DOWRY; A CONTEMPORARY AND ANCIENT APPROACH AMONG KENYAN COMMUNITIES.
Dowry is a whole topic that makes eye rids to blink; in fact for men, it causes the pupil of the eye to dim as if they have moved from a brightly lit room to a dark one since the dowry process to some, has been an experience to forget soonest possible. In the ancient times, marriage was treated with utmost respect that had requirements to fulfill before being prestigiously declared husband and wife. One such crucial requirement to meet was payment of bride price. The old folks rarely gave their daughters away on credit as is in the contemporary times. Marriage was a transition, a rite of passage that had to be done with a ceremony big enough to surpass a New Year festival. I am beginning to sound nice with history, right? It is because times have moved and we don’t do those things any longer.
As I sip my cup of sweet fermented porridge whilst writing this piece, I take myself back into ages when the old men could be found seated around a pot full of fermented “busaa for Abagusii/muratina for Agikuyu” with a drinking pipe called “orokore among Abagusii” trying to plan of a new marriage yet to take place in the village. With such talk I can ascertain, the village elder was there to moderate the exercise. The old men could wake up very early in the morning on the fateful day of paying dowry for their son perhaps and walk very many kilometers to pay the “cows and goats”, the dowry which consisted of a flock of animals. Up to recent times it has been taboo to put such cows and goats on walking wagons-vehicles- until things were proven otherwise. The meals to be eaten were specific with such meals as beans being out of the menu. The fermented liquor was the stuff to place on the negotiation table or the payment table of which women were to be out of the equation. In a nutshell that was the principle of dowry payment among Kenyan communities with a few variations here and there specific to each tribe. However things have changed over the recent past.
My narrators tell me that the exercise is no longer profound; nowadays negotiations are done in terms of the financial ability of the groom and the education level of the bride. It is common to find a married woman with very big children who is married on “loan”, in other words no dowry has been paid for her. This approach is very common among many people in Kenya with advent of civilization. I tend to think that we are moving into an era of marriage without payment of pride price. To men it might be a sweet note out of which they can develop a symphony.
For the Abagusii, the Kalenjin and the Maasai, women are not allowed on the negotiation table; It is a no go zone except when bringing the meals. Among the Agikuyu, the partaking of the muratina is still there to date though not much common as were the old days. Among the Akamba, there is still some aspect of taking honey to the bride’s home during dowry payment. The reason for taking honey or muratina is your assignment. This are some of the small aspects that are trying to stand today despite the aspect of times changing. As I listen keenly to my Kalenjin narrator, he tells me that still a good number of animals must be paid to appease the girl’s kinsmen so that they can give you the go ahead. He believes the least they can ask in terms of cows is five to eight heads. Don’t forget though that “mursik” among the Kalenjin is a crucial meal during the exercise. For the Maasai on the other hand, meat and the milk-blood foodstuff is also a crucial meal during the exercise.
For the Agikuyu, the payment is a long term investment; you pay in installments as though you take their girl on hire purchase. You realize higher purchase price is expensive than Pay As You Take which is more spelt out among the Abagusii, Turkana, Maasai and kalenjin. The Akamba also operates on the later principle as does the Luhya but the payments are not largely cows and goats as does the other communities. As a matter of fact, the Akamba as my narrator from that land tells me is the best place to marry from since their dowry is the smallest of all the other tribes mentioned. My narrator from the Abagusii on the other hand tells me that if you are “promising” financially, and that the girl in question is educated to college or above, you have to trade your fortune to take her home. For the Luo tribe, being liquid is a good show if you want to get yourself “Adhiambo” as they are used to refer to any beautiful and precisely molded “jabel” from those regions. If she is an educated one, my Luo confidant tells me that you have to pay handsomely though the price can be chopped a little if your language, English, can win the kinsmen’s confidence in you.
Finally I wish to confide this in you, there is a likely hood you will pay your dowry in terms of real cows and goats if you are thinking to get yourself a woman from the Maasai, Kalenjin and Abagusii depending on situation and proximity to your in laws place. For the rest of the tribes, you are most likely to pay your dowry in terms of cash. I have taken four cups of porridge as I listen keenly to this discussion we have been holding over dowry payment for the past roughly four and half hours. I must say though that this narrator from Akamba has almost convinced me that their dowry is small. In our next discussion with my narrators about their ladies, I will make up my mind on where to look for Mrs. rock my world when such times to find a wife comes. I will take my last sip to crown this day.