Muireann taking photos in Uganda

 

Mac Cool's Uganda Letter

Photographs and Stories by Muireann Mac Cool

 

B l o g

Ugandan Wedding Budget

01 Mar 2008

Balancing the books for a wedding is no easy feat no matter where you are from.

No matter which country in the world you are in, there is definitely big money to be made on weddings. Service providers, in Uganda like elsewhere, charge plenty for flowers, venue hire, cars, decorations and food. When price lists and photos albums are placed before you with services costing in the millions, you do wonder where Ugandans get the money (even if they are shillings) to pay for their dream day.


Although the average wedding budget is no where near that of a typical Irish wedding budget or the dizzying and decadent wedding budgets of the Ugandan elite it was still a challenging amount to raise in relation to local wages. How you wonder, do they do it?


In contrast to Ireland, the grooms and their families are charged with the task of organising the big day, as the brides are responsible for the traditional engagement ceremonies (e.g. Kwanjula). Brides are told to dress themselves and show up on the day and traditionally that is where their involvement ended, however modern brides are taking a more active role. Despite this, the majority of the finances are raised by the groom and his family.

Large family gatherings are held to raise money, to share ideas, pool resources and to plan the event. In addition, other wedding meetings are held for friends and colleagues of the couple to fundraise and to organise. More often than not a core group of friends and family members will voluntarily run the event for the couple acting as ushers, timekeepers, MCs, and coordinators on the day itself. These people are essential in pulling of a fantastic day.


The wedding meetings are held for the expected ‘invited’. This huge group contribute financially towards the couple’s budget pledging towards paying for a service or offering an in-kind service. The aim of the meeting’s chairperson is raise as much physical cash at each meeting, sourcing willing volunteers, brainstorming and trying to gain consensus for the expenditure in the budget. The couple bring a budget to the meeting, sometimes inflated, for the ‘invited’ to discuss.


Some couples forget that the backgrounds and the financial position of the ‘invited’, as well as their own finances, dictate the total cost of the wedding. Many a couple have drafted elaborate and costly budgets in the hope that others would shoulder the bulk cost, only to find themselves falling short. It is easy for the ‘invited’ to assume that the couple have the surplus cash for all the expensive trimmings that the couple have insisted on having. Like wedding planning elsewhere, ‘balance’ must enter the equation. The couple need to budget as if they were to pay for the wedding themselves and need to be willing to put up the majority of the money. When you give generously and sensibly to your own function invariably others will follow suit.

Ugandan budget etiquette means leaving blank spaces beside certain parts of the budget that the couple should pay for, for example rings or wedding favours. It can be seen as crass to boast about how much the wedding dress will actually cost to buy or to rent. If family or friends insist on seeing a figure placed on the budget it is sound to deflate the cost of such purchases to be in line with average prices.

Ugandan weddings come in two sizes- big and bigger. With more guests and contributors come more voices and opinions especially when it comes to the budget. This is also where Irish and Ugandan weddings are different. While an Irish bride may feel pressure from the media images and her desire to create a fantastic looking wedding to remember, a Ugandan couple face pressure directly from society at their wedding meetings. It can be daunting when relatives and friends are shouting for groomsmen when there are usually none or demanding for wedding favours when the couple are overstretched.

There may not be consensus at every wedding meeting and couples learn to play politics, fighting their corner, learning to concede, or for those great manipulators, getting their own way underhandedly. Like in Ireland, the couple soon learn that they need to be united on what they want and don’t want and to hold true to that- supporting each other in the face of the masses, to control the budget.

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