- QUADRUPLE BLESSING. What ideally was meant to be their late father’s memorial day, turned out to be a wedding for four brothers at St Wilbroad’s Catholic Church, Nagongera-Tororo on June 23, writes TONY MUSHOBOROZI.
It is few minutes past 10am. A small van pulls up and parks under a young teak tree at St Wilbroad’s Catholic Church, Nagongera in Tororo. Seven colourfully-dressed young women alight. On the verandah of the imposing parish church, the choir puts final touches on the songs to be sang at the nuptials in a few minutes.
The cold and quiet church yard has suddenly become a warm hive of activity. People gradually arrive on foot, bicycles, motorcycles and in cars. They animatedly exchange pleasantries, their wild laughter and energetic hand gestures are cordial. I learn that some are friends and relatives who have likely not met in years. Outstanding are women making high-pitched ululations. In that moment, all problems of life seem to give way to joy like darkness gives way to light. Four brothers are about to do one of the most brotherly things; have a church wedding on the same day in the same church.
One by one, four bridal cars arrive, each with a different bride. All of a sudden, the grooms that had been pacing the church premises almost unnoticeable to strangers like yours truly, greet people and join a team of black and maroon clad young men who are their best men. They straighten their jackets, adjust their neck ties and enter the church.
We are about to witness a perfect brotherhood. Four pious gentlemen enter the church, march to the altar with soft instrumental music playing in the background. They await the grand entry of their brides. Whether it meant saving money or any other reason, this is not only a humbling spectacle, but an achievement of cosmic proportions. I cannot help but feel envious.
As the brides emerge from their cars outside, the choir burst into song inside the church. The echoing acoustics of this 20th Century sanctuary add an edge of excitement to this novelty wedding.
Besides the four brides, the entourage consists of 36 people flower girls, page boys, bridesmaids, maids of honour and groomsmen. It triggers a royal wedding feel.
Having entered the church one after the other amid electric excitement, the four brides sit next to each other in the front row, with smiles of contentment and paramount relief. Behind them are their four maids of honour who arrange and rearrange the wedding gowns and veils. The maids and the flower girls follow in the third row, all looking immaculate. Across the aisle, the same sitting arrangement is on the grooms’ side.
Resplendent. As the four brothers professed their love, each to his bride, it finally hits me that I’m witnessing something so special that I will probably never see again in my life. After each couple exchanges their vows, the audience ululates. The ultimate statement of love, humility and oneness.
Cause of the big do
However, there is a troubling twist when I get to talk to their mother.
“Thirty years ago,” Lucy Akoth narrates, “my husband and father to the four grooms was murdered, leaving me the uphill task of looking after nine children. It was very hard raising nine children without their father. His absence in their lives caused some of them, boys especially, to grow up with a lot of bitterness. Several times that bitterness was directed at me.
It broke my heart to see my boys so angry at me after all I had to go through to raise them, but I could not bring myself to blame them. Sometimes the brokenness of my boys reached a point of getting violent towards me. In those low moments, I wished I could die, but then I put myself in their shoes and forgave them. All I did was pray for them. I prayed that they would love each other and know that all they had was their brotherhood. It has only been the grace of God.
“Anyway, when they grew older, we started a culture of holding annual memorial celebrations in honour of my husband. During those celebrations, we meet and pray for each other and remember that we are family.” However, the children got busy and the annual memorial celebrations in the village was suspended. Akoth and her childrenhad not held her husband’s memorial in five years. At the beginning of this year, a dream changed their lives.
“Then in January this year, I dreamt about my late husband. In the dream, he came back to me and asked why every year, we pray for everyone else in the family but him. The next day, I called my children and told them about the dream. To my surprise, they brushed it off.”
Three months later, I had a recurrence of the exact dream. This time I got on the next taxi to Kampala to talk to them. My husband was asking us to pray for him and I was not about to let my children take that lightly. I needed to meet them so that we could plan a day when all of them would be available to pray for their father.
Setting the date
After meeting them, we agreed to have the memorial on May 12. The plan was to have a priest say mass at home. We would call our friends and relatives to join us in according to my husband’s wishes.
“It was during one of the meetings that Maureen Asinde, my eldest daughter-in-law mentioned that it was okay with her husband to wed during the memorial. And like that, something great was conceived. Like my eldest boy, three of my other sons who were cohabiting considered it. It seems when word reached the others, they thought it would be a good idea. That is how the wedding you see today came to be.”
Asinde, 39, set this in motion. She says when the idea to do a grand memorial ceremony at home was put on the table, she saw an opportunity to make her relationship with her fiancé of 18 years official. They have six children, and their first born is a 15-year-old girl.
Turning out great
“I can’t believe that this day has come to pass. Harder to believe is how big and colourful it has turned out. The planning was improptu. The idea was born in April when my mother-in-law came to visit us in Kampala. I had just narrowly survived death from a blood clot after giving birth. Now that God had given me a second chance, I would make my marriage right before God. I thought it would be great if the priest could wed my husband and I during the memorial, and my husband was okay with it.
“The moment the priest said it was okay, my husband and I braced ourselves to make our union legitimate by consecrating it to God. Before long, my other three sisters-in-law decided, one by one that they would love to get wedded on the same day. The memorial ceremony was slated for May 12, and so we had more than a month to the day. Then the church officials told us we had to get premarital counselling for a month, and that banns had to be made for at least three weeks. That meant that May 12, was too soon. That is how the date was moved to June 23,” Asinde recalls.
Stephen Wandera Ojumbo, the eldest of the brothers, says when the idea was conceived to have a joint wedding, his brothers welcomed it. He says: “To us, this was an opportunity to do something memorable and to honour our mother who had always wanted all of us to get married in church. At first, we just wanted to simply exchange rings at the memorial of our late father at home but the moment all the families and in-laws got involved, things changed. Suddenly, meetings were held to organise the wedding both in Tororo and Kampala. Money was contributed towards the event and before long we realised our wedding wouldn’t be as simple as we had hoped. For an idea that was conceived less than three months ago, this wedding has surpassed all our wildest dreams.”
Richard Oloka, the youngest of the four grooms, who works in Somalia, says “Some people were worried that I would not make it. I arrived six days to the wedding, which means I had a few days to do a million things unlike my other brothers. I didn’t have a suit and my wife had no wedding gown,” Oloka says.
“Some in-laws had high expectations and it was hard to convince them that we wanted a simple do, so we had to compromise a lot. Luckily, we had four bulls even when the number of invited guests grew, we were sure to feed them,” says Wandera.
After the vows at church, the four brothers host a mega wedding reception in Nagongera Town. As they arrive with their brides, escorted by the biggest bridal entourage you will probably ever see, the crowd ululates and claps. At the entrance of the venue, four bridal arches stand apart, each representing a couple. The arches are erected one in front of the other so that a hallway of some sort is created.
Four semi-detached high tables placed strategically, one next to the other, and now that the newlyweds have arrived, the lights turned on, making them sparkle like heaven. Four imposing wedding cakes are the centre piece of the event, standing at the centre of the outdoor venue. Four tents have been erected for the four different groups of in-laws.
As couples dance, almost everyone joins them. They whip out phone cameras to capture the magical moments. Blaring and thematic music sees old women dance and young men eye the bridesmaids. In this celebration, one person you could not miss is the grooms’ mother. She dances with joy and greets her friends with a radiant smile. She later stands up to give a speech as everyone goes quiet.
Of all the speeches, hers is the most awaited. Her voice tears through the crowds as they nod their heads. She is the queen of this kingdom and everyone knows it. They hold onto her every word as she tells of how this event came to be. It started 30 years ago when her husband was murdered in the presence of her and her children.
It is a wedding that will be talked about for decades and she is at the centre of it all.