By Harriet Birungi
It is quite hard to imagine that once upon a time, bridal transport was simply the muscular power of volunteers.
Forget the drama and glamour of motorcades today, in pre-independence Uganda, and shortly after Independence, bridal transport was about honour. Justus Kyempene and Benon Kamuhanda, elders from Mbarara and Rwampara, respectively, shared their memoirs.
They said back then bridal transport was a stretcher, locally known as kigagara in Runyankore. The bride would sit on the stretcher and strong men would volunteer to carry her from her home to the place of worship for the wedding ceremony. They would also carry her to the reception venue, which was the groom’s home.
Men, who would volunteer to lift the poles of the stretcher, considered it an honour to be used as transport for the bride. They would go on talking for days about it, and as a show of gratitude, the groom’s family would serve them food on clay plates, which are locally known as orwabya.
As the years went by, bicycles were adopted as bridal transport. The groom was ridden to the place of worship, and later the bride would be picked and ridden there too. Separate bicycles were used for the groom and bride. The bicycles would be booked months in advance since they were few.
Mzee Kyempene says after bicycles, they upgraded to lorries whose cargo bed was made of logs (bibaaho).
“The lorries would be used to transport the bride’s entourage to the place of worship and later wedding reception,” said Mzee Kyempene.
Back then the bridal entourage comprised: the bride, her paternal aunt (shwenkazi), young women of marriageable age, her parents and siblings. The lorry would wait at church and later ferry them to the groom’s home. The lorry, which would be hired from the district or the rich man in the village, was rented out at sh5.
Peugeots and others
As the country experienced more development, the French Peugeots: 302, 402 and later 504 graced the bridal transport scene.
The Peugeot eased movement to and from the reception venues and stirred a lot of excitement as the guests would wait patiently to view the bride.
However, the bride had to exercise a lot of patience because the groom would be dropped off at a walkable distance to the place of worship and the same vehicle would be turn back to pick the bride.
After the Peugeot monopoly, Japanese Toyota Sunny and Violet also made their way on the wedding scene. These were gladly welcomed even though they did not ferry as many people as lorry bibaaho.
“They had a spacious interior and kept the bride concealed until she arrived at the groom’s home, where she was unveiled,” recalled Kamuhanda.
He said the Toyota Sunny and Violet’s popularity can be compared to the Premio today.
Today, the dominant vehicles in wedding transport are the C and E Class of the Mercedes Benz. For the high-end clients, it is the Range Rover Sport, said Ronald Mugabe, the managing director of Trinity Executive Rides.
“The C and E Class Benzes are dominant majorly because there is a big fleet of them available and are largely affordable for most clients,” explained Mugabe.
Mugabe said the service is mainly chauffeuring the bridal entourage from and to the respective destinations such as: the salon to church/mosque, to the photo-shoot and finally the reception venue.
The vehicles are washed, fuelled and with a chauffeur, who observes utmost professionalism while on duty. In addition, client, service provider and chauffeur must exhibit utmost respect for each other by way of dress code, communication and time management.
Mugabe added that cleanliness is key and expected from both sides. “It would be absurd for me as a service provider to bring a dirty car to a client and the same would be absurd of a client; say on a rainy day, to get into the car with lots of mud on their shoes,” said Mugabe.
He further said: “We also discourage unnecessary interaction between the chauffeur and the client’s entourage as we ensure to let them enjoy as much peace and less noise on such a special day. We mostly play soft music in the car to create a relaxing environment for the client and the entourage.”
To guard against any hiccups while in transit, Mugabe says that as transport service providers, they ensure the vehicles are constantly well maintained to be in great mechanical shape.
“We ensure that only professional drivers with experience in driving bridal motorcades handle our clients. To us, orientation of drivers is key and we only allow drivers to take clients after subjecting them to several tests while driving with teammates,” he said.
Cars in vogue
Mugabe said the trendy cars include: most Mercedes Benz classes, especially the C, E, S, ML and G-Class. In addition, the Jaguar S-type, the Range Rover Sport and Vogue are also trendy.
The hire fees depend on the choice of car, for example, the Benz C-Class (mostly available in silver colour) ranges between Sh250,00 and 300,000 within Kampala. This is the entry level option. The E-Class Benz ranges between Sh350,000 and 400,000.
On the higher end, the Range Rovers are between Sh800,000 and Sh2m, depending on which models one chooses.
“All those are Kampala rates. Outside Kampala, we negotiate depending on the distances in question,” he said.
And like most businesses, Mugabe said they suffered in the Covid-19 lockdown as an events-based business.
“We suffered a longer lockdown even when some other businesses were cleared to operate. We have also had to revise our rates so as to fit in the low budgets of most clients’ weddings today,” he said.
He added that the market has shrunk as most people are facing financial constraints and have either postponed weddings or had simple scientific weddings.
“We however are trying our best to stay afloat in this business without compromising the quality of service,” said Mugabe.
Tips to consider when choosing a bridal car
Mugabe advised that the best approach would be to:
· First do thorough research on which cars are available on the market and at what price.
· Identify a trustworthy professional wedding transport service provider.
· Choose the cars that fit your budget so that you do not end up failing to pay for the service. Some clients choose the fancy cars expecting that their friends will contribute, but in the end they do not. So, the couple has to choose vehicle options they can comfortably afford even if nobody else contributed towards them.
· Keep checking up on your service provider, especially days to your event so that everything goes according to plan
· Clients should make early deposits to book their motorcade. Searching for wedding transport on the last minute could lead you into great disappointment.