Kenya is home to more than 40 tribes. Each tribe has unique wedding ceremony traditions and marriage practices. Although some elements of the traditional practices related to marriage have been challenged, traditional weddings remain an important piece of African culture and will continue to be passed down for generations to come.
The dowry (bride-price) is a tradition that involves several visits to the bride’s family. Payment of bride-price is an age-old tradition in African societies that is used to demonstrate the groom’s worthiness as a suitor, and indicate that he is capable of adequately providing for his bride. Different the tribes in Kenya have unique customs. Among the Kikuyu for example, grooms used to pay a dowry with cows, goats, honey, green bananas, traditional brews, etc., although, modern-day Kikuyus pay the dowry in cash. The groom and his family pay all the expenses related to the dowry and the dowry itself.
Among the Kikuyu, the first visit by the groom’s family is an official visit called kumenya mucii. This is followed by another visit called kuhanda ithigi, the day on which the groom declares his intentions. Traditionally, these were done on different dates but now they are combined to save time. To signify these two are different visits, the groom’s family briefly leaves the bride’s family after the kumenya mucii and comes back for the kuhanda ithigi. At kuhanda ithegi, the groom is expected to give a token to the girl’s parents, usually monetary, which implies ‘booking’ her, so that no other suitor can place a claim on her.
During the kuhanda ithigi, both families select representatives who meet to discuss the bride price. The bride’s family has a lot of influence on how long this process takes, and depending on the family, the negotiations may take months. A bride is advised to talk to her family prior to this day and put in a good word for the groom. It is more difficult if the marriage is inter-cultural since there is a language barrier and stereotypes that can hinder objective discussion. Assuming all goes well, everyone leaves happy, looking forward to the day they will come back with the dowry called ruracio.
On the day of the dowry payment, friends and family gather to witness. An important note is that it is not offensive if one attends an event even if they were not invited. Kenyans believe the more the merrier. The groom pays for all the expenses related to this event. All gather at the bride’s parents’ home. There is no universal way of conducting this; it mainly depends on the families involved.
The groom is put to test by having several female friends and relatives, with similar build and height of the girl he wishes to marry, go inside the main house in the homestead, cover themselves from head to toe with traditional shawls called lessos, and emerge for the groom to select his bride. If he fails to pick the right woman, he is fined. After successful dowry payment, the man is allowed to keep the girl as his wife from that day forward. This is called a custom marriage. Custom marriages are not recognized as legal in Kenya, and therefore, most Christian couples plan a church wedding after the dowry has been paid.
Happy note: Project 82 employee Ellie is currently planning her August 2014 wedding. See it here!
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