to explain the loss or damage. The common saying: “okyekuuma ng’akalira k’omwaana”=”you protect the thing cautiously like the baby’s umbilical cord”, reflects the great care with which a mother is expected to exercise with regard to the umbilical cord.
Resumption of normal life
After about three months, the mother can resume sexual relations with her husband. This resumption of sexual activity by the child’s parents is the subject of a ritual called: “okumala ekizadde”, which is roughly translated as “completion of the birth”. The husband rewards his wife with a new beautiful bark-cloth to signify the end of the life where the wife was under pregnancy and to mark the beginning a new life with a new member of the household. The resumption is a symbol of change and renewal for both husband and wife. Behind this resumption is the hope and wish that the woman, who has proved her worth by producing a baby, will continue to bear more children for the household and for the clan and society.
Nowadays, many babies are born under modern conditions in maternity wards of health facilities, such as health centres and hospitals; and this practice is on the increase as many people live in urban centres and depend more on modern health services.
During the birth, both the mother and baby are attended to by a trained midwife and other specialist personnel, such as gynaecologists and paediatricians. These health personnel are there to ensure a safe delivery and the safety of the mother and the child. The mother is well prepared for the delivery as she would normally already have attended ante-natal clinical sessions during her pregnancy.
The father of the baby is rarely allowed to be present inside the labour ward when his wife is delivering their baby. But there are those who advocate for the presence of the husband in the labour ward to share the pain and experience of giving birth.
The placenta is often disposed of by health staff soon after delivery and is therefore not buried in the banana plantation, thus separating and alienating the two babies. However, some women carry the placenta home and dispose of it in the traditional manner.
It is believed that a child whose placenta was not treated in the traditional manner grows into an abnormally unruly, wild, anti-social, violent and unstable being. This shows the strength of the traditions and beliefs of the Baganda which they protect. No Muganda wishes to be the parent of a child whose behaviour is unbecoming.
Some educated mothers do not take care to preserve the umbilical cord. But, quite a large number of mothers who give birth under modern conditions keep the umbilical cord. Apparently, the children of mothers who do not preserve their umbilical cords do not undergo the traditional baby naming ceremony.
After the arrival of the baby under modern conditions, the mother is given medication to ensure her a safe recovery and safety against possible post-natal infections. The baby receives medication against infections; and is immunised against the six killer diseases, namely, polio, tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus.
Before being discharged from the health facility, the new mother is counselled about feeding and nutrition for herself and the baby, and is given a programme for post-natal care and further immunisation of the baby against the killer diseases. When discharged, the new mother goes to her home with the baby and both may, if conditions allow, remain in seclusion for a period of time as per tradition.
Many of the traditional birth practices are still in place, although under modified form to suit prevailing modern conditions. The majority of mothers combine both traditional and modern practices after the birth of their babies. They still use ekyoogero (the traditional bath of the baby) and the traditional herbal medicines. They still go into confinement after delivery. They still carefully preserve the umbilical cord where the family still does the traditional naming of its children. All these instances show the strength and durability of African traditions.
However, many birth customs and traditions face the threat of extinction. Many educated or “saved” mothers (balokole), particularly those who live in urban communities, do not wish to be subjected to practices which they consider primitive or pagan. One explanation for this attitude is that many of these women have not been brought up in traditional environments. They are therefore largely ignorant about the essence or meaning of these customs and traditions. Additionally, many, if not all, of these women have been brought up in a universal religious environment in which African customs and traditions are not only despised and abused, but also condemned and wished extinction.
Some traditions have come with universal religions, such as Christianity and Islam, and have become accepted as the norm in many families. A few examples will suffice:
A male child born in a Muslim home is circumcised by the imam of a local mosque and given a Muslim name seven days after birth. The circumcision symbolises God’s covenant with Abraham (Ibrahim). The blood which the child loses in the process of circumcision symbolises a bond between the child and the earth. It is the also the Muslim practice to shave off the child's hair. The shaving off of the hair indicates the abandonment of the world of inactivity in the womb and the transcendence of the child to the new world of activity. The child is now a member of Islam, the body of believers who have accepted to “surrender to the will of Allah”, made known through the sacred scriptures, the Qur’an (Koran), which Allah revealed to His messenger, the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W.
A child born in a Christian household is baptised by a priest at an opportune moment soon after birth. This signifies the purification of the child from the state of sin in which the child is born. Through baptism, the child becomes a member of the Church and a follower of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the chosen one (Christ) and messiah whose message of salvation is in the Holy Bible, particularly the New Testament. The Church is the Christian family, in which all members are related to one another through baptism and in Jesus Christ. The water and the oil which are used in baptism are symbols of sanctity of life and constitute the child’s first sacrament and first milestone in his/her roadmap to salvation.
The name given to a Muslim child at circumcision is chosen from names of prophets, including Muhammad, or from names of Muhammad’s associates when he was alive, or from names of outstanding followers of Islam. The name is more often than not an Arabic name.
The name given to a baptised child is chosen from names of prophets or patriarchs, or from names of ancestors of the Church, or from names of heroes of the Church, including martyrs, who were declared saints by the Church after death. With the exception of Uganda martyrs, a child cannot be baptised with a Kiganda name. The name given at baptism is usually Jewish or Middle Eastern, or Western (mostly European or American).
The Muslim or Christian name is usually given after the initial naming of the child after the traditional period of confinement of the mother and baby.
It must be noted in passing that the names given, whether Muslim or Christian, are names of the dead, i.e. ancestors.
It is now the practice for someone to have two sets of names:
1) a Muslim name or names or a Christian name or names; and
2) a Kiganda name or names.
Usually, the owner of the Muslim name or names or the Christian name or names mentions this or those names before the Kiganda name, e.g. “My name is Francis Batte”. Thus the foreign name takes precedence in speech and in documents. But, it is also quite common nowadays for someone to just say “I am Francis”, or “I am Ashraf”, or “I am Cathy”, or “I am Hadija”, thus not mentioning his/her Kiganda name at all. Here the emphasis is put on Muslim or Christian principles of naming.
From early childhood, a child, whether the child is a Christian or a Muslim, is gradually given religious instruction. This is done to achieve three main aims: to initiate the child in the faith; to gradually develop the child as a committed and devoted member of the faith; and to show the child avenues of salvation through this faith.
The Child-confirmation and naming ceremony and festival (Okwalula abaana)
The naming and confirmation of children is marked as an important occasion and is therefore followed by ceremonies and rituals. The process literally means “hatching and coming out of the shell” by the child, signifying coming to the new world. The rituals are considered sacred. They are therefore performed in an atmosphere of sanctity. All people who are to participate in the rituals are supposed to abstain from sex and certain foods for no less than 9 days before the ceremony and during the duration of the ceremony. The occasion is marked by much feasting and rejoicing.
The children affected by the ceremony.
All the children of the family who have never been confirmed or officially named are included in the ceremony.
In traditional Kiganda society, the family includes children, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, brothers and sisters who may have their own children, and other immediate relatives. The Kiganda concept of family also includes the unborn members who are still in the loins of the living and members who have departed, while the household is the smallest unit of the family. The Euro or western concept of family is largely restricted to the household.
Preparing the Event
Members of the family, as in the manner described above, convene at the home of the children’s grandfather. Parents from the various homes which made up this family bring forward all the children who have not undergone confirmation and naming.
A big feast is prepared. The banquet signifies communion of the family, friends and neighbours in celebrating new members of the clan and the community. The ritual banquet consists of many selected local dishes, including matooke, millet bread, beef or goat meat plus the essential ritual items: unripe, unpeeled green bananas (empogola); mushrooms (obutiko obubaala); and sprats (enkejje). Simsim (sesame) in groundnut sauce and other vegetables are also part of this meal. The drinks consist of banana juice and beer. All items for the feast need the prior approval and ritual blessing of the clan elder or main celebrant.
Steamed unripe, unpeeled bananas (empogola) symbolise communion with twins since this type of dish is considered to be their specialty. Special songs for twins precede the rituals involved in the ceremony.
It is believed that mushrooms connect the departed with the living. It is believed that mushrooms contain properties that can protect the child from misfortune and from all manner of evil including witchcraft, magic, sorcery and taboos. Mushrooms are very much valued because the Baganda believe that they have high nutritional value and can be used to combat malnutrition and disease.
Sprats symbolise the spiritual connection of the Baganda with Lake Victoria (Ennyanja Nnalubale) and Ssese Islands, two major sources of the mythology and beliefs of the Baganda. It is believed that the lake and the islands of Ssese are the home of Buganda divinities. Lubaale Mukasa is the chief divinity of the lake, while the sprat is the king of all the fish species found in the lake. The sprat is the totem of Mukasa, the chief divinity of the lake who lives in Ssese Islands and who is God’s agent for child-birth (ezzadde), wealth and bounty (obweeza). The Baganda therefore believe that the sprat when used their rituals connects their children with spiritually with Mukasa. The sprats are, on the other hand, considered nourishing and good for preventing and combating children’s diseases, such as measles and malnutrition.
Simsim (sesame) symbolises plenty, prosperity and multiplication; and is regarded as nutritious because it contains oil and vitamins and nutrients which are considered good for proper child growth.
Millet indicates bounty and strength. It is regarded as highly nutritious and resistant to disease attacks. It is believed that it gives vitality, endurance and longevity. It is used in the feast to wish the children a long life and a life of plenty and a life in which they can use stamina and endurance to overcome difficulties. Millet is also associated with the myth of Kintu and Nnambi, the first people on earth and the original ancestors of the Baganda. It is a symbol of the children’s origin and a reminder that their great ancestor, Nnambi, had gone back to heaven to collect millet when she was accompanied by her brother Death (Walumbe) who causes misery to mankind. Millet was the main food of the Baganda before the arrival of matooke (bananas) from Asia.
Beer brings unity as it is shared by all regardless of status. Quite often, part of the beer is offered as libation to appease ancestors and family spirits and exorcise them not to harm the child and to protect it from enemies.
The sweetness in juice is an indication of the sweetness of the world which should be enjoyed by the child in life.
The coffee beans, which are shared and used in the rituals, symbolise brotherhood. They are used as an offering to the ancestors and family spirits in order to create a bond, a brotherhood, between the child and ancestors and family spirits, and seek protection for the child from harm, as well as long life and prosperity for the child. Coffee beans are also used to consolidate brotherly ties and understanding among family members, friends and the community.
Drums and other musical instruments are played at the ceremony as a sign of rejoicing and marking a great event in the history of the clan and the community. Of special importance is the clan’s drum (omubala) which is sounded to mark the theme of the occasion.
The chief celebrant at the naming is the clan elder, usually the head of the family or kinship circle. His role is that of traditional chief priest. He is the link between the departed, the living and those not born who are still in the loins of their parents. He interprets the environment where the ceremony is going to take place. He offers libation and sacrifices to appease ancestors not to harm people but instead protect them. He supervises the rituals which are central to the ceremony. He blesses whatever takes place that day. He is assisted in this role by grandparents of the children, particularly the grandmothers. The clan elder and the grandparents are considered to be the custodians of wisdom. For this reason, they are present to guide the young through this process and to ensure that the rituals are performed in accordance with the traditional norms of society.
Another key figure in the rituals is the mujjwa. This person is the son or daughter of a man’s married aunt or sister. The mujjwa belongs to his father’s clan, and not to the clan of his or her maternal uncle. The mujjwa therefore represents the “external” wing of the family, while his uncle’s sons and daughters belong to the “internal” wing of the family. The mujjwa is by custom always considered a child (zoboota) by his/her uncle’s side regardless of his/her age or status. The role of the mujjwa role in respect of child-naming is that of a traditional priest who sweeps away all that is considered impure or unwanted or unbecoming. He thus cleans his uncle’s home of any abominations, curses, magic, witchcraft, sorcery, misfortune, sickness, and all manner of evil prior to the ceremony. He therefore brings purity, good fortune, prosperity and blessing to the home of his/her maternal relatives. It is his/her duty to give his clearance for the rituals to go ahead once he/she has done the cleansing. As a custom, the mujjwa is entitled to a high fee for his/her services. His/her maternal relatives make sure that their mujjwa is satisfied and comfortable. Any grumbling by the mujjwa about poor pay is to be avoided as it is a bad omen; and his maternal relatives make sure they pay him/her handsomely for wiping away the dirt which would otherwise make the ceremony imperfect and unholy.
The ritual banquet
When the feast is ready, the main celebrant leads the songs of the twins, and asks the children’s paternal grandmothers to prepare the children’s mothers for the on-coming rituals. The mothers adorn themselves in special bark cloths and sit in a line with their children on a big bark cloth in the porch or on veranda. They sit with their legs stretched out. Each of the mothers has with her the child’s dried umbilical cord. It is customary to place a girl’s umbilical cord on her left, while that of the boy is put on her right. Until their acceptance and confirmation by the clan, these children are regarded as outsider and, because of this, their mothers, too, are considered outsiders.
Then, the ritual meal and drinks are served. The children’s paternal grandmothers and aunts serve this meal. The food and drinks are placed in front of the clan elder before they are served. The clan elder blesses the food and drinks, and offers prayers to the family’s spirits and ancestors for the smooth running of the rituals by dedicating the banquet and the benefits therein to the departed, the living, and those who are not yet born but are in the loins of their parents. After this, he allows the meal to be served. He and fathers of the children are served inside the house together with relatives, friends and neighbours. Part of the meal (ekitole ky’emmere) is given to the children’s mothers, grandmothers, children and other relatives who are seated in the porch or on the veranda. This food is served to them while they are still seated on the aforesaid bark cloth.
Part of the food is put aside for a subsequent ritual.
Establishing ownership of the children in the clan
After the ritual meal, the paternal grandmothers ask the children’s mothers to bring forward children of both sexes with the dried umbilical cords which they had kept with care after the birth of the children. Next, the grandmothers smear the umbilical cords with cow butter and clearly mark them so that their ownership as per child would not be disputed.
A dry sprat is also clearly marked for each of the children.
After this, the grandmothers drop the umbilical cords into a basket, which contains sprats, water, milk and beer. If the child’s umbilical cord floats, the clan elder or main celebrant accepts the child as legitimate, and there is much jubilation because this is an indication that the child belongs to the clan; but if the cord sinks, the child to whom it belongs is considered born in adultery and disowned. The mother concerned is in big trouble. She is put to task to name the father of the child.
This ritual has great significant and meaning to the children and their mothers. After this ritual, the child has received official acceptance, confirmation and recognition as indeed a child of the family and clan. The child has now deep roots and an identity. The mother of such a child is given recognition and great honour and respect as a mother and faithful wife within the family and clan. She is highly relieved from the state of having a child whose ownership was in suspense and doubt. In Buganda, a child who has no clan is a great stigma to the mother.
The sprat belonging to each child is carefully preserved and kept during the lifetime of the child until that moment after death when, at the last funeral rites, it will be thrown into the fire and burned to ashes.
The umbilical cords are kept by the grandmothers until they are ritually buried later in the day.
The liquid in the basket that was used in the child-confirmation ritual is kept until it is used for the bathing ritual.
All these actions are supervised by the clan elder with the assistance of the grandparents.
The bathing of the children and their mothers
Next, the eldest child among the children affected by the ceremony is made to stand up and carry two or three of the other affected children at a time. Then, these children are bathed from head to toe by their grandmothers, using the same liquid that was used for the umbilical cords. This signifies the cleansing of the children of their past life where their legitimacy was in doubt and welcoming them as clean offspring as legitimate members of the clan.
The grandmothers then pour the remaining portion of the liquid over the bodies of the children’s mothers. This symbolises blessing for continued fertility and flow of life.
The bathing has special significance and meaning to both the children and their mothers. The children are washed off any evils and spiritual complications associated with their birth. They are now clean, ready to get anointed and receive official clan names. The mothers, on the other hand, have entered a new phase as clean and blessed wives, made ready to give birth to more children for the family and clan.
Anointing the children
Then the clan elder, assisted by grandparents, anoints the forelock (akawompo) of each child with oil. The forelock is that small spot on the head that throbs during the baby’s first days on earth, where the bones of the skull join and close or lock. This spot is known as la fontanelle in French or kopfspietz in German. That spot is believed by the Baganda to be the spiritual gate.
Oiling the forelock indicates that the child has been spiritually sanctified and marked as a true child of the family and clan.
Establishing spiritual union and bondage
Then, the grandmothers, under the guidance of the clan elder, pick two small portions of millet bread and two spats that had been kept aside during the feast and put them on small banana leaf folds (emiko gy’endagala) and give them to each mother to smell and make a mock bite. Following this, the grandmothers give each child the millet and sprats from the child’s mother to eat. When the children have done so, there is much ululation and jubilation. This is a sign that the children are now in spiritual union with Mukasa, God’s agent for birth and protection of children. It is also a sign that there is now spiritual bondage between the children and their mothers, and spiritual union and between the families of the mothers and the children’s family for continued protection and care for the children. Physically, it is meant to consolidate that unbroken bondage between mothers and children, involving the children’s continuous care, nourishment, and sustenance. That permanent bondage will now exist in an atmosphere of spiritual and physical union within the child’s family and clan.
Once this has been achieved, there is henceforth paternal and maternal blood brotherhood (omukago) and spiritual alliance for the future life of the children.
Burying the umbilical cords
Next, the mothers and their children and the grandparents enter the house, but only spend a little time there. Then they go out again to bury the umbilical cords in the banana plantation. This is done with much singing and rejoicing in praise of the mothers whose wombs were blessed to produce children for the family and clan.
The burial of the umbilical cord is an indication that the child has died for ever from the state of being in the womb of the mother and living in suspense and doubt until now. The child is now alive to a new state of being in a new world on his/her own, but this time with sure belonging since s/he has been recognised and confirmed as a true child of the family and clan.
The burying of the umbilical cords marks the end of all rites associated with birth. The mothers are highly elated at this occasion because they are satisfied that have proved their real worth as faithful and dutiful wives who have given birth to children of the family and clan of their husbands. The singing and jubilation in praise of the mothers and motherhood by the children’s grandmothers is intended to inspire and motivate the mothers to produce even more children for the family and clan. It is also an expression for continued flow of life through parenting.
Renewing the tempo of life
After this, the mothers fetch water from the well or river and collect fresh grass for carpeting the house so that it looks new because it is a house of blessing. Water symbolises freshness while fresh grass signifies fertility and renewal. During that same night, the mother and the father have customary mock sex to ensure the health of the child or children: the mother sits down fully dressed with her legs stretched out; and the father comes and jumps over the mother’s stretched legs. He does the same to his brother’s wife if any of his brothers is away. This is a purification ritual for both the child and its parents.
Giving official clan names to the children
The next day, the naming and investiture of the children takes place. The principal actors in this ritual are the main celebrant, the grandfathers and the grandmothers. Present at the ready are the children and their mothers. Then, under the guidance of the clan elder, the naming by grandparents goes on, child by child, until all the children have fresh names. These names are the official clan names for the children. They precede in importance the first names the children were given when they and their mothers came out of seclusion after birth.
The names given to the children have special significance. They are normally names of departed ancestors whose memories are still fresh in the minds of those performing the ritual. They are also names of those ancestors who were good to the clan and to society, and who led exemplary or exceptional lives. Those performing the ritual believe that the ancestors, with their exceptional attributes, will resurface and be reincarnated in the children named after them, especially if the children have some physical or behavioural features resembling those of the ancestors. There is a belief that the children are reborn at the naming, and that ancestors are present to witness this ritual.
Shaving the children’s heads
After the naming, the grandmothers shave the heads the children who have gone through the ceremony. This is the hair the children were born with. This is done to signify the end of the children’s former status before their naming and the beginning of a new life for them in society as members of the family and clan. The children are now fresh and pure and can take their rightful places in society. From this moment, the child no longer belongs to the mother alone, but also to the entire body of relatives and members of society.
Investing the children (okusumika abaana)
Next, supervised by the clan elder, the grandfathers decorate the children with necklaces made of cowries, which they hang on the children’s necks, marking an end to the children’ contact with the spirit world and serving as a symbol that the children can now be regarded as a full human beings, with full membership to the clan and to society.
The meaning and significance of the child-confirmation and naming ceremony
The naming ceremony is important early in the child’s life. Before this ceremony, the child is not considered a complete member of the clan and society. It is not until this completed that the child’s legitimacy is once and forever established.
The naming ceremony is fundamentally important to the child in that it is through this ceremony that a child is confirmed as a full member of the clan, and therefore a full Muganda. The child gets an identity.
Many children still undergo this ceremony in both rural and urban areas. However, a few families which adhere to foreign religions in a fundamental or fanatical manner discard it as unnecessary and pagan, even satanic. Quite a number of people are ignorant of its essence. This is especially true of some “educated” parents most of whom live in urban areas, and no longer have strong ties with what they call Africanness or rural folk. A large number of young people in both villages and towns are not well informed about the significance of this ceremony and tend to disregard it out of ignorance. Yet, this ceremony is fundamental to the proper upbringing of children in traditions and to the consolidation of families and clans.
There are similarities between this ceremony and ceremonies performed by universal religions to confirm children in their faiths and dedicate them to God. In Islam, Aquikha is a ritual where Muslim children are confirmed, when quite young, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad SWA. In Christianity, the children receive the sacraments of baptism, Holy Communion and confirmation in their early childhood.
The birth of twins
Ideas about Twins
The birth of twins in the family is regarded as a great blessing to that family. It is a wish that almost every woman entertains. It is an honour for a woman in Buganda to be called Nnalongo (mother of twins).
The additional child was not looked at as burden or challenge in the past. This is because the Baganda had a settled life and did not have to roam around with their families in harsh conditions. This situation still obtains today.
However, the birth of twins was and is still seen as an event out of the ordinary. Therefore, twins were and are still treated with fear and special care and respect. Children of such births were and are still believed to have special powers. There is still a belief that twins bring blessings to the family and community, but can be nasty and dangerous if not treated well.
Many beliefs, taboos, rituals and ceremonies are associated with twins. People fear them; and this fear is associated with the unusualness of their birth.
On the birth of twins, special names are immediately given to the twins, their parents, and the children in the traditional family who come either before or after the twins. The twins are named: Wasswa or Babirye or Kato or Nakato, depending on their sex. The father is named Ssalongo, and the mother Nnalongo. The child who precedes the twins is named Kigongo. Children born in the extended family after the birth of twins are also given special names, as it will be seen later. These special names become permanent identities for everyone concerned, but they are not clan names. The names given to the parents accord them special honour and respect and enhance their status in society.
Ssalongo (the father of the twins) has an obligation to deliver the news of the birth of twins in person to his parents and to the parents of his wife. Two things happen here:
1) Ssalongo is given a surrogate Ssalongo (Ssalongo omukulu=the ritual Ssalongo) from his family; and from the family of Nnalongo he gets a surrogate Nnalongo (Nnalongo omukulu=the ritual Nnalongo); and
2) all contact, between Ssalongo and his parents and between Nnalongo and her parents, is cut off until after the ceremony that is held for celebrating the birth of the twins. This ceremony is the equivalent to the naming ceremony for ordinary children, though the rituals involved are somehow different.
The surrogates play critical roles in the rituals associated with the twins. These two persons are minors. The significance of this is that the rituals in which they are going to participate are sacred; these persons need therefore to be people who are holy or at least people who have not yet engaged in sexual activity. Apart from acting as surrogates, and still innocent, they should be the natural people to care for the twins who are considered to be holy.
A variety of intricate and complex taboos, rituals, and ceremonies accompany the birth of twins. The rituals and ceremonies are intended to: put an end to the period of taboos which begun with the birth of the children; ensure the safety of the twins and that of the family; and establish the twins’ legitimacy as complete members of the clan and of society at large.
The rituals and ceremonies slightly differ in families. It is the responsibility of Ssalongo’s father, the grandfather of the twins, to make arrangements for the performance of the rituals and ceremonies in accordance with his family’s norms. However, characteristically, there are big ceremonies and festivals to mark the birth of twins.
There is, however, one big ceremony for celebrating the birth of twins (okumala abalongo; entujjo y’abalongo) which seems to be common. This ceremony is characterised by a lot of rejoicing, feasting and general merrymaking not only by the relatives concerned, but by also the surrounding community.
On the vigil of the appointed day for the ceremony, Ssalongo’s family, led by a clan elder, performs the child-confirmation and naming ceremony for the family’s children who have not yet undergone that ceremony.
On the appointed day, Nnalongo’s mother and her relatives prepare a one pulp of cooked matooke. Ssalongo’s side does the same. At the agreed hour, both Ssalongo and his relatives and Nnalongo’s people gather in the main house of Ssalongo’s father to share a common meal. The two separate pulps of food (emiwumbo gy’emmere) are meshed into one pulp.
Then, Nnalongo’s mother picks a morsel of this food and hands it directly to Ssalongo, her son-in-law (Maama wa Nnalongo akoleza mutabani we, Ssalongo, bba wa Nnalongo, ekitole ky’emmere n’akimukwaasa mu ngalo butereevu ye kennyini). Ssalongo’s father also picks a morsel of food and hands it directly to Nnalongo, his daughter-in-law. Relatives from both sides do the same to each other. As this is going on, omujjwa comes and steps in the food and carries away. This is followed by a ritual dance, similar to a bump dance, in which Nnalongo’s mother and Ssalongo dance together and Ssalongo’s father and Nnalongo do the same. The pinnacle of this dance is the coming into contact, through bumping, of Ssalongo’s rear and his mother-in-law’s rear and Nnalongo’s rear with her father-in-law’s rear. The relatives from both sides also engage in this bump dance.
This ceremony has special significance and meaning. The meshing of the two separate pulps of matooke into one big pulp which is shared by all present is a sign of unity and communion between the twins’ paternal and maternal families. It is also the meeting place of the dead, the living, and those not yet born but are in the loins of their parents. Communication, cut off immediately after the birth of the twins, is re-established. The ceremony puts an end to the period of taboos which begun with the birth of the twins. It also ends for good all the sexual marriage taboos which are common with other people who are not parents of twins. Henceforth, there is no longer avoidance and the in-laws from the families affected by the birth of twins can meet and talk freely to each other (obuko buweddewo).
The action of the mujjwa of spoiling the food symbolises the wiping away of any evils and problems that would otherwise normally have resulted from breaking sexual and marriage taboos.
After the big celebrations (entujjo), the twins’ umbilical cords are not buried as it is the custom with normal children. Instead, they are firmly tied and made into a beautifully decorated necklace which is kept and adorned by Ssalongo at ceremonies and festivals of his household or of the traditional family.
Traditionally, children who are born in the traditional family after twins are also given special names, as briefly indicated above. These names are: Kizza (for boy and girl); Kamya or Nnakamya; Kaggwa or Nnakaggwa; Kityo or Nnakityo; and Kitooke or Kiteerera. By custom, those names are not restricted to the particular household in which the twins are born but are shared within the extended family because it is believed that the twins are a blessing not only to their parents’ household but also to the entire traditional family. For this reason, the names can be given to any children born in the extended family in their order of birth. Thus, a child born to household A before the birth of twins to household B is named Kigongo; while a child born in household C following the birth of twins is named Kizza; and the process goes on and on until the last child in that line is born. This practice is still upheld, but with slight variations in some families.
A lot of changes have occurred to the way twins are treated in modern times. These changes have occurred as a result partly because of the spread of foreign universal religions, partly because of intermarriages, but mainly because of changed outlook and new lifestyles in urban settings.
Some parents have abandoned the twin culture as a result of the various intricate and quite complex activities accompanying the ceremonies and rituals. The activities are considered as wasteful and hard to fulfil; and this has forced them to opt for the less complicated and less expensive church services.
In many cases, it is economic hardship which has probably forced people to abandon these customs.
However, the aura surrounding the twins still exists in the minds of many parents and their relatives. It is believed that twins should not be mistreated since many taboos are attached to them.
The special naming of close relatives of twins continues, but the naming in modern times is increasingly becoming restricted to the household of the twins’ parents. This is because of western education and influence where the family means only the small unit of husband, wife and children (if any). This is in sharp contrast to the traditional view of the wider or, in western eyes, the extended family which includes brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, etc. Under western education and influence, members of the traditional family are more or less regarded as outsiders.
In these cyber days, the Ssalongo informs both his parents and the parents of Nnalongo by telephone (sms). He therefore does not engage in certain rituals which were mandatory in the past. If at all his household is ready to get involved in traditional rituals pertaining to the twins, he asks for the surrogates on telephone (by sms again).
Whereas it was a strict requirement in the past that the surrogates be children who have not engaged in sexual activity, these days the surrogates are mature persons, often people who already have children, thus destroying the sense of sanctity that, in the past, was associated with the birth of twins.
Whereas in the past all channels of communication were cut off between Ssalongo and Nnalongo and their parents until they engaged in the ceremony celebrating the birth of twins, nowadays this is no longer the case. They meet freely and exchange ideas.
Some of the intricate and complex taboos, rituals, and ceremonies accompanying the birth of twins are dying out. Except in very remote communities, it is no longer possible for Ssalongo to drum for a whole month day and night. Also, gone are the days of wild rejoicing and feasting during which lewd songs were sung and irresponsible acts, including free sex, were committed.
In some families, the umbilical cords are not bundled and decorated. Neither does many a Ssalongo find the time to wear the umbilical cords as required by tradition.
Some non-Baganda wives dislike engaging in Kiganda traditional practices pertaining to twins, even although they very much love to be called Nnalongo.
However, some families nowadays combine the traditional and the modern under modified form. In some Christian families, the twin babies are baptised and then a small party for celebrating their birth is held at home.
These days, the tendency in many modern families is to treat twins as normal as any other children. These people do not see any reason to fear twins or regard them as having more power than other people.
In looking at growth, we deal with two main rites of passage. A Muganda individual passes through two early stages, namely, that of being a child (omwaana), and that of being a youth (omuvubuka), though naturally there is a third passage which involves the stage of being a man or woman (omusajja or omukazi).
Traditionally, the mother normally suckles her baby for at least two years after birth. If she is not present, or if she does not produce enough milk, another woman with milk will feed the baby. This is made possible through herbal medicine.
What the Muganda woman enjoys most is breastfeeding, and she does this openly and in public as it is a sign of fertility, which every African woman should be proud of.
During the nursing period, the child is carried on the back or in the bosom of the mother; and the mother is assisted in this by the child’s female relatives. This direct contact between mother and child gives the child a deep psychological sense of security. The contact between the child and its female relatives gives the child an opportunity to meet other people and learn to live them.
During all this time, the mother critically observes the baby. She checks whether the baby breathes well (omwaana assa?). She examines the baby’s reproductive organs to see whether they are functional, i.e. she checks the child’s ability to continue the flow of life. She notes the baby’s growth (omwaana akula?). She notes the baby’s response to stimuli, as well as its movement and coordination. She also feeds the baby on foods of high nutritious value, such as beans, peas, groundnuts sauce, fish, meat and mushrooms.
At around age four, the child plays with other children in the compound, enjoying role-playing parents and similar games, such as, “cooking” (okufumbafumba), mock weddings, and “hide and seek”. The mother and the child’s older children teach the child the names of common articles in the home, as well as the names of animals, fowls, plants and insects, flowers, birds of the air and so on, which can be found in the homestead. The child is also taught good toilet habits and how to bathe.
Dancing and singing begin early in childhood. The children learn from their older sisters and brothers and from their parents and grandparents. It is here that children who will become good dancers and singers in future are identified and encouraged.
Between age five and six, the child learns from the mother and older children traditional rhymes, which sharpen the brain of the child while teaching him/her how to recite and count things. Examples in Luganda of names of traditional rhymes are: “Kaggwa yalayira.....”; and 2) “Kannemu, Kannabbiri......”. They also learn from the mother how to tell what is good and what is bad. They are taught how to speak properly.
From an early age, boys and girls are taught good manners (empisa), including: greeting parents and all members of the household in the morning; being obedient to adults; talking politely to everyone; greeting visitors properly; speaking, dressing, eating, laughing, yawning, and looking at people in the proper manner; sitting correctly (particularly for girls); not using profane language (okuwemula); engaging in conversation with peers; not to interrupt adults; kneeling for parents or social superiors; and being sociable.
This is a collective responsibility on the part of all members of society regardless of clan since in Kiganda society a child belongs to the community. Anything wrong with the child’s behaviour will have disastrous consequences. “Akakyaama amamera” is a common saying of the Baganda, meaning that what went wrong with the child from the beginning is hard to rectify later in life.
The education of the child is a collective responsibility. At a tender age, the child moves mainly with the mother regardless of sex, but after some time as a result of different roles played by the mother and father, the girl teams up with the mother and other girls while the boy teams up with the father and other boys.
Children are expected to help in minor household tasks. Boys herd goats, cows, and livestock. They also perform light duties for their relatives. Girls at an early age are taught a wide range of household and agricultural duties including cooking, cultivation, and tending children.
Again from an early age, boys and girls learn to speak proper Luganda and pick up its wealth of metaphors and proverbs. They are taught Kiganda folklore, including the riddles (ebikokyo), myths (ebiwanuuzibwa), legends (enfumo), and proverbs, fables and parables (engero) that tell the origin and history of the Baganda. They are also taught how to engage masterly in a game of ludikya (talking backwards to conceal secrets). They are coached in the practical aspects of everyday life. They, in addition, learn speech skills that prepare them for adult life in a verbally rich culture. This learning activity usually takes place in the evening, over a fire, where every member of the household is involved.
The Baganda had formal education with no syllabus but with clear guidelines as follows:
Teachers: the community
Classroom: the fireplace
Syllabus: traditions and customs
Examination: ability to perform a task perfectly
Modern life has dictated a lot of changes to the life of children in Buganda. The main influences are western-oriented education and the needs of changed lifestyles of society. There has also been unprecedented migration to Buganda in the last forty years or so by people from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Quite a good number of these immigrants have intermarried with Baganda, and many of them have adopted the culture of the Baganda but others do not respect the culture of the Baganda.
Today, few working women breastfeed their babies beyond six months. In rural communities, women are now employed in a variety of businesses, and they have to go out and work quite early after giving birth. In urban areas, women who work in offices or in factories have to return to work after the mandatory 45-day leave. In both cases, therefore, mothers can only breastfeed their babies only in the morning before they leave home for work, and in the evening after work. However, there are some women who dislike breastfeeding because it makes their breasts go sagging. During the time the mothers are away at work, their babies are fed on artificial usually powdered milk. The baby is fed by someone else, often a housemaid with no training in such matters. The net result is that the direct contact between mother and baby is severely restrained, and the development of the baby is at risk through poor care.
The working woman has little or no time at all to make observations about the baby’s senses, as is traditionally the case.
At age four, the child is taken to kindergarten or nursery school. There, the child plays with other children from all sorts of backgrounds. While this is definitely an opportunity for the child to meet other children and learn from them, it is also an estrangement from its home surroundings and relatives. The language used at the kindergarten is English and not the child’s mother-tongue Luganda.
Playing, singing and dancing form a large part of the curriculum at the kindergarten. But, the playing, singing and dancing are all done in English. This means that from quite an early age, the child’s mind is tuned to thinking in English and to adopting a foreign culture.
At age six, the child goes to primary school and spends there a minimum of seven years, sometimes in a boarding school. Quite often, the child’s learning does not include being adequately ground in Kiganda folklore. So the child misses out important aspects of local history, riddles, myths, legends, proverbs, fables and parables. The family fire, where children learnt Kiganda folklore in the past, is forever gone. And while the child is taught good manners, these manners are from a foreign culture and are not necessarily the good manners (empisa) of the Baganda.
If the child goes to school from home, the curriculum is so heavy that he/she comes home late. More often than not, the parents can only spare a few moments to help the child with homework. The parents are busy people and they back home exhausted from a hard day’s work and often have to carry work home in order to complete office tasks to meet set deadlines. Usually, they do not have sufficient time to observe and counsel the child. When the parents are away, the child is in the care of an uneducated housemaid who is still a child herself. This has proved to be disadvantageous to the child as in most cases the child adopts the behaviour of the housemaid, and the irresponsible maid will produce irresponsible output which will be reflected in the behaviour of the child.
If not doing homework, the child watches television and often lacks guidance on what programmes they should watch. Usually what the child sees is not educative but has a lot of western influence, much of which is damaging. This has been disadvantageous to the child as in most cases the child adopts the behaviours of the housemaid, and the irresponsible maid will produce irresponsible output which will be reflected in the behaviour of the child.
Thus, except in rural areas where children largely stay at home up to primary age, the child gets little opportunity to learn about the culture of the Baganda. But even there, the child picks up only a fraction of what he/she would have learnt if the parents stayed at home most of the time.
The times of being a youth (Obuvubuka) and approaching adulthood
This is the second stage a Muganda passes through in life. The Muganda has been a child (omwaana) and is now a youth (omuvubuka). This is the critical stage when the Muganda develops into a man or woman (omusajja, omukazi) and approaches marriage as an adult.
Adolescent boys and girls are prepared to become responsible and acceptable adults of the community and society. They learn the customs, beliefs and culture pertaining to the social roles of being a woman, mother, and wife for girls; and being a man, father, and husband for boys. The boys also learn from their male relatives and neighbours the Kiganda wooden chessboard (omweeso) using special dry seeds of a local plant (empiki), which helps them to learn thinking skills and to be adept at manipulating figures and situations.
Parents gradually educate their children in marital affairs. Girls are taught how to grow food for the household, how to prepare food for the household, how to behave towards men, how to care for children, how to look after the husband, and other domestic affairs. Boys are taught by their fathers and male relatives what most concerns men, such as looking after animals, behaving properly towards in-laws, how to behave towards women, how to acquire wealth, part of which will go to his future’s parents as bride-wealth, how to make beer, how to build houses, how to keep the homestead clean, and how to be responsible as the “head” of the family. The boys also learn the trades and occupations of their fathers and male relatives, such as making bark-cloth, fishing, blacksmithing, and the like. This is a major process of imparting skills.
Boys, during a period of seclusion, are coached by their paternal grandfathers and grandmothers in sexual matters. The grandparents answer questions regarding the physical changes and phenomena taking place in the boys’ bodies, such as pubic hair and wet dreams, which are new experiences in the life of the boys. The boys learn about sex and its purpose in marriage. They are also made aware of their future obligation to marry and produce children for the clan. They are sensitized on the relationship between husband and wife and between parents and children; and on their obligations towards the clan and the community. They are taught to look after and respect their wives as the mothers of the clan; and to care for their children as the new sprouts of the clan. The boys are taught values and morals in society.
The grandparents and male relatives are the initiators of the adolescent boys into manhood and marriage; and they remain the boys’ confidants and counsellors on sexual and marriage matters throughout life.
Boys learn to engage in discourse and arguments, and to behave and express themselves well before their seniors, such as chiefs and the Kabaka. They are coached about their ancestry and family lineage (okutambula mu kika). This knowledge will prove handy later in life, e.g. when he is appointed chief, he will be required to trace his ancestry and prove he is a real Muganda and pledge his allegiance to the Kabaka and Buganda (awera nga yeyanza obwaami).
Boys and girls learn how to make works of art and crafts. Girls concentrate on basketry, especially mat-making (okuluka emikeeka), basket-making (okuluka ebibbo), and to decorate things (okutona). Boys learn to make household tools and other useful articles, such as knives, large baskets (ebisero), wooden slippers (emikalabanda), mallets (ensaamu), hammers, chessboard (emyeeso), hoes, spears, and walking sticks (emiggo). They are often required to serve as apprentices to acquire expertise.
Boys and girls are coached in personal hygiene. Being unclean and untidy is very much looked down upon in society and is potential ground for rejection for marriage, especially for girls. Thus special care is taken by mothers and grandparents and especially the Ssenga to train girls in personal hygiene especially with regard to matters of the bedroom and menstruation.
During the evening, when the family is seated over the household fire, parents and grandparents mentor the children on ethics and morality. The children are schooled in society values and in what is expected of them as adult members of society. Through proverbs, parables, and story-telling, the children are gradually exposed to the vital virtues of truthfulness, honesty, faithfulness, reliability and dependability, generosity, charitableness, kindness and mercifulness, industriousness, thriftiness, and so on.
Before menstruation, at about the age of 10-11, girls engage in the exercise of beautifying their genitals. This exercise is called “visiting the bush”. This operation is managed by the paternal aunt (Ssenga). It is carried out in great secrecy, over a period of about three to six months, usually in the bush, using local herbs. It is never witnesses by males. Usually, all the girls of similar age in the neighbourhood participate in the operation. An experienced elder sister or a trusted elder girl in the community or an old woman can assist the Ssenga. It is the Ssenga to approve what has been done, and to “certify” and pass out the girl(s) as fit.
It is believed that genital beautification makes the girl very sexy and immensely attractive to the husband in bed. The primary objective behind this exercise is to make the sexual experience in the bedroom as pleasurable as possible for the husband so that he is totally enchanted and sensually captivated. The religious objective is that a child will be the net result of such pleasure. Perhaps, the more practical objective is to ensure happiness and stability in marriage so that neither the husband nor the wife will be forced to abandon the other.
Society expects every girl who gets married to have already gone through the exercise. A woman who has not “visited the bush” is despised by her husband because he does not consider her perfect. This is potential ground for instability in the marriage.
Girls who have gone through the experience of visiting the bush together remember with much fondness, and call each other sister and usually form life-long fellowships.
After menstruation, the girls, during a period of seclusion, are given instruction by their grandmothers and ssengas about sexual matters and future domestic responsibilities. The grandmothers and ssengas explain the physical changes that are taking place in the girls’ bodies, emphasising the fact that the girl is now a full woman who can bear children and should therefore be careful to preserve herself for the man who will take her as wife. The girls are also given instruction in domestic matters: how to grow and preserve food for the household, how to prepare food, how to behave towards men, how to care for children, how to look after the husband, and so on. Grandmothers and ssengas pass on to the girls moral values.
As the girl approaches marriageable age, the paternal aunt (Ssenga), takes over the education of her brother’s daughter. The Ssenga is the initiator of her niece into womanhood and marriage. She is the most significant moral authority for in the girl. She grooms the girl. The Ssenga is the girl’s coach and mentor on sexual and marriage matters. She sensitises her niece on bedroom matters and gives her the whole gamut of bedroom arts. She is responsible for providing her niece with the “Ssenga’s kit” when the girl gets married. She remains the girl’s life-long confidant and counsellor on marriage matters. The Ssenga is the ritual link between the family of the girl and the family of the boy when the boy and girl become husband and wife.
Boys are taught by their fathers and male relatives what most concerns men, such as looking after animals, behaving properly towards in-laws, how to behave towards women, how to acquire wealth, part of which will go to his future’s parents as bride-wealth, how to make beer, how to receive and entertain guests, how to build houses, how to keep the homestead clean, and how to be responsible as the “head” of the family. The boys also learn the trades and occupations of their fathers and male relatives, such as making bark-cloth, fishing, etc.
Looking after animal is one important activity in which all boys from the age of seven participate. It is usually a community activity. All the boys of the village take their animals to the savannah and, while there, they learn from each other how to play games such as wrestling and sliding down hills (gogolo), how to perform difficult feats, how to endure in the face of hardship, how to compose songs and poems; and how to sing and recite poems, and the like. They gain stamina and become tough. A sense of comradeship is created through this activity. Many years later, when they meet as fully-grown men, they recall this experience of their boyhood with much nostalgia. They refer to each other as “my brother with whom we looked after goats” (“Muganda wange bwe twazirunda”). It is normal for such people to become life-long colleagues.
Even although girls are preoccupied with picking up knowledge and skills from mothers and female relatives, they find time to play their own games. It is common for all girls in the neighbourhood to play together in the later part of the afternoon in one of the compounds of the homesteads, but under the watchful eye of an adult.
Adolescent boys and girls, but particularly boys, are sensitized on the deep things in life, such as birth, marriage, and death, as well as on the meaning and application of traditional practices, ceremonies and festivals. When considered to be old enough, boys are exposed to the household’s shrines and sensitized on related religious matters.
When puberty has firmly set in, then the boys and girls are ready for marriage. For the girls, marriage is the next natural step after menstruation and; a marriage partner is soon found. It is a great shame and abomination on her family, if a girl gets pregnant unmarried. Untold blame goes to her mother for not stewarding her in a proper manner. But even the girl’s brothers share the blame for not having safeguarded their sister.
From roughly the age of thirteen to about age nineteen, the child, an adolescent or teenager now, is at secondary school. From around age twenty, the adolescent, now a youth, is at university.
When at secondary school, teenagers are engaged in learning from a wide national curriculum based on western education with emphasis on literacy and numeracy. This curriculum, however, does not encompass learning the traditions and culture of the Baganda. Inevitably, and prominently absent from the learning given to the teenagers are the customs, beliefs and culture pertaining to the social roles of being a woman, mother, and wife for girls; and being a man, father, and husband for boys. Also missing from the learning are the traditional society values and education in what is expected of teenagers as adult members of society, the concepts of evil, ethics and justice, as well as sexual and marital education which in the past were in the domain of youth education. While good manners, such as politeness and considerateness are taught in secondary schools generally, the empisa, for which the Baganda are renowned, are not passed on to teenagers.
At secondary school, as at kindergarten and primary school, the language of communication is English, and speaking Luganda was, until quite recently, gravely punishable. Therefore, teenagers continue with the practice, which began in early childhood, of thinking and learning in a foreign language. And unless some of these teenagers take Luganda as a required subject for UNEB examinations, there is no opportunity for other teenagers to pick up Luganda language skills and its wealth of metaphors and proverbs. They miss out learning Kiganda folklore, riddles (ebikokyo), myths (ebiwanuuzibwa), legends (enfumo), and proverbs, fables and parables (engero) and ludikya (talking backwards to conceal secrets), which in the past were used to teach youths local history and culture and to be mentally alert and adroit in their actions. In most cases, the children are taught from a syllabus from which they are conversant with fables like “London is burning” , thus disorienting the completely towards London and that is what the child has in mind.
Most of the teenagers attend boarding secondary schools because that is where the best academic education is to be found. This has serious implications for teenagers in their formative years as adults. Being away from home at boarding school means that such teenagers are out of control of their parents or benefactors. Therefore, the parents or benefactors exercise little influence over these teenagers with whom they are not in touch for most of the year. Another factor is that the majority of boarding schools are religious-based, and therefore require their students to belong to their particular religious denomination. While in these schools, teenagers are not only grounded in the religious traditions and practices of the particular denomination, but are also taught to reject African traditions as evil and satanic, and to regarded them as mere manifestations of magic, witchcraft, superstition, and sorcery.
Teenagers are no longer sensitized on the deep things in life, such as birth, marriage, and death, as well as on the meaning and application of traditional practices, ceremonies and festivals. They are not sensitized on related traditional religious matters. And this has led to the death of indigenous skills which could otherwise be passed on from generation to generation.
Sometimes boys learn from their peers things about sex, particularly from those who are older. More often than not, the knowledge gained does not go beyond the use of sex for pleasure and procreation. It lacks depth in the use of sex for religious purposes and social obligations.
Almost all secondary schools encourage their pupils to engage in extra-curricular activities such as music, dance and drama, sports such as athletics, as well as games including football, netball, basketball, table tennis (ping pong), badminton, hockey, rugby, etc. These activities have replaced the traditional activities like herding animals, wrestling, and the like. Fellowships that characterized traditional activities are now new fellowships as old boys (OBs) and old girls (OGs). And none of these activities traces its origin to Africa. This means that no African games are passed on and promoted by the current education sector.
Grandparents are no longer the initiators of teenage boys into manhood and marriage. This means that teenage boys are not coached on sexual matters and marriage, particularly on the role of sex and its purpose in marriage, and on the obligation to marry and produce children for the family, clan and society.
Likewise, the role of training teenage girls in sexual and marriage matters by grandmothers and ssengas has been dimmed.
Grandparents are in many cases underrated because their grandchildren consider them “uneducated” and “uncivilised”, meaning that these old women have not attended school.
The traditional role of the Ssenga has, for all intents and purposes, been extinguished. The Ssenga was formerly the girl’s initiator into womanhood and marriage, and her significant authority on sex and morals, coach and mentor, confidant and counsellor. It was the Ssenga’s great duty to ensure that her niece enjoyed a stable and happy marriage, rewarded by children. Today, the Ssenga no longer plays that role. Many girls disregard the Ssenga’s role as outdated. They look askance at these old and often “uneducated” women.
Nonetheless, “visiting the bush” is still done by many young girls under modified conditions, although a few girls despise it as old-fashioned. Some few girls’ schools have come forward to promote the practice because of its vital importance to the stability of marriage. In some boarding schools, the role of the Ssenga has been given by school authorities to senior ladies and house matrons who coach the girls in the process, while in some others the activity is part of the school curriculum. But some women activists regard “visiting the bush” as a form of genital mutilation and vehemently oppose it. Even some women feel proud for having skipped the ritual. Nonetheless, some of those who did not do the ritual feel they lack something important and hire professional ssengas to put matters right belatedly, even though the results are not first class because it is done at a time which is far beyond the maximum age limit.
Hired ssengas have taken over the responsibility of educating the girl child about societal responsibility. This is now common in many schools, colleges and universities. The skill which was mainly imparted by parents is now given by paid counsellors.
Counselling and guidance is nowadays by professionals, which was not the case in the past.
In modern times, mothers and brothers no longer keep a watchful eye over their daughters and sisters, and therefore do not safeguard girls as was the practice in the past. Mothers and daughters and brothers are distant from each other due to modern requirements of education.
The major process of imparting skills by learning from parents in the past and relatives has been replaced by modern learning of numbers (numeric) and literacy. Therefore skills of old are no longer passed down from generation to generation; and many people consider this a great loss. That is there are attempts at present to revive the old arts like barkcloth making (okukomaga) and making ironware (okuweesa).
Marriage Traditions and Customs
Traditional ideas and beliefs
Traditionally, the Baganda regard marriage as very important institution and that a person is not complete before marriage. That is why in the past, the status of a man was determined by the number of wives he had. That is also why in Buganda there are no stringent requirements attached to marriage.
The Baganda believe that God created all living things, including Man, in pairs (obwannabansasaana), a male and a female, to promote the flow of life on earth. The idea of promoting the continued flow of life, particularly of the human race, features prominently in the traditional beliefs of the Baganda. It is a religious duty which every able-bodied person must fulfil.
The Baganda also believe that Man was created immortal; and that Man lost immortality when Nnambi, the first woman on earth went back to Heaven to fetch her millet, against God’s instructions to Kintu (not Kintu the Kabaka), her husband, and came back with her brother Death (Walumbe) who started eating her children.
The Baganda further believe that although God sent Kintu and Nnambi, the first people on earth, another brother of Nnambi, Kayiikuuzi, to save their children from being all eaten by Death, Death did not entirely go away from the world, and continues to kill people. Therefore, the Baganda believe that as many children as possible must be brought to the world in order to defeat Death somehow and recapture lost immortality.
Obligation to get married
The Baganda look at marriage as the focus of existence. It is the meeting point for all members of the community: the departed, the living, and those not yet born. Therefore marriage is a duty in which everyone must participate as required by society. Otherwise, anybody who does not participate in it is an outcast, a curse to society. Such a person is considered a rebel and a breaker of God’s law; and is not only abnormal, but also under-human. Such a person has stopped the flow of life. Thus, anyone who does not get married is considered to have rejected society, and society in turn rejects him. Such a person has no social status in society.
The purpose of marriage to the Baganda is to get children. Without children, a marriage is considered incomplete. It is through children that both husband and wife are biologically reproduced in their children. And it is through children that the departed are resurrected and reincarnated, and, therefore, lost immortality is recaptured.
Thus, everybody must get married and bear children. A person who has no descendants quenches the fire of life and becomes forever dead since his line of physical continuation is blocked if he does not get married and bear children. The obligation to get married is thus the only means of human survival. For that reason marriage is a religious obligation. It is through marriage and child-bearing that human life is preserved, propagated and perpetuated.
Marriage among the Baganda is not an individual affair. It is beyond the individual because it has impact on the entire society. It is a group effect. Marriages seal unity and group alliances among the families concerned. They foster discipline and respect for elders. Marriages produce children who continue the flow of life and the lineage.
Finding and choosing a partner
Traditionally, the obligation of finding and choosing a partner lies with the parents or relatives. But, it is also normal for the boy and girl to find each other and agree to get married and afterwards inform their parents to begin negotiations.
In either case, the two families carry out research and background checks. The objectives are the same: each family wants to make sure that it has the best candidate for marriage, and that it has the kind of family it can work with to promote the marriage.
There are rules and restrictions about who to marry or who not marry. Close relatives are not allowed to marry each other. It is believed that marriage to a forbidden person will result in misfortune even death to the parents or more often the children. Society will not sanction such marriages, and anyone who disobeys cuts himself/herself off from his/her social group and may be regarded as the cause of any misfortunes which befall his relatives and the community.
The main idea behind the ban on marriages between close relatives is to prevent incest. It is thus taboo to marry a member from one’s clan or from one’s mother’s clan. Section 34(1) of the Uganda Marriage Act (2000) prohibits marriage kindred.
The Customary Marriage Act also nullifies a marriage by the custom of one of the parties to the marriage. In a recent case, the Uganda High Court decided in favour of the would-be bride’s father who had taken the matter before it complaining that the couple who were going to marry belonged to the same clan, Ndiga (Sheep) and therefore could not wed as per Kiganda custom.
Rapid cultural changes have been taking place in the last half century due to the widening spread of western influence through religion and education, and these changes are having their toll on traditional customs.
Arranged marriages are fading out. This means that research and background checks are no longer carried out as effectively as they were in the past by parents or relatives on the prospective marriage partners of their children. The role of the family has been greatly minimised because young people, particularly in urbanised communities, live away from their parents and control their own lives.
In these globalised cyber times, young people find their future partners in all sorts of places and then inform their families later. Modernity has almost totally transformed the process of finding a partner. In some cases, partners are selected on the internet. The case in point is that of Mr. Godfrey Binaisa and his Japanese bride Yamamoto who found each other on the internet.
Perceptions have also changed. These days, the young people’s families consider the following factors to be important: economic status, particularly of the young man; religion, race or ethnicity, age, education, place of residence, and so on. But, the affected young people have the final say.
Traditionally, when a marriage partner, usually the girl, has been identified and chosen, the families and relatives of the two sides get into secret negotiations. It is the boy’s parents who approach those of the girl to start negotiations. The father of the boy and his party, consisting of the boy and his maternal uncle and two or three friends of the father, visit the family of the girl with a few gifts. It is here that the boy looks at the girl, usually for the first time, and says yes or no. Where the boys says no, the negotiations end there and then. If the boy says yes, and where the boy and the girl have already met, the negotiations go ahead as planned.
It is the custom for the boy’s family to appoint an official spokesman to carry out the negotiations on its behalf (Kalambakkubo) with the girl’s family. The girl’s paternal aunt (Ssenga) represents the girl and also plays the role of go-between between the two families.
The negotiations eventually lead to arrangements for exchanging marriage gifs which the parents of the girl ask from the family of the boy.
Serious negotiations on the whole no longer place between the two families since marriages are no longer arranged, as was the case in the past. Marriages are now in the hands of the lovers and their friends.
The Introduction Ceremony and Festival (Okwanjula)
Negotiations are sometime later followed by a ceremony where the future husband of the girl is introduced to the family of his future wife. The introduction is one those highly respected age-old social organisational practices pertaining to marriage among the Baganda.
The ceremony takes place at the home of the girl’s parents. The introduction is actually done by the girl’s Ssenga who has been appointed by the family to act on its behalf and to speak on behalf of the girl. She is the Ssenga of the day during the introduction, and she already knows her niece’s future husband and his family well, having played the key role of go-between.
By custom, the girl is silent and “hidden”. The Ssenga is her representative and advocate.
It is the custom in Buganda for the future husband and his party to put on their best dress. The girl’s family does the same. In the past, everybody put on the choicest bark cloth available, and that was kimote, most probably crafted in Ssango, Buddu County. Nowadays, the men are supposed to don kanzu, a tunic of Arabic origin, as part of their attire. The ladies are expected to be dressed in busuuti or booding, sometimes called gomesis named after the designer, one Goan named Gomes. On top of the kanzu, the men are expected to don a coat or jacket which matches with the trousers. The attire should reflect dignity and show maximum respect for culture and for the in-laws.
Introducing the future husband
In Buganda, the girl introduces the boy to her parents. So, the boy goes to the girl’s home to have this done. Traditionally, the future husband, escorted by his sister, two close friends, and his spokesman arrive at the home of the parents of the girl at the appointed hour with the gifts agreed upon by the two sides. They are invited into the house and given seats in the sitting room, where the girl’s father and his friends and relatives have been waiting to receive them. Then, the future husband and his party are greeted in the traditional Kiganda manner, befitting all visitors to the home, and are given water to drink (olwendo lw’amazzi) and dry cooked coffee beans (emmwanyi).
After the greetings, the Ssenga of the day introduces the future husband of her niece and requests her brother, the father of the girl, to accept him as a son of the family. A calabash of beer and other gifts, previously agreed upon between the two families, are presented to the father and his family by the future husband’s spokesman. The Ssenga, on behalf of the girl’s family, distributes cooked coffee beans to all people present. The beer is drunk and the coffee beans are eaten. In families where beer is taboo, soda is served.
Beer is the symbol of friendship, communion, oneness and acceptability. It indicates a friendly attitude and willingness on the part of the future husband’s family to maintain fellowship with the girl’s family, and its readiness to form a marriage covenant. Coffee beans are the symbol of hospitality, fertility, productivity, fruitfulness and brotherhood or fellowship.
The exchanging of wedding gifts symbolises the acceptance, a birth, of the future husband as a child of the girl’s family. This creates a bond between the two families, and between the husband and his wife. Following this, the girl, accompanied by her Ssenga, comes forward to greet her future husband and his party, but leave shortly afterwards. It is during the greeting that the future husband gets the opportunity to have a glance at his future bride for the second time. The future husband and his future bride do not talk to each other at all. The girl’s relatives also come and greet the girl’s future husband.
Nowadays, the future husband is escorted by a convoy of, on average twenty vehicles, containing roughly sixty people. They occupy one big tent which has been made in local materials (ekidaala), or, more often these days, hired by the girl’s family. So, the future husband is no longer accompanied to the girl’s home by just a couple of friends, but by many colleagues, usually by all those who have contributed to his budget for the ceremony.
Traditionally, the ritual was entirely performed in a private atmosphere inside the home of the girl’s parents with at most only a dozen close relatives and friends in attendance; but nowadays the compound is full of visitors from both sides, making it necessary to construct ekidaala or to hire tents to accommodate so many people and find parking for the twenty or more cars accompanying the groom-to-be.
Nowadays, there are theatricals which consume a lot of time. For instance, the Ssenga has to “find” the future husband who is hidden among his large entourage in the constructed shade outside the house, but in the past the future husband was received and welcomed straight into the house with his small party on his appearance in the compound. However, the actual introduction is still done inside the house after the Ssenga has “unhidden” her niece’s future husband and led him and his sister and a few friends to the sitting room where the future husband is accepted by the girl’s people as their son and therefore born in her family.
Presently, many couples have already lived together before the introduction; and the introduction is now a mere formality.
The significance of marriage gifts in Kiganda Society
In Buganda, marriage gifts serve seven basic purposes, namely:
• They indicate the appreciation of the boy’s family for the care that his future wife’s parents have taken over her;
• They are outward symbols of a serious undertaking by the families concerned;
• They establish a close relationship between the two families concerned;
• They bond the boy and the girl in the sight of their families;
• They are the symbols of the marriage covenant;
• They add dignity to the bride as a partner; and
• They confirm the Kiganda view of marriage that marriage is not an affair between two people only but between those two people together with their families and relatives.
Marriage gifts in Buganda are not regarded as payment for the bride, as some early Eurocentric researchers and writers on the customs of the Baganda have put it. In Kiganda traditional society, the marriage gifts basically consist of beer, salt, bark cloth, and meat. It is therefore ridiculous even abusive to suggest that these simple gifts constitute payment for a bride.
At present, however, gifts are a rather expensive affair. In many instances, the gifts are loaded on a full pick-up vehicle. Apart from a goat and a cow, other gifts include: crates of beer and soda; a leg of a cow; a bag of sugar and other condiments like salt, curry powder, cooking oil, tomatoes, onions, leafy vegetables, fruits, bread, margarine, laundry soap, toilet soap, paraffin; busuuti for the Ssenga of the day, the mother, other ssengas, and the grandmothers; kanzus for the father, grandfather, the ritual brother-in-law and other brothers; and money in envelopes for the father, mother, brothers of the future wife, ssengas, grandparents and even step-mothers where applicable. There are, in addition, special gifts which seem to have replaced the traditional mutwaalo. Some future husbands go as far as donating a rocking chair, a television set, or a refrigerator, or generators and other home appliances, or even a car.
Such a wide and expensive array of gifts is intended to show the in-laws and the entire world that the future husband cares for their welfare and is capable of looking after his future wife well. Many people consider such expensive gifts as unnecessary and a mere show-off. Most of the items have no significance to the ritual being performed. In almost all cases such gifts are bought from budget contributions made by friends of the future husband. Such extravagance amidst crying poverty has been condemned by all well-meaning people. Many parents, however, are satisfied to receive a mere token, such as a wooden carving, an ancient coin, a cane, or a painting.
Once the wedding gifts have been accepted by the girl’s people, the couple is considered married by Kiganda custom.
Entertainment and departure
Unlike in the past, there is a party in the compound of the girl’s home, with much entertainment to music, dancing, and theatricals between the spokesman of the future husband and the spokesman of the girl’s family. Music is usually by means of discotheque. The two spokesmen engage in a contest as to who knows more idioms, proverbs and cultural norms.
On a more serious note, the two spokesmen help to control the pace of what is going on during the ceremony. One important act they perform is to recite, in turn, the family’s background, including ancestry up to the fourth generation, education and achievements. The purpose of doing this is to establish that the couple do not belong to the same clan and that there will be little likelihood of incestuous relationships. In the past, this would have been taken care of by research and background checks carried out before the start of negotiations. However, this new practice may have little impact as, unlike in the past, some girls go through the ceremony when they are already pregnant or when they are even mothers already, and it is therefore too late to ameliorate the situation.
These days, unlike in olden days, a sumptuous buffet is prepared by the girl’s family and served during the ceremony. The menu consists of only foodstuffs cooked strictly in a Kiganda way. Beverages usually consist of beer and soda. A departure from the traditional norm is the participation in the meal by the future husband. Already accepted in the home as a son-in-law (muko; plural bako), he was not expected in the past to eat at the home of his in-laws (okulya ku buko). It is now a common practice for the Ssenga to arrange a special place where the bako (the future husband and his sister and a few friends) are served.
A cake, almost without exception, features at the ceremony. This is a new practice. The equivalent of the cake was the first meal served to the husband by his wife. The bride feeds the groom in public view, which was never the case in the past.
The bride meets the groom, they talk to each other, and are photographed together in public view, unlike in the past when the bride was almost hidden from the eyes of the groom.
Some couples dance during the ceremony after the introduction has been done, but this was unheard of in the past. In fact, it was considered an abomination for loving couples to show any signs or acts of intimacy in front of their parents or in-laws.
Some couples exchange engagement rings and cut the cake. This is a recent innovation originating from western influence.
Traditionally, at end of the ceremony, the day of the wedding is agreed upon by the two families. At present, the spokesman of the girl’s family normally requires the visitors to state the date when they will take the future bride to church or mosque for the wedding. With very minimal exceptions, this is not done with Muslim couples. Transport is usually provided to the in-laws on the day of the wedding.
Near the end of the ceremony, the spokesman of the future husband performs several functions. He produces Buganda Kingdom Treasury certificates as a sign that he is supporter of the Kingdom’s development efforts and a faithful subject of the Kabaka of Buganda. He also requests for the Letter of Introduction (Kwanjula) from the parents to the church containing their consent to the wedding. Having done this, he requests that the future husband and his party take their leave.
At present, unlike in the days gone by, the ceremony ends rather late. This is usually due to the late arrival of the future husband and his party and due to the much time spent on entertainment and theatricals. In the past, it was taboo for nightfall to find the muko and his party at the home of the girl’s parents.
The Wedding Ceremony and Festival
The natural step after the introduction ceremony is to organise the wedding ceremony. It is the custom to hold the wedding ceremony within one month after the introduction ceremony. It is to be remembered that the couple is considered married after the introduction. The wedding ceremony formalises the marriage.
Preparing for the wedding
In the home of the bride, the bride’s elderly female relatives, led by the Ssenga, prepare the bride in seclusion for her wedding and eventual marriage. They orient her to the transition from the state of being single to a state of living with an entirely new person, moreover a man, her husband. They tutor her on sexual matters, and on being married and bearing children. They put her to rest and prepare her meals. They also bathe her; and massage and oil and butter her body to make it soft and tender. The bride is seldom allowed to leave the home during this time, except once to cut fresh grass and fetch water for her mother, rituals performed when the wedding day is getting near as symbols of continued obedience to her mother.
The groom is mainly under the guidance of his paternal grandmother. The grandmother coaches and mentors her grandson on proper conduct as a married man, particularly with regard to marital responsibilities. She gives him the nuts and bolts about the expectations and treatment of a married woman.
Two days before the wedding ceremony, preparations go on in real earnest in the two homes concerned. The groom’s side constructs a shade where the groom will receive his bride, and where entertainment will take place. The bride’s side also puts up a shade where entertainment will take place after the send off of the bride. Each side has already brewed a lot of traditional beer, which is now put in calabashes and stored for the big day. Each side plans a big banquet for the occasion, with the choicest dishes.
The night before the wedding, the boy holds a trans-night night party in his parents’ home to bid farewell to bachelorhood. Similarly, the girl does the same in her parent’s home.
Today, the role of the family with regard to preparing the boy and the girl who are going to get married has been eroded, particularly in urban areas. In the towns and municipalities both the boy and the girl do not have the time to spare to such matters. Many think they already know what is required and regard such practices as outdated. Some girls have children already and do not see the purpose of listening to aunts for advice.
Nowadays some pre-wedding farewell parties are held elsewhere in public halls or clubs, and children miss them and have no chance to get the impact of the transition from a state of being single to a state of being married.
The Wedding Function
It is the custom for the family of the groom to make a gift to the bride’s family quite early in the morning (Kaasuze katya?). Kaasuze katya comprises of a jelly can or tin of paraffin and a box of matches. It symbolises the night the girl’s parents stayed awake over a fire when she was arriving as a baby, and the greeting of well-wishers who came to see the baby quite early in the morning. The well-wishers asked: “How did it spend the night”, which is translated as: “Kaasuze katya?”
The acceptance of this gift by the girl’s family is a symbol that the girl is now released by her family to the groom’s family. The release is also symbolic of the girl’s transition from the state of mere girlhood and unmarried life to the new state of maturity, wifehood and motherhood; from the state of being “nobody” to the state of being “somebody”.
Traditionally, the bride goes to the groom. So, after her ritual bath and her saltless mid-morning meal, prepared by her paternal grandmother, the bride is dressed and equipped by the women with the tools of trade including the “Ssenga’s Kit”, which she will use in her bedroom, and then she is ready for the journey. Her party includes the Ssenga and her brother who will serve as the official brother-in-law to her husband.
It is the practice that before the bride sets on her journey to join the groom, she sits on the laps of her parents, beginning with the mother, to say farewell to them. This signifies she has been given all the blessings of her parents and those of her ancestors to join her husband; and together, as husband and wife, to reproduce and have their own children whom they will hold on their laps; and keep the stream of life flowing. It also symbolises her departure from home to go to her new home as an adult. She has progressed from being a child and youth to a new life as a full-grown up ready to face the world on her own, with the blessing of her parents and, through them, her ancestors.
The sitting on the laps of her parents by the bride symbolises childhood and marks the end of the journey from childhood to adulthood, a complete departure from one stage of life to another.
The bride is received with great joy, amid much drumming, ululations and singing, when she and her party arrive at the home of her husband. The groom, surrounded by his people, receives the bride in the middle of the shade constructed for the occasion in his father’s compound. She kneels before him, as a sign of submission, obedience and respect. The bride’s brother receives a cock from the groom, and officially hands over the bride to the groom on behalf of his family. Then the groom and the bride together with her party are given seats by the groom’s paternal grandmother, to the throbs of drums and other musical instruments. The groom’s clan drum is sounded intermittently to signify the theme of the occasion.
While still seated, the groom and bride eat their first meal as a married couple. The meal consists of sweet plantain (gonja omwengefu) and banana juice coupled with coffee beans. The sweetness of gonja and juice symbolises the sweetness of marriage.
Before long, the bride has to leave the function, led by her Ssenga and the groom’s sister for the special house where the marriage is to be consumed. The time for her departure is indicated by the rhythm in the drumming. When she gets to the special house, she is met by the groom’s mother who puts her in her lap to signify the bride’s birth in the groom’s family. The groom’s sister caters for the bride’s needs, including providing water for bath and ensuring that the bride is comfortable in her new surroundings.
About half an hour later, the groom joins the bride in the bedroom, and after a short while they consummate their marriage. Usually, the bride’s Ssenga is not too far away from the scene in order to come to the assistance of the bride who is inexperienced and a virgin, and to collect evidence of the bride’s virginity, reflected by stains of blood on the bed sheets on which the marriage was consumed. Afterwards, the bride has her supper, prepared by her mother-in-law.
The consummation of the marriage marks the end of courtship and the beginning of marriage. The groom and bride are now full-grown adults who can set up a home and bear children.
Virginity at the wedding is greatly respected in Kiganda society. If a girl is found to be a virgin, the Ssenga is given a goat for delivery to the bride’s parents to show appreciation for keeping their daughter intact and unspoiled. When the Ssenga returns to her people empty-handed, it is a sign that the bride was not found to be a virgin; and it a great shame to her people, particularly the mother who is very much blamed for being negligent.
Virginity symbolises purity of both the body and moral life. A virgin bride is the greatest glory to her parents and relatives. She is the pride and honour to the husband. Virginity is the highest crown to the bride. It is also the greatest credit to the mother and family of the bride.
The blood of virginity is the symbol that life has been preserved unpolluted. It is an indication that the spring of life has not already been flowing wastefully. It is evidence that both the girl and her relatives have preserved the sanctity of human reproduction.
It is the custom to seclude the bride for seven days during which time the couple enjoy their honeymoon. The seclusion symbolises the bride’s departure –and that of her husband- from the state of being unmarried. It also symbolises death to the life immaturity, childhood and non-productivity. Her coming out of seclusion symbolises her introduction to the public of her new home. It is rebirth and resurrection to the new life of maturity and procreation.
When she comes out of seclusion, the wife is given a goat by her father-in-law. This is a symbol of being welcome as a daughter of the family. She is also given a hoe and a piece of land by her mother-in-law to develop a garden and banana plantation, symbolising that she is now a wife who is expected to grow food and work industriously for her new home.
It is here that the groom’s family observes whether the bribe is hard-working or lazy. A lazy wife is not well regarded and is considered a great liability to the family. It is a shame to her family, particularly the bride’s mother.
The Wedding Dinner
It is the custom, quite soon after the couple’s honeymoon, for the bride to go back to her parents to “return the butter” she came wearing on her body from her home as a bride, and to fetch food items for preparing her first dinner for her husband and his people. She is accompanied back to her old home by the husband’s young brother as a representative of the husband’s family. She comes back to her new home with her Ssenga and other relatives, fully loaded with foodstuffs and firewood. She carries upright on her head a choice luscious banana and a cock (sseggwanga=rooster), both of which are off-loaded from her by the husband himself. It is that banana and that cock which she prepares as her special first dinner for her husband. Under the supervision of the Ssenga, the rest of the food is prepared for the husband’s family and friends. This symbolises the settlement of the bride to the serious business of being a housewife.
Apart from the ritual banana and cock for the husband, items for the feast consist of matooke, meat, chicken, mushrooms and beer and juice.
Everything connected with this dinner has significance and special meaning. The food gifts from the bride’s family symbolise friendship, cooperation, sharing and fellowship, as well as a new beginning of life for the couple.
The act of carrying upright a banana and cock by the bride on her head symbolises her family’s wishes that the marriage be straight and problem-free, characterised by goodwill, friendship and love, as well as sharing in the family duties.
The cock is symbol of manhood in Buganda. The cock symbolises recognition and appreciation by the bride’s family of the husband as head of the new family unit, sseggwanga who proved his real worth as a man on wedding day. Embodied in this gift is the hope and blessing that the husband, like a rooster which cares for the hen and chicks in a home, will prove to be a good caretaker and unswerving lover of their daughter and a good and responsible father.
The banana is given to accompany the cock and make the menu complete, but it is a particular kind of food banana, Nnakitembe, which features in the rituals of the Baganda. Considered a source of fertility and capable of producing the best matooke dish, Nnakitembe symbolises the wish of the bride’s family for the new weds to be fertile and prosperous.
The blood of the birds symbolises an offering as libation to the spirits of ancestors to ask for blessing; while mushrooms symbolise unity with the spirits, harmony and wealth.
The bride serves the special dinner to her husband in private. Apart from the Ssenga and the husband’s sister, they are alone. She first serves him the gizzard, a highly prized delicacy among the Baganda, a special treat to him. This symbolises their private life and love. She honours him as her lover and sseggwanga. They share the food, but the bride does eat meat of the cock because it is taboo for a Muganda woman to eat chicken. It is the practice for the bride and the groom to exchange morsels of the food (okukolezagana=buli omu akoleza munne). This symbolises mutual regard and cosiness.
The general wedding dinner, served by the Ssenga and shared by the husband’s relatives and friends, symbolises communion of not only the living, but also of the living and the dead. It is believed that the departed of both families come together at this function to bless the marriage. Part of the beer and food is offered as libation to the ancestors of both families.
The husband gives out the beer brewed for the occasion. Beer symbolises friendship and unity. It also symbolises the level of sharing, giving and receiving. Where beer is taboo, soda is served. Quite often, however, both beer and soda are served with or after the meal to wash down the sumptuous meal.
Nowadays, parents of the bride-and members of their families- are present at the wedding feast, but this was not so in the past. The bride’s parents were represented by the Ssenga in the past.
Unheard of in the past is the practice of putting a piece of the cake into the mouth of the husband by the bride, and vice-versa as a symbol of feeding. Neither did the bride serve food to her in-laws, as it is now the practice at many weddings where brides serve the cake to their in-laws.
Some girls are already pregnant or have already given birth by the time they cut the wedding cake, whereas in the past the wedding dinner was hurried soon after the couple’s honeymoon to avoid a situation where the bride would go back to her parents with another person within her womb. The philosophy behind this is that the foetus is a real being who belongs to another clan and deserves separate and special treatment altogether.
The wedding dinner symbolises the beginning of settlement of the bride to the serious business of being a housewife. Although this practice has not died out, quite often these days, many couples are already co-habiting and girls have already settled down to married life.
Very few girls are still virgins when they marry these days. Therefore virginity as a hallowed virtue has steadily lost value. This is because of a number of factors, chief of which is modernity which requires girls to leave home for education and work, thus ending the control which the parents and the community exercised over the girl child.
As already pointed out, close relatives are forbidden by custom fro getting married. For the boy, this means: his mother, her sister, and females from her mother’s clan, including his maternal uncles’ daughters or nieces since any of these can be his mother’s successor; his father’s wife or wives and their female relatives since these by custom are considered to be also his mothers; his paternal aunts’ daughters or his nieces; his sisters and females belonging to his clan; and daughters of his father’s blood brother (ow’omukago).
For the girl, it is taboo to marry the following: her father, her paternal uncles and males belonging to her clan; her maternal uncle and his sons and any male belonging to his clan; her brothers and male cousins; sons of her Ssenga and these are considered to be her children since the can be the successor of her Ssenga and by tradition become their mother; and sons of her father’s blood brother.
It is forbidden for a married man or woman to spend a night in his or her parents’ house, or in the house of his or her in-laws. This is because the married man or woman is conversant with married life and should not interfere with the old people’s privacy. Similarly, married people are banned from visiting their parents’ or in-laws’ bedrooms.
Married people are not allowed to share the bathroom of their parents or in-laws.
There a number of taboos between a man and his mother-in-law. All contact between a mother in-law and a son-in-law is forbidden. They must avoid each as much as possible. In fact the mother in-law must hide from her son-in-law. For instance, they must not face each other, and they must not share the same meal. It is abdominal for the mother in-law and son-in-law to touch each other. Under no circumstance whatsoever is the mother in-law allowed to sleep in the same house as her married children. The son in-law is forbidden from looking into the grave of his mother-in-law or to even bury her. This applies also to the mother-in-law with regard to the burial of her son-in-law. The same treatment applies between him and his mother in-law’s relatives.
Likewise, there are strict rules and regulations concerning contact between a father-in-law and his daughter in-law. Contact between the father-in-law is absolutely forbidden except where she is handing him his grand child. Under no circumstance whatever can a father-in-law and his daughter in-law spend a night under the same roof. The daughter in-law is strictly forbidden to walk directly through her father in-law’s compound, or to dress indecently, e.g. show her legs. However, she is allowed to breastfeed her baby even in presence of her father in-law. It is taboo for a daughter-in-law to attend the burial of her father-in-law. Neither can the father-in-law bury his daughter in-law. Her husband’s uncles and aunts are also considered her in-laws and the same rules and regulations apply.
In-laws do not share a cemetery. For instance, a daughter-in-law by custom cannot be buried in the same place or cemetery with her father-in-law. The two remain in-laws even in death.
The main purpose of these taboos is two-fold: 1) to prevent dangerous intimacy between relatives, which may result into fornication, adultery, incest, rape and irresponsible sex generally, which constitute sexual offences in the community; and 2) to have a measure of privacy between parents and grown-up children, especially where these children are married or are candidates for marriage. It is believed that departure from the accepted norm as regards sex may cause misfortune and bad relationships in the families concerned and the community. Quite often, the offences committed need ritual cleansing and punishing those who are guilty in to avoid misfortune or sour relationships in the community.
Most of the taboos have not been entirely abandoned in modern times, but some have been and continue to get modified to move with the new circumstances.
Making a will
Importance of making a will
The will is the last testament of the person who makes it. It is the expression of his/her wishes when he/she dies. For this reason, the will is very much respected in the Clan.
The Clan, as a matter of policy, encourages every clan member to make a will; and as far as possible to see to it that the will is respected and followed particularly with regard to the completion of the last funeral rites of a deceased member and subsequent distribution of property and dealings with the Administrator General. A lot of problems arise where a clan member dies intestate, that is, without making a will. Therefore, those who are appointed as the administrators of the deceased property and clan elders should ensure that modern laws of inheritance and succession are adhered to, even though traditions must be respected.
Preparing a will
The will should be in writing. It should be made in the presence of at least two witnesses who should be trusted allies or friends or even close relatives of the person who makes the will. However, it is also possible to make a will in the presence of lawyers, religious leaders, and civic leaders who have the confidence of the will maker and who can be trusted with keeping secrets.
The following is the basic information required in a will:
• Physical address of the person who makes the will
• Postal address; fax; e-mail
• Full name(s), age (date of birth, if known), and place of birth of the will maker
• Name and physical address of father or where he lies buried, if dead
• Name and physical address of mother or where she lies buried, if dead
• The name of the mother’s clan
• Paternal grand-father, great grand-father and great- great-grand-father, and where they lie buried (if they are dead)
• Maternal grand-father and where he lives or where he lies buried, if dead
• Ancestral house, family lineage, lineage cluster, sub-branch, branch, and clan apex
• Name of spouse or names of spouses
• Names of children and their ages
• Properties, including land or real estate, movable possessions, assets and chattels
• Distribution of properties, including specific names of beneficiaries and their stipulated legacies
• Name of the heir or successor and his/her responsibilities
• Names of guardians and their roles and responsibilities
• Administrators(s) and trustee(s) of the estate and their roles and responsibilities
• Arbitrators (if any) and their roles and responsibilities
• Witnesses who should be at least two in number
• Signature (or thump-print) of the will maker and date.
Beneficiaries under the will
The following are the main beneficiaries under the will under existing law:
• The surviving spouse (widow) or spouses
• The heir
• Children, including legally adopted children
• Parents of the deceased who were under his care.
Safe custody of the will
The will should be made in at least three signed copies. The original copy should be kept by the will maker, while the other copies are entrusted to two people who can keep it safely and authenticate it in case of need after the death of the maker of the will. Such trusted persons could include close relatives, friends, business associates, religious leaders, the deceased’s lawyers, and clan elders. Bankers, for a fee, can also be entrusted with the custody of a will.
Death Traditions and Customs
Beliefs about death
The Baganda look at death as one of the stages through which an individual passes. The individual is first a child (omwaana). Then the individual develops into a youth (omuvubuka). At death, one becomes a spirit (omuzimu) and a candidate for reincarnation. To the Baganda, death is a transformation from one stage of life to another.
The Baganda believe that an individual suffers only physical death and that he/she remains alive spiritually. They commonly say: “omuntu tafa; abula bubuzi”, meaning that a person never dies but only disappears from sight.
The Baganda further believe that a dead person acquires greater perception and more power than he had when he was alive. They also believe that the dead individual continues to be with the living all the time, maintaining contact with them through, for instance, dreams and speech. It is believed that contact is eased where the dead person went through the naming ceremony as a child, and was anointed with oil at the child naming ceremony, i.e. the child’s forelock was oiled. Hence, the deceased’s living relatives regularly make offerings of beer, food, coffee berries, etc, as libation a symbol to assure him that they have not forgotten him or to appease his spirit in times of need.
Among the Baganda death never comes naturally. “Omuntu teyefiira” is a common expression, meaning that death comes to the individual not through natural causes but through other forces perpetuated by man. The deceased’s people believe that their relative has died because of his enemies’ magic, witchcraft, sorcery, curses, and like evils.
Death is one area where traditional beliefs have persisted and are in conflict with modern, universal religions such as Christianity and Islam.
Burial Rites (Emikolo gy’okuziika oba egy’okukungubaga)
A true Muganda traditionally dies among his/her people. He/she never suffers a lonely death like a destitute (omunaku). When he/she is sick and when he dies, he/she is surrounded by his relatives and friends, including his/her children and his wife or wives.
When he falls sick and is confined to his bed, his relatives position him in the sitting room where his people care for him (bamujjanjaba) until he recovers or dies. They give him herbs to try to save his life. They consult diviners and medicine-men for the same purpose. When they come to realise that he is losing the battle against death, his relatives prepare him for death and ensure that he dies peacefully “with a good heart” so that he does not come back in a bad way to haunt them after death. They put oil through his mouth and nostrils. This is done to prevent his throat from drying so that he retains a clear vice through which he will communicate with his living relatives when he is dead and has become a spirit. This is the same kind oil with his forelock was oiled at the naming ceremony.
When he dies, his relatives and friends stretch his body and wash it and place it in fresh bark cloths for public view. They cover the body with many bark cloths.
There is much wailing (okutema emiranga n’okwaziirana) for the deceased. Wailing is the symbol of death in Buganda. People, especially women and young children, openly and uncontrollably cry for their beloved (okukaabira oba okulirira omufu). The wailing goes on all the time when the body is in house, when it is carried to the grave, when it is lowered into the grave and after its burial when his people go back to the house when his absence as head of the household is most conspicuous and therefore a cause of untold sadness. As people stroll into the home, they sob for loss of the deceased. Crying, under different degrees but in lower tones and tempos, only stops just before performance of the succession rite.
Burial arrangements are supervised by the head of the house (Omukulu w’Ennyumba) or at times by the head of the family lineage (Omukulu w’Olunyiriri). On the day of burial, the body is laid on a fresh bark cloth for ritual cleansing and oiling (okuziraga). The deceased’s relatives and friends carry out this process. This process symbolises the bidding of farewell to the deceased. Following this, the heir, or, in his absence, the deceased’s grandson covers the face of the deceased with a bark cloth from the body’s head up to the feet (okubikka akabugo). After this, the body is moved outside, and in the middle of the compound, it is wrapped in bark cloths and then carried to the grave, feet first. A particular person, usually omujjwa, with a small branch of the bark cloth tree (akasanvu k’ettabi ly’omutuba), leads the way to the grave.
A married woman is buried at her ancestral home but not at her husband’s home. It is believed that since people remain relatives even in death, the deceased woman’s spirit must join the spirits of her relatives where it will be most comfortable. This is especially so where her father-in-law was already buried in the clan cemetery. The two must not be buried in the same cemetery because marriage taboos exist even in death.
At the graveside, four or six strong men go into the grave and hold the body while it is being lowered in the grave. Four or six four bark cloth straps are used to lower the body into the grave. After the men have placed the body into the grave and left it there, one of the deceased’s grandsons, covering his head with bark cloth, descends into the grave with a knife and cut a piece of bark cloth hanging on the body into two. This is meant to show that the deceased lived a long life and got grand children and his life was not that of a destitute (tabadde munaku). After this, soil is poured gradually into the grave until it is full.
The burial normally takes place in the afternoon in the family cemetery (ekiggya), usually located in the banana plantation. However, with Ssalongo and Nnalongo, the father and mother of twins, it is held very late in the afternoon, normally after six; and one of the straps that have been used to lower the body into the grave is left hanging out at one corner at the foot of the grave to denote the special status of these parents. This applies to the twins also.
After the burial, the grave was covered with dry banana leaves. All implements, e.g. hoes, used in the digging of the grave are taken out of their handles, and fibres used to hold them together are placed on the grave. All articles worn by gravediggers are also put on the grave. Men use fresh beer banana stems (ebigogo) to wash their hands to remove remnants of soil and oil used in the cleansing of the body. The wet fibres used are put on top of the grave. The women use products from the food banana Nnakitembe.
When all mourners have gone back home after burial, the paternal grandmother or the Ssenga ties girdles made of banana fibres around the waists of all the deceased’s children and wife or wives except children who are twins or those who already are parents of twins. These girdles (amafuvu) are a sign of mourning. The children and their mother(s) are supposed to wear these girdles up to the time when the deceased’s spirit is transferred from the deceased’s former house to a new house built for it during the last funeral rites.
In the evening of the day of the burial or a day after, the family elder chairs a family meeting whose chief agenda is to make known the heir to the deceased, and to make arrangements for processing and holding the funeral rites of the deceased. The heir is known through the people the deceased told about it, usually his brothers, friends or clan elders. If the deceased did not do this, the choice is made by his brothers but with the consent of the deceased’s daughters, if they are old enough at the time of his death. Nowadays, people write wills before their death and this greatly eases matters.
The mourning period is a time of sanctity. All sexual activity is completely forbidden between now until after the conclusion of last funeral rites. Also, this period is time of tolerating discomfort. Mourners sleep on dry banana leaves (essanja) during this period. That is why this period is termed “amasanja” in Luganda. Women and children do not shave off hair from their bodies until the last funeral rites are performed. This is another sign of mourning for the deceased.
These days, many people die in hospitals. But even, the deceased is surrounded by relatives and friends. Before death, they are there with him to comfort him, and in fact, many people stay around even at night to watch his progress. There is much ado by the relatives to save his life: they him herbs and native medicines much of which is from diviners and medicine men. In some cases, they put oil through his mouth and nostrils in the traditional manner when they realise that his life cannot be saved, but this practice is on the wane.
If their relative dies in hospital, his people put his body in a coffin and take it home where it is still washed and cleansed in the traditional manner. However, it is increasingly becoming the practice to have preservatives put in the body to prevent rotting and smelling.
The head of the extended family plays his role, but members of the household, especially the wife, these days have much say about burial arrangements.
A Muslim dead person is buried almost on the day of his/her death, and his/her burial is done strictly in accordance with Islamic practices. A non-Muslim is normally buried on the third day of his/her death. A requiem service is also normally conducted in the local church or at the home of the deceased on the day of burial. And while wreaths are brought by mourners to the church or to the home or are put on the grave in the case of a non-Muslim, they are not allowed by Islamic practices.
The non-Muslim is these days buried in a coffin, fully dressed, but this is not the case with a Muslim. Islam specifies the manner in which the believer is to be buried, and this doe not stipulate the use of a coffin.
It is usual for prayers and singing to accompany the body to the grave and the burial ceremony. It is also common to have funeral eulogies before the burial during the prayer service or in the compound as the body is being viewed by the public. However, a speech is given at the graveside after the burial. Prayers are said and hymns are sung at the graveside, and the grave of a devout Christian is blessed with holy water by the priest before the body is lowered into the grave. Islamic burial traditions are strictly followed in the case of a Muslim.
Nowadays, the grave is covered in cement with a topping, in some cases, of tiles or precious stones such as marble. The grave of a Christian is marked by a wooden cross or headstone made out of cement or some precious stones. The name and date of birth and date of death, and a quote from the Bible or from some literally work, are inscribed on the grave of a non-Muslim.
In very few cases nowadays, the heir is invested and installed immediately after burial, or is just shown to the mourners without even investing or installing him/her in the customary way. However, this practice has been condemned by the majority of people as being alien and disrespectful to traditions.
There is a growing tendency for dead wives and dead husbands to be buried in the family cemetery. This was not so in the past. On death, the bodies of wives were taken back to their ancestral homes and buried there. This is one of the examples where modernity is in conflict with traditions.
Nowadays, very few relatives of the deceased keep hair on their bodies until the last funeral rites.
Nowadays, a person’s death is reported to the local authorities including the local council chairperson (LC), the parish chief, and the ggombolola chief.
Last funeral rites (Okwaabya olumbe)
Last funeral rites mark the end of the mourning period and the beginning of a new life with the heir who replaces the deceased. These rites are the last in a series of rituals connected with death. The people believe that death that took the deceased is shown the exit from the home and that a fresh start is made when the heir to the deceased is installed.
No specify time limit is set in which the ceremony for expelling death is to be held. However, a lengthy process is involved. The process begins when the family head (Omukulu w’Oluggya) –the cultural head of the extended family-mentions the name of the chosen heir to the deceased after soon the burial of the deceased and asks the widow(s) and the children to give their approval. After this, the family head sends the information to the head of the lineage (Ow’Olunyiriri). When Ow’olunyiriri gives his approval, he forwards the information to the sub-branch head (Ow’omutuba). From Ow’omutuba, the information goes to the branch head (Ow’essiga). Ow’essiga sends the information to Mukalo (Ow’akasolya). Normally, the process ends here. However, if the deceased was influential and came from a family with a high social status, the information about his death, cause of death, his family, personal possessions, e.g. land, position held in the clan hierarchy, involvement in activities that promote Kiganda culture, and his heir, could reach the Kabaka through Mukalo. Cultural authority to go ahead with the last funeral rites must be given at every hierarchal level.
The essence of this lengthy process is four-fold:
1) to create harmony;
2) to honour the deceased by having powerful leaders mourn for him/her;
3) to curb disputes and misunderstandings that may result from the process of choosing a successor; and
4) to keep the tradition and cultural values alive.
This lengthy is followed by a number of activities and rituals. The principal ones are given below,
Preparing the Ceremony
The compound of the venue is cleaned by the sons of the deceased’s sisters or sons of the deceased’s daughters (abajjwa). Their cultural role here is to wipe away all curses or acts of wickedness or abominations (ebikolimo, ebive, n’ebibamba) from the home of their maternal grandfather so that the ceremony is held in a culturally clean atmosphere. They are paid a high fee for doing this.
The clan elder who is going to be the main celebrant at the ceremony arrives at the venue a week or at least four days before the ceremony and assumes leadership of all matters that the ceremony will involve. During this time, he coaches the heir-to-be and his co-heir sister (the Lubuga) on what is going to happen to them and the roles they are going to assume as heirs to the deceased. He also spends much time counselling the deceased’s children and planning the event with his relatives and the widow(s).
Many huts which will house relatives, in-laws and well-wishers during the vigil are built almost all over the compound.
One particular hut is built by the bajjwa and put aside for later use as the place where the heir and co-heir sister will be officially presented to their paternal grandfather’s spirit. This hut is called Lwayaba, which, when roughly translated, means that funeral rites were once held here. In the distant past, the deceased’s house used to be pulled down, and Lwayaba remained the only sign that there was once a house there. This hut later becomes a family shrine. Hence, the Luganda saying: “Awava enju, wadda ssabo.”
Beer is brewed for the ceremony. Also made ready are the animals and birds to be slaughters and all food items for the ceremony.
Other essential items for the ceremony, such as a spear, a knife, bark cloths, calabashes for containing the beer, drinking vessels (endeku), and so on are availed.
Logs and a lot of firewood are collected and put in the middle of the compound to wait being lit during the vigil.
Local authorities, such as the chairperson of the local council (LC), the local defence unit (LDU) and, where necessary the police, should be informed, well in time, of the event that is to take place at the venue. Attention should be paid to security matters, especially in respect of mob control. Also to be informed and invited is the Kabaka’s area representative as are local religious leaders and other local notables.
The Vigil Festival (okusula ku lumbe)
A day before the rituals are performed, the deceased’s relatives, in-laws and well-wishers gather at the home of the deceased and keep vigil together with the general public.
A big campfire is made using the logs and firewood which has been collected for about a week during the preparations for the ceremony. This campfire is lit and kept going by the bajjwa.
The elderly members of the immediate family of the deceased sit together and comfort the deceased’s children, counsel and encourage the heir-to-be and his co-heir sister, Lubuga, and share memories of the good deeds of the deceased. In the meantime, there is much rejoicing, drumming, singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and general merry-making, starting early in the evening up to the early hours of the morning. This symbolises the commemoration of the life of the deceased, and the welcoming of the heir. It is the closing of an era and the heralding of a new one; the closing of a page and the opening of a new one.
Nowadays, families who are able financially hire musical bands or singing groups or discotheques to provide entertainment throughout the night.
Confirming or vetoing the Heir
In a meeting, consisting of the widow(s), children of the deceased, brothers and sisters of the deceased, and other close relatives, is chaired by the clan elder who will install the heir the next day. Although the heir might already have been known from time immediately after the burial, is either confirmed or rejected in this meeting. Clan members and clan leaders, in consultation with the immediate members of the deceased’s family, have the power to veto the heir if he/she is considered unfit by reason of being incapacitated, or has a bad reputation, e.g. he/she has been involved heinous in acts such as fornication, incest, adultery, robbery, murder, bestiality, and the like, that can put the family and the clan into embarrassment, disrepute and shame. If the heir is rejected, an election is conducted by the clan elder immediately, where again the daughters of the deceased are given priority to choose one of their other brothers as heir. This meeting is held, usually inside the main house or in the hut of the clan elder, while the festivities are going on outside. The clan elder makes every effort to have this done in an atmosphere of understanding, harmony and consensus.
Expelling Death from the House (Okufulumya Olumbe)
At around six in the morning while the festivities are going on, the clan elder calls family members to attention and tells them that it is now time to chase death (walumbe) out of the house.
As the widow(s), the deceased’s children and other relatives assemble in the still closed house, omujjwa performs the cultural role of Omukeeze (early riser and visitor to the home). He knocks at the door of the house and announces his arrival by saying: “It is I the early riser and visitor” (“Nze Omukeeze”). The door is opened by the clan elder. On entering, the mujjwa is given a calabash full of beer as his fee by the clan elder. He drinks some of the beer and shares some of the remainder with his relatives inside the house. He then announces: ‘Let death leave this house at once.” The mujjwa is in position to do this because by tradition it is his duty to clean away any abominations from the home of his maternal grandfather or uncle.
It is believed that by these acts death is expelled unceremoniously for his role in killing the deceased, and that if this ritual is not done; death will remain lingering in the house and “eat” other relatives. The drinking of beer symbolises the celebration after the defeat of death and its expulsion from the home. This is followed by wild cheers and great excitement from the widow(s) and the children and other relatives.
After the expulsion of death from the house, the clan elder leads the deceased’s children out of the house, and standing with them on the veranda of the house or in the porch, declares to the general public before him: “The death rites and mourning for my deceased grandchild are completed and all other abominations in the home have been wiped away.” He makes the same announcement if there are pending death rites for other deceased family relatives.
The clan elder and the children enter the house once more and after a short while go out again.
Now the heir and Lubuga go to Lwayaba
Then the clan elder leads the heir-to-be and his co-heir sister, Lubuga, to the special hut Lwayaba, and they all sit down on a wide barkcloth. They are joined there by the widows and other close relatives of the deceased. While there, the clan elder presents the heir-to-be and the co-heir sister-to-be to their grandfather’s spirit and mentors them on their new roles as successors to the deceased.
Next, clan elder strips the heir-to-be and his Lubuga, all the bereaved relatives and the widow(s),of the girdles they have been wearing as a sign of mourning since the burial of their beloved and deposits them in the hut. Later, the ssengas shave the heads of the widow, of the heir-to-be and his Lubuga-to-be, and of other bereaved relatives; after which they deposit the girdles and the hair on the respective banana trees according to their gender (beer banana trees for males and Nnakitembe for females).
Children go to the banana plantation
The other children are led away to the banana plantation by their paternal grandmother at the same time as the clan elder and his party go to Lwayaba. When in the banana plantation, the grandmother strips the children of the girdles they have been as a sign of mourning for their father; and shaves their heads and deposits the girdles and the hair on respective male and female banana trees in accordance with the gender of the children.
The striping of girdles of children and relatives from their bodies symbolises the end of their mourning for their beloved relative. They are now dead to the state of sadness for him and must move on in life without him as a human being.
The shaving symbolises the change from the past age connected with the life of the deceased to the new age under the heir. Shaving is a sign of cleanness; and the heir-to-be and his Lubuga-to-be and the deceased’s children, widow and relatives must enter this new phase when they are spot clean.
All goes to ashes and the fire is extinguished
After settling the deceased’s spirit in its new residence, the elder leads the group out of Lwayaba to the campfire where he instructs them to sit down around it. While standing there, the elder throws one sprat into the raging fire. When the sprat has been burned to ashes, the elder addresses the spirit of the deceased and declares: “Eyakwalula esiridde”, meaning that the sprat that was used in the naming ceremony of the deceased is has now gone to ashes. This signifies that the form of life which the deceased began when he/she was legalised as a member of the clan is now no more. He/she is dead to the human life and must now live the life of a spirit. All that he/she did, and all his/her obligations and responsibilities, all his/her honours and privileges, in that life have now ended here.
After this, the clan elder orders a cock to be roasted over the fire. When the bird is ready for eating, he distributes pieces of it to all male relatives around the fire. When the eating has been done, the fire is immediately put out and the bajjwa destroy any sign of it and carry away the remaining logs and firewood.
The putting out of the fire and cleaning away any sign of it mark the end of it all as far as the deceased is concerned. The fire has gone out for him/her and that is the very end of his/her story as a living human being. The curtain for him/her is down forever and ever. A new play must now begin and the curtain must go up again under a new lead actor/actress, his/her heir.
The cock is used as a sacrifice for wiping away any sins or evil acts of the deceased, which the heir should not inherit.
The flesh of the cock or hen is not given to the widow and female relatives because woman developed a grudge against the chicken, accusing it of forcing her (Nnambi) to break God’s commandment when she went back to heaven to fetch its food in order to save its life. That is why woman is always ready to give away the bird free to be used as a sacrifice in cleansing rituals. When used as such, the bird is no longer considered fit to be eaten by her since this may contaminate the children in her loins.
Investing and Installing the Heir (Okusumika n’Okutuuza Omusika)
Quite early in the morning, people are woken up by the sound of the clan drum (omubala gw’ab’ekika ky’Enjovu), which summons them to gather and witness the investiture and installation of the heir and his co-heir sister, the Lubuga. This is the big event which everyone has been waiting for.
The event takes place on the veranda or in the porch of the main house if the deceased was male and a householder (Ssemaka). If the deceased was a woman or wife, the investiture and installation is done inside a house at her parents’ home. In almost all other respects the process is similar, with the exception that the heir and co-heir sister are both female in the case of a deceased woman.
When all people have gathered in front of the main house, the clan drum is sounded once again; and the clan elder who is responsible for investing and installing the heir (Omusumisi) introduces himself to the gathering, mentioning: the name of his father; the name of his mother and her clan; the name of his paternal grandfather and names of at least three of his other paternal ancestors; the name of his maternal grandfather and names of other maternal ancestors; the name of his household (ennyumba mw’ava); the name of the family compound (oluggya mw’ava); the name of his lineage (olunyiriri mw’ava); the name of his sub- branch (omutuba mw’ava); the name of his branch (essiga mw’ava); his clan apex (akasolya mw’ava); and how he is related to Mukalo and Ssabasajja Kabaka. He ends this recital with the statement: “I am a Muganda” (“Ndi musajja Muganda”). Next, he states how he is related to the family of the deceased, his position in the clan, and how and why he happens to be the one to invest and install the heir.
That done, the clan elder (the Musumisi), standing on the veranda or in the porch of the main house, and in full view of the public, calls the heir to come forward. The heir steps forward and stands erect before him. Facing the heir, the clan elder places on him a full-length barkcloth robe, fastened with a knot on the right-hand shoulder. He actually places the robe over the garments the heir is wearing. That knot, which holds the barkcloth in place, is known as ekifundikwa. This process is the investiture and is known in Luganda as okusumika omusika. The investiture symbolises the handing over to the heir all the deceased’s powers and obligations.
Next, the clan elder picks up a spear and, before handing it to the heir, explains its virtues not only as a weapon of defence, but also as an instrument of justice and fairness. He picks up a shield and hands both the spear and the shield to the heir, urging him to always be ready and brave amid challenges to defend his home, his clan, his community, his nation, Buganda, and his country Uganda; to be loyal to Ssabasajja Kabaka; and to be just and fair in all his dealings.
The elder next hands the heir him a stick as a symbol of authority to govern and care for his siblings; and hands him a small dry gourd (endeku) containing beer inside which are two straws-one for the heir and the other for the “baby” who was buried in the banana plantation at birth- and reminds him of his responsibility to promote the continuity of life through producing children, to be social, and to never forget his “brother” who was deposited in the banana plantation at their birth (the placenta). He also provides the heir with a bag of money to wish him prosperity.
He then presents the heir and the Lubuga to the general public as the deceased’s heirs and successors, amid drumming, clapping and ululation. After this, the clan elder seats the heir on the ritual barkcloth, urging him to be social, to share with others and to be generous, to conduct himself appropriately and to be a good example to others, to exercise his powers responsibily and to show mercy, to care for his siblings and relatives, to be dutiful to the clan and the nation, and to care and work industriously for his home. That process is the installation of the heir, known in Luganda as okulaga omusika oba okumutuuza.
After dealing with the heir, the Musumisi shifts his attention to the co-heir sister, the Lubuga. He gives a woven basket (ekibbo) in which are the following articles, about each of which he gives a pertinent explanation: a knife so that she can peel food, symbolising need on her part to always be ready to serve food to her people and to visitors; the woven basket itself (ekibbo) to use for carrying the food and other domestic articles; a hoe for cultivating and growing food; and a bag in which to keep money. Hospitality is very much emphasised here. The clan elder also seats the co-heir sister on the ritual barkcloth.
After this, any well-wisher, or relative, or friend, or neighbour is free to come forward and participate in the ritual. This is called okusumikira in Luganda. It normally involves introducing oneself, mentioning one’s relationship with the deceased or family, imploring the heir to emulate the good deeds of the deceased and not to forget friends or relatives, praying to the heir to fulfil his obligations and responsibilities well, as well as face challenges bravely, wishing the heir a long and eventful life, and making a token money donation as a sign of goodwill and good luck.
When all this has been done, the clan elder leads the heir and Lubuga into the house and seats the heir in the deceased’s chair for about five minutes and leads them out again. This is meant to inform the deceased that he has been succeeded by the heir who will henceforth occupy his former seat in all affairs to do with the home and relatives.
The clan drum is sounded heartily throughout the ritual.
The co-heir sister ritually represents the “baby” who died and was buried in the banana plantation during the birth of the deceased. This symbolises that although that “baby” died so that the deceased could live a human life, he was at all not forgotten and that in death they met once again and became one once more. She also symbolises the man’s companion at creation (Kintu and Nnambi) and the fact that God created all things in pairs, a male and a female.
Nowadays the clan elder seats the heir on a chair instead of the barkcloth, and people remark that he has replaced the deceased by sitting in his chair. However, the co-heir sister is still seated on a barkcloth.
The ritual makes the heir the new head of the household if the deceased was male. The ritual marks the passing over to the heir the responsibilities and power of the deceased. It also symbolises the passing of the era of the deceased and the beginning of a new age under the heir. Once invested and installed, the heir can now act on behalf of his family in clan and community matters. Through investiture (okusumika), he is in position to invest and install other heirs on behalf of the clan. He is now an elder in the family and clan, and can act as main celebrant in ceremonies and festivals. His powers and responsibilities are greater if he succeeds a deceased person who held a position of cultural leadership in the clan during his lifetime.
Leading away the widow(s) and other children (Okujja nnamwandu n’abaana ku kifugi)
When the installation of the heir has come to a close, several activities are conducted.
The widow(s), now seated on the veranda of the main house, is/are led away by their relatives to one of the huts where she stays/they stay put until a brother-in-law comes to fetch her/them from there with a calabash full of beer.
The heir’s brothers and sisters cover their heads in one bark cloth and are lead away by their paternal grandmother (or her successor) from the veranda or porch where the investiture and installation of the heir took place. They go to the banana plantation in that state and there they are comforted by their grandmother who also counsels them to remain united since they are children from the same father. The covering in one barkcloth symbolises unity.
Praying for the heir and the family
Nowadays, the investiture and installation ritual is followed by prayers for the heir and the family. This is done according to the faith of the deceased. If the deceased was a Roman Catholic a mass is said. If the deceased was a Protestant, a pertinent service is conducted. There is a duwa if the deceased was a Muslim. In Some cases, especially with Roman Catholics, the investiture and installation is done in the middle of the service or duwa.
These days, a small section of society does not hold last funeral rights because it regards the practice anti-religious and therefore pagan.
The Heir’s Banquet (Omusika agabula abantu)
As a custom, after the prayers, the heir hosts a banquet which features a lot of choice foodstuffs, meat and drink. Alcoholic drinks are not served if the deceased was a Muslim or a non-drinker. There is much rejoicing and feasting which goes on until late afternoon or evening.
Nowadays, it is increasingly becoming the practice to budget and hire professional catering services to prepare and serve the banquet, unlike in the past when there was no budget and service was done by relatives.
The destruction of the huts
As per tradition, all the huts, except Lwayaba, are pulled down and destroyed by the bajjwa. The home is cleaned of any sign that last funeral rights were held here. The bajjwa sing many loud songs as they pull down the huts and clean the compound.
The bajjwa’s fee for this service consists of all the heads of animals that were slaughtered for the ceremony. The animals affected are normally cows and goats.
Cleaning the family cemetery (Okulima ebijja)
Before the relatives leave the venue, they have to clean the family cemetery of any weeds or other unwanted substances that might have interfered with the graves. It is the custom to share beer while doing the cleaning and to share a meal afterwards. Nowadays, alcoholic drinks are not allowed if the deceased was a Muslim. It is also becoming the tradition in some families to hold an annual event where prayers are said for all deceased family members after cleaning the cemetery, although the ritual is still performed almost immediately after completion of the last funeral rites of an individual deceased member.
Inheritance of the deceased’s property
In the past, a day after the ceremony, the clan elder organised the division of the deceased’s personal property among members of his family in accordance with his expressed wishes before death. If at death his wishes were not known, the clan elder and undertook the task of dividing up the property among the deceased’s family.
Nowadays, matters concerning the deceased’s property are handled by the Administrator General in accordance with the provisions of the Administrator Act whether the deceased made a will before death or died intestate. If the deceased left a written will, the Administrator has a right to administer the will, and whatever is done must not conflict the rights of the Administrator General. If the deceased died intestate, all his/her property is controlled by the Administrator General as trustee. He must receive notice of the deceased’s death and give his no objection. And he has a right to obtain letter of administration.
Persons who are appointed as the administrators of the deceased’s estate must report the deceased’s death to the local Ggombolola Chief or to the local district Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Before dealing with the estate of the deceased, they must obtain letters of probate if the deceased left a will; and if he died intestate, they have an obligation to obtain letters of administration. In all these matters, a lawyer can represent the deceased. People who are mainly eligible to bring deputations to the Administrator General are the survivors including the widow and children above the age of eighteen.
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