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Bringing sanity to Buganda’s kwanjula

Recently while watching the comedy skit of comedians Madrat and Chiko, they made fun of the current generation and how they disrespect cultural garments such as the kanzu and gomesi during kwanjula marriage ceremonies.

On X (formerly Twitter), @Kall_essy  Ssenga posted on June 12, 2023: “Dear Baganda, you only come out when the Kabaka is being attacked on social media or when someone drags Buganda. When will you come out and speak about the nonsensical behaviours happening of late at introduction ceremonies? Changing clothes at your in-laws’ house, dancing while jumping up and down like a frog, girls twerking in gomesi.”

“Introduction ceremonies lost meaning about culture. You wait for the in-laws to come, only for the DJ to play Chai W’enjaye,” @Kall_essy Ssenga added.

The subject of the changing scene at Buganda’s traditional kwanjula ceremonies has been cause for much debate, and fodder for social media viral videos, with even the Katikkiro Charles Peter Mayiga weighing in several times, to no avail.

In an interview with The Observer, Ismah Kajja the head of MCs of introduction ceremonies (aboogezi b’emikolo) in Buganda kingdom, gave deep insight as to why the current generation no longer heeds the traditions and norms of their forefathers.

Kajja said, in Buganda, traditional marriages have become popular because of the way MCs handle this customary marriage event, making it a war of words, banter and comedy, which at one point forced the kingdom to invite all MCs to ensure that they fully appreciated the way introduction ceremonies were supposed to be conducted and how guests at the functions were supposed to dress and behave.

A VENERABLE GARMENT

Kajja said: “The men are supposed to wear a kanzu, while the women wear a gomesi.”

Tracing the history of the gomesi to an Indian called Gomez, who first tailored it for Gayaza High School boarding students (hence the colloquial name ‘boodingi’ for the garment), Kajja said people referred to wearing the gomesi as ‘okwesiba ekinnagayaza’.

“Ssekabaka Muteesa I soon declared the gomesi the official dress for Buganda women, and other adjustments were added to make it more comfortable,” Kajja said.

“The kanzu (tunic) has its origins with Arabs who came to Uganda to trade in the 1800s and introduced it to Buganda kingdom during the reign of Kabaka Suuna.”

It is a handmade tunic and it has embroidery (omuleera) sown onto it. According to Kajja, both traditional garments should be ankle-length, and it is disrespectful for the wearer to lift the garments too high. Enter the modern-day kwanjula, and no garment has been as disrespected as the gomesi and kanzu.

For kwanjula, the kanzu is incomplete without a jacket/blazer, lest one mistakes the wearer for being in mourning.

“When wearing a kanzu, one does not have to dance while jumping like a frog like young people do today; a person wearing a kanzu is supposed to dance gently, ensuring the tunic doesn’t move off the ankle and shoe level,” Kajja said.

A typical kwanjula function in Buganda is as entertaining as it is cultural
A typical kwanjula function in Buganda is as entertaining as it is cultural

When it comes to the gomesi, Kajja decries the increasing number of women that have discarded use of the undergarment (kikoyi), because they believe that the women back in the day did not have the kind of big backsides some ladies in this  day and generation boast of. Wrong!

The kikoyi was introduced as an overall protective and fortifying garment, because the fabrics used to make gomesi are generally light. He is appalled that women today, instead of wearing the kikoyi, wear leggings, and when they come out dancing crazily during the introduction ceremony, the leggings are embarrassingly on full display as the gomesi fabric clings immodestly against their bodies, leaving their ancestors possibly cringing in their graves.

Maybe the bride dancing inappropriately before her own parents can be forgiven, but the fact that the grooms, who traditionally are not expected to speak freely at a kwanjula (hence the mwogezi), now not only conduct themselves in a talkative manner, but even dance and throw their legs around before their in-laws, is unfathomable!

INTERMARRIAGE

And now, some Baganda girls have even completely discarded the gomesi during kwanjula, opting for saris, western Uganda suuka and ball gowns for the traditional marriage ceremony, a trend that is worrying Mengo, the seat of Buganda kingdom. Kajja believes the rising number of intermarriage makes some families to try and be accommodative during introduction ceremonies, which is a disservice to the cultures and norms of the host in-laws.  

As the bride’s family relaxes its dress requirements for the visiting bako, the Ganda families in particular also adopt the groom’s family’s culture too, including demanding for heads of cattle in exchange for the girl, which was never a Buganda requirement, save for ceremonial goats in case the man had sired children with their unwedded daughter.

“Failure of cultural leaders to promote the culture and norms at introduction ceremonies has made society go against cultural values when organizing introduction ceremonies,” Kajja said.

Kajja believes if elders do their part and emphasize the importance of culture and traditional garments, young people will be guided. Back in the day, before the groom’s entourage entered the bride’s parents’ home, they were amply prepared by their MC about what to expect in terms of culture, the dos and don’ts, because parents were strict about preserving the rules and norms. Not anymore.

SANITY RESTORATION

While the last-minute briefing still happens with the MC, the entourage can be quite unruly and disrespectful to the culture once inside.  
Sadly, the disrespect is spearheaded by the bride’s family, where vulgar music and dances characterize the greetings session, egged on by the MCs from both sides; so much so that some grooms have even dared to slow-dance with their brides in front of her parents, which was unheard of in Buganda, traditionally.

The most important thing during the introduction ceremony, according to Kajja, is the mutwalo (bride price), which is given to the father of the bride, to show that the family of the groom has the capacity to take over from where her father stopped, and take care of the bride.

The mutwalo used to be simple things such as wall hangings of the family totem, holy books and for sentimental fathers, just a solemn vow from the groom to take good care of their daughter. The mutwalo is often accompanied by a gomesi for the mother of the bride and the grandmother, as well as kanzu for the father, bride’s brother (omuko) and garments for the bride.

Bride dancing at her kwanjula
Bride dancing at her kwanjula

The groom could then include gifts such as salt, sugar, soap, beef shank, and lately, a special gift for the bride’s parents that the groom finds appropriate. But now, kwanjula ceremonies are a lavish, very expensive affair that only a few can afford.

Speaking about the acceptable things at introduction ceremonies, Kajja said the number of people attending introduction ceremonies was kept at only 15 to 20 people, including friends and siblings of the groom, as well as his grandparents.

Those not allowed to come were pregnant women, parents of the groom, people notorious for their bad behaviour, the sick and the elderly.
But because of poverty, Kajja said, grooms trying to impress beyond their means involve many people in fundraising for the ceremony, and when it is time to go for the kwanjula, the groom loses control of numbers, as all the financial stakeholders in the ceremony insist on attending.

Because of the big numbers, parents have no say on the cultures and traditions, which leads to scenarios where introduction ceremonies end after dark and people end up dancing inappropriately.

Kajja advises parents with girls of marriage age to take charge of their families and ensure that their children follow tradition, regardless where the groom hails from. Maybe then, even the kanzu and gomesi will regain their venerable positions in closets, again.

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