The extended period Alcinda Honwana[i] and others have referred to as “waithood” is part of everyday life for many young people in Uganda’s capital city Kampala. Limited opportunities for secure employment and delays in schooling due to lack of fees can delay the achievement of markers of adulthood, such as marriage or homebuilding, by years or even decades. As Honwana rightly notes, waithood is not a time of passive waiting, but a period of struggling, trying, and planning to find ways to move forward with one’s life.
Yet, in the focus on this period itself and the improvisational strategies used to survive or even thrive in it, it is easy to forget that for many, maybe even most, it does eventually end. Weekends in Kampala are filled with “functions” - graduation parties, kukyala[ii] visits, fabulous kwanjulas[iii], and lavish weddings. While such events do not negate the on-going presence of waiting in the lives of many, they also mark a significant achievement, an end to the waiting, in the lives of many others.
On May 19th one of our lab collaborators, George Mpanga, married Agnes Namukwaya at Namirembe Cathedral in central Kampala. Agnes and George have been together for fifteen years and have had five children together, including a pair of twins. This marriage was what is commonly referred to as okutukuza obufumbo, a “cleansing marriage,” a final step in a long process including courtship, partnership, child rearing, and a traditional kwanjula ceremony which took place in 2010.
After the 400-guests had been announced and seated for the reception under two white tents flanking a long white runway, George and Agnes’s children beamed as they led the wedding party in their grand entrance, making their way to the glittering high table at the front of the reception garden. As the wedding party danced their way down the runway in careful choreographed steps, it began to become clear to me that this wedding was not only a celebration of a new marriage - the marriage was, in most ways, already well established – but rather the celebration of a certain form of collective prosperity. The co-presence of the long-wait and the lavish event make it clear that it is not only marriage that people wait for, but the opportunity to enjoy a particular kind of marriage.
Like all weddings in Uganda, this one had been paid for and organized both by the couple, but also, and perhaps more importantly, by the kin and friends gathered at the celebration. The key players had been meeting for months before the wedding at gatherings dedicated to refining and circulating the budget, gathering pledges, and organizing the event itself. This broad network of supporters was recognized in the speeches which went on throughout the reception, and then again in the distribution and redistribution of portions of cakes and even wedding gifts to those involved in creating the event and those who had not been able to attend. This wedding not only represented an accomplishment for George and Agnes, but an achievement and a bringing together of their extended families.
The waiting may be long, but those who wait do not wait alone…and waiting isn’t always forever.
[i] Honwana, Alcinda. 2012. The Time of Youth: Work, Social Change, and Politics in Africa. Lynne Rienner Publishers.
[ii] The Kukyala visit is the first step in the marriage process. During this visit the prospective husband visits the prospective wife’s paternal aunt to declare his intentions.
[iii] The Kwanjula is the elaborate introduction ceremony during which a prospective husband is formally introduced to a prospective wife’s parents and community.