Kasese Ahoy: A Western Ugandan Wedding

“Oh I don’t mind going to weddings, just as long as it’s not my own…” Tom Waits

I was invited to step in for my sister on a trip to Kasese last week and as it involved travelling to and seeing another part of the country there was no way I was going to say no.  One of my sister’s friend’s sister in law (yes it took me a while to get my head around that too) was getting married.  Kasese is in Western Uganda, just north of Lake George and surrounded by hills and the mighty Rwenzori mountain ranges.  It is very different from the dry arid landscape north of the country, with lush green forests, fresh unpolluted air and breath-taking views in almost every direction.

I was so excited I was ready by 9am although we were not supposed to leave Kampala till 11am.   Seven hours later, we were still in a supermarket in Kampala looking for food and drinks for the trip. Time keeping is unfortunately is not the strongest points for my fellow travellers, three of my sister’s, one guy and to girls.  We eventually set off at 6pm, and with the sharp bends in the road, the darkness (there are hardly any street lights) and dense fog we did not arrive in Kasese till after 1am the following day.  You would think that after such a long day we would check into the hotel and go straight to sleep, there was no such luck.  Instead we dropped our bags into our rooms and headed straight to the local club. I should have protested.

Rwenzori mountain ranges in the distance

Inside, the girls and boy proceeded straight to the bar whilst I slumped on the nearest sofa struggling to keep my eyes open.  In an effort to stay awake I took out my camera and started taking some pictures.  I had only snapped twice when I was descended upon by a bunch of guys asking why I was taking pictures and who I was working for.  They were so angry I feared for both my safety and for my camera.  It took the girls in the group about five minutes to placate them.  I was not aware that people in Uganda do not take pictures in clubs.  That is a mistake I am unlikely to make again.  At 5am I drove us back to the hotel hoping for a few good hours of shut-eye.  There was no such luck, the hotel we were staying at was next to a petrol station and a truck depot so after only an hour in bed I was awakened by continuous hooting from outside my window.  After an hour of tossing and turning and adjusting my earplugs it became clear that I was not going back to sleep so I got up and went for a walk instead. 

A group of dancers keep the guests entertained

The wedding or Kwanjula as it is more commonly known was similar to the introduction ceremony I attended early in the year in Lira.   In this instance it was a union of the Kiga and Nyarwanda.   The ceremony kicked off at around 3pm and lasted nearly six hours, I did not understand anything that was being said so I spent most of the day asking the people around me what was being said and why they were doing what was being done. It began with dances, first a group of just women, then a group of just men and then a mixed group all in traditional outfits.  Not being from that part of the country I was absolutely mesmerised. The families then arrived, with the bride’s occupying one side of the grounds, and the groom’s on the opposite end.  Gifts were exchanged by the families before the groom was led out by his groomsmen.  After he was seated on his throne, the bride was led out in a procession full of bright colours wearing a sari of all things.

Bridge sitting between her maids and male members of her family

She was seated in the middle of the field away from her husband to be surrounded by the bridesmaids and two men crossing sticks in front of her.  Before she could join him, the groom had to answer some questions relating to her.  Only after getting them all right was he allowed to take her hand and lead her to sit next to him. There were more speeches and more dancing before dinner was served.

Male dancers entertaining the guests

 After dinner we headed off to the reception which was in one of the local clubs.  High from five cups of very strong coffee I headed straight to the dance floor totally shocking my companions. We continued the celebrations till 3am after which I returned to the hotel totally exhausted.  All in all, it was a fun weekend, full of laughter, coffee and fresh air.