Unpacking Uganda’s Diverse Culture: How the Bahima Prepare Girls for Marriage in Western Uganda

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Uganda boasts a rich cultural heritage with diverse ethnic groups, each carrying distinct traditions. Among them, the Bahima of Western Uganda’s Ankole region stand out for their unique marriage preparation methods. This community, known for its cattle-keeping practices, holds a special bond with their cows.

Spread across central and mainly western districts, such as Kiruhura, Kazo, Ntungamo, Mbarara, Rukungiri, Lyantonde, and Gomba, the Bahima people have roots deep in their land.

In their culture, beauty is often associated with fat, particularly for women. When a girl is chosen for marriage, she undergoes a process that focuses on increasing her body size.

This involves ensuring minimal physical exertion for the bride, along with a diet rich in milk, ghee, and fatty meat. A specialist oversees her intake to ensure she reaches the desired size promptly. This process is known as okuhumuza.

“I recall my marriage preparation. I spent around six weeks at home, closely monitored by an aunt who made sure I consumed milk and yoghurt regularly. In that time, I reached the ideal size expected by my family,” shared Kenyonyozi from Rushere in Kiruhura district.

Grooming practices include using ghee to enhance skin beauty instead of lotions, oils, or jelly, giving the girls a radiant and smooth appearance.

Enid Kabiibi, an accountant from Kampala with roots in Ntungamo district, mentions another practice where girls use herbal steam treatments for vaginal health, hygiene, and as a form of family planning.

“Marriage readiness involves intimate advice from a relative, guiding one to steam using herbs and hot water in a basin while covered. This method aims to maintain cleanliness, prevent infections, and manage family planning,” explained Kabiibi.

The marriage preparation formally starts with the groom’s family negotiating the bride price in a ceremony known as Okujugisa. Following this, the process of preparing both the cattle and the bride progresses towards Okuhingira, the traditional ceremony of giving the bride away.

This distinct tradition signifies the husband’s wealth and echoes the Ankole saying, “I would rather die than be ashamed.” Marriage holds high esteem in Ankole culture, and the Bahiima community takes pride in their customs and traditions.

The Bahiima community from Western Uganda’s Ankole region offers a fascinating peek into the country’s diverse cultural heritage. Their marriage preparation custom mirrors their deep cultural roots and values, reflecting a rich tradition that is both unique and cherished within the community.

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