We recently attended our first Acholi (the local tribe) wedding! The groom, George, is a guy that works with us at Lumi. George is an amazing guy.
George showing an agent how to complete product sales.
George interviewed with Lumi during our first week in Uganda. About 2 months later, we found out that he is actually a locally famous Acholi music artist with the stage name “Kiddy Face”. Apparently, he was quite the party and ladies man while his fame was raising, and then he became a Christian and switched to only performing Christian music. He has a strong heart for serving the poor and using his fame to help Lumi reach the villages (since everyone in the north has heard him on the radio). He is one of the most humble men I have ever met (but the concert posters might suggest otherwise).
A concert poster for one of George’s Gospel shows.
George and I (Rachel) have had good chats during a few drives to and from a nearby village called Acet (pronounced “ah-chet”) over the last year.
George (far left) and I helping an agent in Acet. This is what it looks like when Lumi has a meeting in the villages. Everyone sits under the biggest tree in the homestead and we bring a speaker to draw people from near by. This is my favorite photo from 2016 so far!
During one of our drives back in June or July, George told me that I should get ready to attend a wedding before the end of the year. Which was his way of saying that he had a serious girlfriend and they were going to try to get married. I was SO happy for him and could see his excitement overflowing from his smile. After we got back to Gulu that evening, he directed me to where his girlfriend, Irene works making and selling popcorn. She was really sweet. Jesse and I kept up-to-date from George about Irene and the progress of his wedding plans.
It is VERY hard to get married in Acholi culture. Well…not as much “hard”, as it is expensive. A “wedding” is really done in two parts. The first is called “Introduction” or sometimes called the “traditional marriage”. This is the part where the groom and his family introduce the groom to the family of the bride. This is also when the bride price is negotiated, which can get as high as thousands of US dollars. The groom doesn’t actually do the negotiating, but rather others (uncles, etc) do it on his behalf. Similarly, it is the uncles of the bride that negotiate for her side. While this practice has come under some scrutiny in recent times, I’m told that historically, the idea was that the groom’s family wanted to honor and thank the bride’s family for raising such a wonderful woman. Also, since the bride will leave her clan and join her husband’s clan, the bride’s clan was being compensated for her loss. Jesse and I did not attend the Introduction so that it wouldn’t suggest that “outside funds” might be available to George and therefore encourage his future in-laws to negotiate for a higher bride price.
George and Irene during Introduction.
The second marriage event is the “church wedding” for Christian Acholi couples. This is based on western weddings, but definitely have their own flare.
Church decorated for the wedding. Colors were royal blue and hot pink.
Jesse and I were on the Wedding Committee which met every Thursday night and was tasked with raising money for the wedding and managing all the preparations. To raise money, committee members were to ask family/friends to make pledges using these pledge cards.
A pledge card to raise money for the wedding.
It is not uncommon for expats who build relationships with Acholis to be given an Acholi name. It is not a nickname that one person uses to refer to you, but rather the name to represent you to all Acholis. An equivalent for example, would be when an Acholi becomes a Christian, they are given a “Christian name”. Americans would call it their middle name. Of course, I hoped to be given an Acholi name during our time here, but knew that it wasn’t something that you could make happen. Your name has to be given to you.
During one of the wedding meetings, a committee member asked me if I had an Acholi name yet. I said that I did not have one and after some discussion, George quite formally gave me the name “Aloyo”. He literally said something like, “I now bestow upon you the name Aloyo in the name of Jesus Christ.” It means victory, and I love my new name! My full name to an Acholi is now “Aloyo Rachel Jesse”, unless they know that I introduce myself as “Rachel Geiger”.
On the wedding day, we volunteered for the transportation team and were both drivers for the day (including the use of our car). We were the only white people in attendance at the wedding…let alone participating. We got a lot of laughs and questions as the white people driving Ugandans, as it is usually seen the other way around.
It was a long day as drivers, we started our day washing and decorating the car at 7am and got home at 10pm. As an extrovert, I was on cloud 9! I would do that once a month if I could. We were both happy to support our friend and colleague this way.
Our car picking up the bridesmaids from the salon. The salon is behind the yellow umbrella, where you can see the bride.
The wedding cars. Jesse drove our car and I drove a rented van like the one immediate in front. There were 5 cars in the procession and these were used to transport the photographer, videographer, and the wedding party to the wedding, to the post-wedding photo locations, and back to the reception. We also were lucky enough to drive the bride and groom home after the reception.
Something to Learn
Some parts were awkward/hard, of course. For example, during the wedding service, the pastor was discussing how great it is for a man to marry a woman and how strong African women are, how good they are at cooking and “producing” babies, when he decided to point to me (sitting near the back since I was a driver) and said, “all you African women can teach this one something”. Oh yes…that really happened. =)
My view of the wedding. We sat near the back since we were drivers. We sat with the Lumi guys. Taban is to my right. Now imagine all those people in front of me turning around when the pastor pointed me out! Eek!
George and Irene posed for a photo for me to send to Lumi’s founder, Thomas.
The wedding party. It is common in Uganda for the wedding party to visit a hotel and take pictures in the gardens/lawns and by the pool.
Then, after the wedding service, while the bridal party was getting their photos taken (and I was trying to avoid having mine taken by total strangers as the “white woman” at the wedding), I was told that I would be given a speech on behalf of Lumi, and that I didn’t need to worry because it ONLY needed to be about 5 minutes long! EEK! However, the people who spoke before me were actually very short, so I shortened mine at the last-minute. I tried to use some humor, but it TOTALLY failed (I think…no one laughed anyway) and then, following the suggesting of another colleague, I presented Lumi’s gift at the end of my speech…which apparently is a well understood way of saying that you want to leave soon and then everyone laughed. OOPS! George and Irene were very gracious and knew we were sticking around, so we didn’t actually insult the bride and groom.
Our view during the reception. Look at all the photographers! Only one of these guys are the actual photographer. The others are there to take pictures, print them out, and then ask guest to purchase the prints. You can see the cake stand in the back on the far right. The cakes spell “GEORGE” and “IRENE”. Those cakes are gifts to important groups of people, including Lumi!
Meeting the Families
Near the end of the reception, I was able to meet all of the Lumi guys’ families who had come to the wedding. One of our guys said that he would like for him and his girlfriend to come over to our house so they can learn from us. What an honor! Since Jesse and I both work at Lumi, the guys see us together all the time and our marriage has sometimes been a point of discussion with the guys at Lumi. Jesse and I work as equals and a lot of the ways we interact are uncommon in marriages here. If they comment, it is usually about my independence and individuality and Jesse’s comfort with and appreciation of that.
Jesse and I with three of the Lumi guys at the wedding service. This is a picture taken by one of the non-official photographers. In Uganda, it is common for men to make serious faces for photos. We were all laughing before and immediately after this was taken, I swear!
Driving Newlyweds Home
At the end of the night, we were driving the bride and groom home (after a long list of random delays, of course) and George said that the he was honored that we would spend our entire day to help with his wedding and that we are now more like family than coworkers. He said that spending our time to help him was worth more than giving money, which meant so much given the typical dynamics between expats and Ugandans. We said our goodbyes and sent them on their newly married way.
– Praise for growing relationships with our Ugandan friends.
– For the malaria outbreak in Northern Uganda to end.
– For investors to join Lumi.
– Praise God that even with the struggles of living here, we sometimes can’t imagine going back to life in the US because there is so much we love about living here.
– Praise God that we get to be a part of this work to serve the rural villages of Northern Uganda.
– Praise God that a Rachel has been able to join with a British missionary to begin setting up a water business to serve rural northern Uganda [more to come on this very soon]!
Thanks so much for following along!
~Rachel (& Jesse)