Traditional Marriages in Uganda: Nikah, The Nubian Marriage
A Nubian wedding party in progress.

Traditional Marriages in Uganda: Nikah, The Nubian Marriage


Although all Nubians are Moslems, the first bride has the option of demanding that the groom never takes on another wife.

By Joseph Burite
more from author >>
First published: January 21, 2008


Also read more traditional marriages in uganda.


Since the colonial days, Uganda has hosted an ethnic group of people known as Nubians, originating from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. The traditions of these people are unbelievably fascinating. These are traditions so conserved that they are very unique. Numbering well over 10,000 in Uganda, Nubians are arguably the only tribe in Uganda that has all its members belonging to the Islamic faith. Indeed, their traditions are more or less in line with Islamic teachings.

A marriage in a Nubian setting is called the 'Nikah' (tying the knot) and it is conducted at a mosque or at the girl's home where it is presided over by a Sheikh (elder). It all begins with a boy and a girl agreeing to get married.Ordinarily, it is the boy that initiates the relationship, before the couple informs their parents. However, some conservative families still choose suitors for their daughters, ignoring the daughters' preferences. This is in relation to the Islamic belief that a parent should marry off their daughter in the best way they deem fit. This tradition is, however being challenged by western values which emphasize freedom of choice.

The boy's parents are supposed to get in touch with their counterparts on the girl's side to ask for her hand in the marriage on his behalf. Then, a visit to the girl's family by the boy's parents, intended to sort out the formalities for their children's marriage, follows. It is then that deliberations on the related terms and conditions are made. One of the items on the agenda of such a meeting is the gifts that will be received by the bride's family. Such items may include sugar, money, cooking oil, cloth and any other as may be demanded. Chandi Abdi, a Nubian who owns a media company in Kampala, says that it is common to find a special package of 'Kari' cigarettes for the older relatives of the bride among such gifts. He adds that in any Nubian marriage, the elderly are given priority in choosing gifts because they are highly respected and are believed to be capable of administering good luck.


Although all Nubians are Moslems, the first bride has 
the option of demanding that the groom never takes on another wife
Although all Nubians are Moslems, the first bride has the option of demanding that the groom never takes on another wife.

Before the Nikah at the mosque, the groom gets a chance to talk to the bride. This session is known as the Mahare (bride gifting) and the groom is supposed to ask the bride what she would like him to give to her. She can ask for such items as cars, houses or opt for nothing but love. The essence of this ceremony is to get the couple committed to marriage, for they get a feeling of being indebted to each other. Chandi says that some Nubian girls use this opportunity to make the men commit themselves to a monogamous marriage by asking them not to marry other women as is allowed by Islamic tradition.

Because she has the liberty of choosing whatever items she deems necessary, the bride is expected to use this opportunity optimally and reach a consensus with the groom on the terms of fulfillment. When a man fails to commit himself to the delivery of the girl's demands, the marriage can be halted. He, however, has the opportunity to pay in parts or pledge his commitment but in case a divorce happens afterwards, the girl's family is expected to pay back the items that were given by the man as mahare.

The Nikah climaxes with the couple tying the knot, which cements the couple as man and wife. This ceremony cannot be done if the bride is pregnant - she has to wait until she has given birth. It is blessed by a Sheikh in the presence of witnesses. However, the bride does not make an appearance there and she is expected to stay in hiding until she is ready to go to the groom's home. She is represented at the Mosque by her brother or father, depending on who in her family has the right of giving her away.

She does not appear before the people at the Nikah because there is a need to protect her from temptations in case she sees other men who might easily lure her out of committing her life to the groom. The groom can take the bride home after the Nikah has been performed but she will be wrapped up, to ensure that no other person sees her until she has reached his home.

The first obligation a bride is expected to perform when she reaches her new home is to prepare a meal for her new family. It is referred to as 'testing the hand of the bride' and it is done to confirm her potential to make a responsible wife who can fend for her family. It is by this test that the family takes their impressions of the new bride. Muhamed Adikata, a Nubian elder living in the Kampala suburb of Namuwongo says that if the family is not impressed, there is a possibility that the bride will be sent back to her parents so that she can perfect her cooking skills.

The origin of Uganda's Nubians

Occupying areas of Acholi and some parts of northern Buganda such as Bombo, the Nubians are descendants of a group of Sudanese army personnel who were brought into the country by the colonial government. They originated from a region near the Nuba Mountains in Sudan, explaining why they are called Nubians. Their closest relatives in Uganda are the Acholi, who are directly related to the Madi. These are all historically eastern Sudanese tribes.

Nubians gauge a bride's ability to fend for her family after she serves her first meal
Nubians gauge a bride's ability to fend for her family after she serves her first meal.

As Adnan puts it, it is because of their hospitable customs and friendliness that the Nubians settled easily in Uganda. They are now constitutionally recognised as one of the country's ethnic groups. Indeed, theirs is one of the very few Ugandan tribes that have managed to keep their customs more or less intact. Their zeal to propel their legacy looks every inch unchallengeable.

Also read more traditional marriages in uganda.

By Joseph Burite
more from author >>
First published: January 21, 2008
To learn more about Ultimate Media Consult go to www.ultimatemediaconsult.com.

Burite is an upcoming writer, currently pursuing his degree in Mass Communication at Islamic University in Uganda (IUIU), Mbale.