The Wedding Expert's Guide to Ugandan Wedding Traditions

We're taking a look at how unique Ugandan weddings are.
Smiling Ugandan couple embrace while loved ones look on.
kabunga Godfrey / Shutterstock
Ariel Taranski
by
Ariel Taranski
Ariel Taranski
Ariel Taranski
The Knot Contributor
  • Ariel writes on a variety of wedding-related topics for The Knot.
  • She has previously worked for Southern Bride Magazine, Miss Design Berry and other woman-owned wedding brands.
  • She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Memphis.
Updated Feb 03, 2023

As a place known for having the youngest worldwide population, Uganda still has many customs that date back generations. Ugandan wedding traditions, in particular, make their culture's weddings a unique event that guests from all over enjoy. Throughout the years, Ugandan weddings have become more modernized while still upholding the classic traditions passed down from clan to clan. Cultures around the world make the union of two souls a truly exciting celebration, and couples in Uganda place a large focus on the joining of their families. Let's see just how this East African country differs from others in its nuptials.

A Brief History of Ugandan Wedding Traditions

In the past, marriages were arranged by family elders. In fact, most girls and boys couldn't even interact unsupervised until marrying age, where they'd be paired off based on such factors as relationships between families and social status. Small wedding ceremonies have also never been a part of Ugandan tradition, with relatives, friends and even strangers being welcomed into the celebrations. There's a custom of cheering, singing and hollering during the ceremonies, making them truly lively and full of noise.

Ugandan Traditional Wedding Attire

Traditionally, Ugandan brides will wear a gomesi which is a brightly colored floor-length dress made of silk, cotton or linen fabric. It has pointed, puffed sleeves with a square neckline with two buttons to the left of the neckline, and this dress is typically tied around the waist by a large belt or sash. Brides may also change their dress several times during the wedding day.

As for grooms, they traditionally wear a kanzu or a tunic. It can be either ankle or floor-length, and popular color choices are white and cream. However, colorful embroidery around the collar, abdomen and sleeves (called the omulela) usually comes in a maroon hue. Grooms will also wear a kofia during the ceremony with their attire, a brimless cylindrical cap with a flat crown that's popular in East African regions.

Ugandan Traditional Wedding Guest Attire

Women attending a Ugandan wedding may opt to wear a suuka, or a draped long cloth around their waist and shoulders or a floor-length dress called a busuti. Men who are either wedding guests or members of the wedding party will wear a kanzu with a suit jacket.

Ugandan Prewedding Traditions

In Uganda, couples are free to pick their own partners, but their families must agree to the marriage. Unless both parents have given their permission, their church will not marry the two.

There are some customs and rules, such as people marrying within the same religion and not being from the same clan. Families will do a "background check" of sorts to ensure there's no overlap in their clan between the couple.

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As with many cultures, a wedding is an opportunity for a couple to demonstrate their wealth with an expensive, large wedding, or their families may help to contribute to the cost since young couples may not be able to afford it all on their own.

The "Bride Price"

One tradition is called the "bride price" which is similar to a dowry. A hopeful suitor will pay their new family, anything from money to cattle. This tradition serves to acknowledge that a bride is now part of her husband's family and is no longer part of her old household. Some suitors will lavishly gift their bride's family, depending on their wealth.

Ugandan Traditional Wedding Ceremony

Similar to other cultures, a Ugandan wedding symbolizes the joining of two families. Many couples will opt for two ceremonies, one in a church and one more traditional, known as "the introduction" or kwanjula. The church ceremony is similar to other cultures' with a procession down the aisle, exchanging of vows and music.

The Introduction Ceremony or "Kwanjula"

Though this serves as an introduction between families, many Ugandan couples perform kwanjula as part of their marriage ceremony. During kwanjula, the couple is accompanied by a small party of the groom's family and friends to the bride's home. On this day, an assigned speaker will represent the groom in discussions with the bride's family. This speaker is typically an elder with extensive knowledge of Ugandan culture. The hosts will then greet the groom's family and escort them into the house with the Omuko, or the bride's closest male relative (such as a brother).

Upon arrival, the Omuko is given "Enkoko yo'muko" which loosely translates to "a rooster for the brother-in-law." Guests are then provided with roasted coffee, often presented by the hosts' chosen elder as a symbol of a bond between the two families once they've greeted the hosts and sat.

After they've made their introductions, the visiting elder states his reason for the visit, to seek permission to marry. Elders on both sides will then have a discussion that may include proverbs and fables. The kwanjula also involves a lot of music, dancing and clapping, such as the bridesmaids encircling the bride for the groom to "break through" to reach his love. It's a ceremony full of tradition and celebration to symbolize the union of two families.

Affection During Kwanjula

At a Ugandan wedding, "you may now kiss each other" are words you may not hear. The newlyweds typically do not display much physical affection, such as kissing or holding hands. They will hug, but anything seen as more intimate is not fit for the public.

Ugandan Wedding Reception

Like some wedding receptions, the newlyweds will greet their guests. However, the guests will typically dance their way to the happy couple in a conga line. This is also where the wedding favors are handed out to guests. Ugandan receptions are full of music, dancing, conversation and spending time enjoying the company of the two families who are now united.

Ugandan Traditional Wedding Food, Drinks and Desserts

Traditionally, the groom will eat in private with a few members of his party. This private dinner is in a darker room with mats on the ground where the bride's families will serve these guests traditional foods such as matooke, rice, vegetables and beef.

The newlyweds will feed each other part of their wedding cake, then wash it down with champagne. However, Ugandan tradition means that the cake will come before the meal.

Ugandan Postwedding Traditions

After the wedding, one post-wedding tradition involves the groom's mother going to the bride's house, singing on the way there and back. When the new bride arrives at her groom's house, they can't lie in bed together until the completion of the "okunabbya omugole" ritual. This is where the newly-married couple stands beneath a tree and bathes in the same herb-infused water. They both sing on their way to the courtyard, where the bride's new mother-in-law pours a bowl of water on her daughter-in-law's back. Once the bride's brother or closest male relative gives permission, the couple can now move into their new home together and start their lives as one.

Traditional Ugandan Wedding Gifts

For guests, anything from Bibles to animals are given. Couples will often exchange gifts with each other as well, such as keepsakes, furniture, food and drink. Wedding gifts are also traditionally presented by women on the groom's side, who carry the baskets of gifts in on their heads.

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