In Uganda, just like other African countries, the concept of marriage is a very sensitive one that involves parents preparing young ones early enough for the institution. A lot of individuals play a crucial role in preparing children for their later lives as part of the socialization process. For the case of the girl child, the Senga’s role cannot be overlooked in grooming her for womanhood and marriage by offering them sex education.
Senga is a Luganda term referring to a paternal aunt. This does not imply that it is only among the Baganda where they are held with a high regard; other tribes in Uganda have terms that mean paternal aunt and also recognize their role in preparing adolescent girls for their marriages. For instance among the Gishu, they are referred to as , and the Banyankole call them Shwenkazi.
In terms of preparation, the Senga offers sex education, a form of informal education, to her nieces, and this entails: respect for their husbands, preserving virginity, beauty, hygiene, okukyalira ensiko literally meaning “visiting the bush” –a practice where girls elongate their labia minora through pulling to enhance sexual pleasure for both parties, and very many other traditional values. It should be noted that these vary across tribes and what could be very important in one may not be in another.
Recognizing the importance of the Senga is a practice that has been carried on for generations. Right from the ancient times, Sengas were respected in their families to an extent that the bride price package also had to include a special token for the Senga as a way of thanking her for the good work done, and this has been carried on to date during “Kwanjula” (introduction) ceremonies.
In the African traditional, in case a girl failed to present what was required of her at the time of marriage, she would be referred back to her Senga in order for her to get proper training. This was made even easier by the fact that families were extended, with relatives living in homesteads where they could easily associate with each other. In the modern day, families have got so disintegrated to an extent that the extended family setting is continuously being weakened due to the high levels of mobility, giving way to the nuclear family.
With such a change, it has become more complicated for girls to get into contact with their paternal aunts, while some of them don’t have them at all. This does not mean that they cannot access this kind of preparation. Parents now go an extra mile of sending off their daughters to spend some time with their Sengas. That aside, commercial Sengas are now available, and while some have established hubs where they can be found, others move around, offering their services to those willing to receive.
The HIV/AIDS scourge has made the role of the Sengas more crucial in its prevention. To date, some parents still lack the courage to offer their children sex education and thus prefer the services of another party. This is where Sengas come in handy as they can be more effective in counseling youngsters on safer sex if the former are equipped with the necessary information.
In the traditional period, children were believed to be very innocent and ignorant about matters of sex and that is why sex education was an independent subject during their socialization. However, in the current situation, with a lot of information being accessed by all individuals because of the information revolution, children are able to access all the information that they need on issues to do with sex. Despite all this, the role of the Senga is indispensable and is just part of the evidence that our culture has to a greater extent been preserved.
Enid Karen Nabumati