Brides and Cows

A growing and delightful part of our ministry in Uganda is pre-marriage counseling. In addition to working privately with couples who are engaged to be married, Mark recently taught a Uganda Christian University world view class session on the Christian model for marriage.

Carrying gifts at "The Introduction"
Our counseling and teaching is Bible-based and named "God's Plan for Men, Women and Marriage." While there are many cultural differences between the U.S. and Uganda in the process of courtship and tradition, we focus on universal truths from the Bible.

Starting in Genesis, we look at the creation of man and then woman as his companion and helper in a perfect environment. The serpent's deception leading to the fall of Adam and Eve resulted in curses from God. The woman has pain in childbirth and her desire is for her husband (she is emotional and relational). The man must toil hard to provide (he is task-oriented).

The antidote to the curses resulting from buying the serpent's lies is in Ephesians Chapter 5. Husbands are to love their wives (meeting the woman's relational and emotional needs) and wives are to respect their husbands (meeting the man's need for affirmation of a job well done). Key topics we cover include mutual trust, respect, love, communication, two becoming one, backgrounds, expectations, goals, finances and intimacy.

Observing the marriage traditions in Uganda is a huge challenge for couples. So much so that they form wedding committees made up of friends and family to help raise funds for the events.  Traditionally, the man is required to provide a bride price to her parents. Cows are the usual medium of exchange, but the prospective groom may also be expected to provide gifts including such things as refrigerators, television sets, furniture or even a car. Smaller gifts also are required for close relatives of the bride, such as aunties.

Mark n Margaret Introduction
Mark in kanzu, Margaret in gomesi
for "The Introduction"
These items are presented to the parents at an elaborate ceremony in the presence of guests prior to marriage called "The Introduction."  Families hire negotiators for each side to iron out the final price (this actually is pre-determined but re-created by the professionals for the benefit of guests before the gifts are brought in with great fanfare).  Introductions also include entertainment and a feast. The prospective bride and groom make separate appearances until the negotiations are complete, but then they come together as a couple to be recognized. Before Christianity in Uganda, the introduction was the marriage ceremony. Now Christian couples defer consummation of the marriage until after a church wedding.  A reception follows the wedding.

The great expense of following these traditions has led some couples who cannot afford them to live together in common law marriages. Culturally, it is more acceptable to live in a common law marriage than to ignore the traditions and have a simple wedding ceremony without an introduction.

While a few churches have offered wedding ceremonies apart from the traditions, the change is slow. On a positive note the old view that if a husband does not beat his wife, he does not really love her is changing and a better understanding of how to show love exists.  Also, many husbands and wives refuse to disclose or share their money with one another. There is great pressure for the wife to get pregnant in the first year of marriage to prove her fertility. There also is a preference for bearing male children and some men leave their wives if they only produce girls for another woman to try to produce a male heir.

In all our teaching, we put the Bible first. When traditions do not violate scripture, we can appreciate the culture. When traditions or practices do violate scripture, we point that out and do not participate in them.

Blessings and prayers,

Mark and Margaret Noblin