MARRYING THE ACHOLI GIRL IS A TEST OF LOVE!
By Caroline Ariba
I can almost still hear him. The roar in his voice, the pride, the command. I hear it. It plays like a tape in my head, over and over. I see his face, tough and very matter-of-fact-like; the veins poking through his sun-kissed skin meant business! I still see it all. The bride’s uncle was not taking prisoners, he had arrived
to battle. Marrying the Acholi girl is no walk in the park. Nope! It's a test of love, you must be all in. See, they insist the man taking their daughter must love her that much, be strong enough to take the 'blows'.
So there they were, these in-laws, old and young, all of them on their knees, crawling and obeying the voice. It was intense! Once they had crawled into the living room, a roar of a question tore across the room. “What are you looking at?” the uncle asked the first batch of puzzled in-laws. “Are you looking around your mother in-law’s house?”
That was the first punishment, a Shs50.000 fine. Any aspiring in-law should keep their head down at all times while inside the in-law’s house. To be safe, just look at the floor, not the wall, the floor! Note that that is how you entered the house too; looking at the floor. Crawling really, on your knees!
“You haven’t even crossed the Nile yet, you are still in another region, not the north!" the uncle spoke metaphorically. “For us to talk, you have to first cross the Nile.” At this point he was looking at a list of items they had requested the groom bring. His face was grim and every word ‘matter-of-factly’. This was no game!
"Did you bring the special cow?” he asked. “Yes,” the in-laws' representative responded. Without saying a word, he signaled a young man to go and confirm, and the news was returned. His eyes went cold. “Why did you bring us a black cow?” he roared. “Are we dirty?” It took nearly 10 minutes of begging for forgiveness for that particular sin to be forgiven. But there was another sin; the 20 litre jerrycan of paraffin was not full.
"Why didn’t you fill it to the very top?” the uncle asked. “Sorry Sir, it is not advisable to fill paraffin to the top,” a much more polite voice responded. “Do you think we have never heard of paraffin before?” the girl’s uncle roared before asking for the fine for that to be paid. That was the issue, until the next issue that is; the chicken with the dark feathers.
“We are a family of light,” the uncle lamented while pointing at the chicken with the dark feathers. “Why are you bringing us dark-colored animals?” The in-laws pleaded ignorance and begged to be forgiven with promises to bring brighter colors. It was back and forth until suddenly an announcement was made.
“Okay, now you have arrived at the Nile!” the uncle called out with a brief smile, before going cold again. The in-laws sighed, but was it too soon? “Remember, you have not yet crossed it, and you have over 200 kilometers to go!” the uncle cried out.
At that point the in-laws thought it should be okay to raise their heads and relax. They thought wrong. “Fine!” the uncle called out. “Why are you looking around our house?” All the pleading fell on barren ground and Shs50.000 was paid as a fine. But after that, they were allowed to sit, just the old people though, but keep their knees clumped together.
It was coming to 1 am, the list of demands was not even half way and the uncle’s face was nowhere near relaxed. The bride was getting restless, the make-up was peeling off her skin, layer for layer. The whispers in the corrido were getting louder and the older in-laws’ knees couldn’t take it anymore. At one point a request was made to allow the groom’s elderly uncle take a break, lest he faint.
“Since you have come to the Nile, we shall allow Papa to sit on a chair,” the uncle announced to the relief of the elderly uncle. “But you, you and you,” he said whilst pointing at the younger lot (including the groom), remain down there. At this point, it looked like he was settling wrangles and not seeing a marriage process through.
Quickly his eyes were back to combing through the list, as the worst was yet to pass. “Now, the dowry?” he said. The room went cold, silent, the fear could be felt. This was it, it had to be it, or everything would be cancelled.
“We asked for 12million!” he was again silent. He wanted to let that sink in. “Where is it?” He said with cold eyes. "Where?” The in-laws' side was now shifting restlessly. Something was off. “You see….” The groom’s representative had started to talk before he was cut off. “I said where?” There was silence again. “If you don’t have the dowry, get out right now!” Quickly, the person who was supposed to talk started fidgeting. “We have, Papa,” he cried out. “We have the dowry.” There was silence again.
“Good!” the uncle called out. “Is it out in the compound?” he asked. The groom’s spokesperson shook his head and instead handed over an envelope. The angry uncle smiled, albeit briefly, before passing the envelope to a gentleman on his left. “Count!” he ordered him.
There was silence, but it was the guilt on the spokesperson’s face that confirmed why the uncle’s face had suddenly gone stone cold again. See, the fella counting the money had whispered something in his ear, I suspect it was to say that the money was less.
“Seven Million Shillings!” he roared. “Seven Million Shillings!” He went silent for a while, then almost inaudibly spoke. “Now, where is the remaining money?” he asked. There was even more silence. “If it is not there, you will not see our daughter!” It was now coming 3am in the morning, this uncle was about to run the in-laws out of the house. News reached the bride to be, who had since lost patience, and she quickly asked her mum for a word. Next thing we knew, the mother was back and word was passed onto the uncle who instantly took a long sigh.
“Where is the balance,” he asked while passing the envelope back to the in-laws. Quickly, the spokesperson got onto his knees, demanded all the in-laws do the same and begged to be given time to bring the rest. Even the uncle on the chair had to drop on his knees.
"Papa we shall be coming back to visit in one month’s time with all the balance,” he begged. “Please, we encountered some trouble on the way and had to leave some there so we can at least come and see our wife.” It was not convincing enough, but after about 30 minutes of pleading and whispers from the girl’s mother, the uncle allowed.
“Okay,” he started. Everyone’s breath was on pause. “Bring the balance exactly one month from today.”
A curvy auntie could be seen wrapping her African lesu (scarf) around her hips in anticipation. “You can proceed to marry our daughter tomorrow.” the uncle said. Such a magical sentence.
Quickly, the charming auntie burst into the signature Ugandan ululation. It was an announcement to all and sundry that the traditional marriage was a go. The in-laws were pleased. All was well, not only could they sit, but they could take their wife too.
“Ayiyiyiyiyiyyeeeeeeeeee!” the auntie burst into a melodious ululation. The drums were played, the entire homestead that was somber became a ball of life. The bride’s make-up was touched up and she was brought to the living room to meet her sweat-stricken groom. It could have gone otherwise, but it didn’t.
Yes, marrying the Acholi girl is no joke!