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Cultural series on weddings in Africa and in Europe. Today, Kenya

Updated: Aug 29, 2021

Episode #1 - Weddings in Kenya

AMAM, through its radio show, presents a cultural series based on traditions, food specialties and other things that bring us all together.

Culture is a notion that we all, as one humanity, share. Yet it comes in forms as diverse as there are people on our planet. How do we get closer to another culture? How does it make us different? AMAM wanted to explore this diversity by putting forward a notion: inclusion. No matter where we come from, we all share a passion for food, music, art... And we can all find ourselves in another culture, another tradition. We must take this as a way to bring us closer and not as a criterion of exclusion.

The second radio station presents the roots of how marriages also take place in the countries of origin of the hosts of our radio show.

We will go to see the beauty and will share with you wedding traditions that tie two lovers forever. So, once the two love birds have finally decided to involve their families in their private lovers' matters for the broom jumping ceremony, what happens?

Let's start with Eric, our project manager and host.

Dance during a traditional marriage in Kenya. Credit photo: CC

Kenya has many different wedding traditions - and they vary by tribe. Traditional weddings are often followed by a religious wedding or a marriage at the prosecutor's office.

Kenya has 42 tribes, each tribe has its own wedding traditions, customs and rituals. This is an important factor to consider, especially if inter-tribal marriages are taking place. In most cases, if there is a conflict of traditions between the tribes, the traditions of the woman's tribe will prevail, as it is the man who seeks the woman's hand in marriage and therefore the function must follow what must be done to obtain the woman's hand in marriage. In other cases, you have different traditional ceremonies on both sides, each attributing to the traditions of the tribe in which they take place.

Often there are two or three meetings between families before the traditional wedding, regardless of the tribe to which they belong. At the first, the bride's parents are visited by the groom, his father and uncles to show his interest in marrying their daughter; at the second, the bride price is negotiated; and finally, the bride price is paid and the marriage plans are finalized.

The groom is not allowed to speak at these meetings and negotiations, as most of the discussions are conducted by his father and uncles, with the exception of only confirming that he has really decided to ask for the ladies hand in marriage and that it is their personal decision (in the past, the elders, or in Swahili Wazee, decided for you, you had no choice). These were arranged marriages as the elders saw fit). The bride-to-be is usually not present until all these meetings are over. She stays hidden until she is called by the elders to confirm that the groom is "the one".

These ceremonies always involve a feast. There will be heaps of ugali, chicken, fish, beef, goat meat (fried, stewed and roasted), rice, chapattis, traditional vegetables, tea with mandazi and other traditional favorites depending on the tribe in question. Due to the huge cost of these feasts, most parents now prefer to merge all these different visits into one ceremony.

Of course, these gatherings vary from tribe to tribe, but most include them in some form or another.

Let's take a closer look at the wedding traditions of the Kamba tribe:

Kambas traditionally have many wedding gatherings, the first of which is like a secret operation. It is called "kuasya" - which loosely translates as "to announce". The man's parents and perhaps an uncle will visit his lover's parents to express his interest. If the young woman's parents like their future son-in-law, he gets the green light. If not, his family must quietly slip away, as if nothing had happened.

The second meeting, attended by the groom, his parents and uncles, is usually to seek the blessing of the parents and elders for the planned union. This is the official launch of the planned union by the elders of both parties.

If all goes well, a third meeting is scheduled. It is called "ntheo". Here the groom must now provide two goats and a billy goat which are slaughtered immediately to bless the union. The goat is slaughtered by none other than the groom himself. This gesture symbolizes the groom's position of being able to take charge of events and make things happen. It is also on the occasion of this ntheo that the groom is expected to rally his family to the home of his bride to cook for his entire family - a sign that they can take care of his wife. But yes, these days a caterer is hired to help with the logistics. During this ntheo session, the end of which signifies that the groom and bride are now officially married according to tradition, the dowry is negotiated - part is paid immediately and the rest is paid in installments over a long period of time. The presumption of payment over a long period is that this union and friendship is not a one-time event. It will grow and flourish over time. It is a friendship between the two parties that will last forever. Nowadays, dowry is often misinterpreted as "buying the girl as property". This is not the case and it is not the reason why the dowry/ bride price is in place. We see cases where some men have abused women in the name of "I paid the dowry for you".

The bride price/dowry, as originally planned, was as follows:

1. To show appreciation to the lady's parents for raising a lady worthy of marriage - for even the good book says, "he who finds a wife, finds a good thing."

2. A measure of gratification for the parties who received visitors. A sign of good faith and a measure to start the budding relationship between families on a good note.

3. It was so that the man could show responsibility and foresight; the same responsibility and foresight that would be expected of him when he entered a family with the lady.

It was all these beautiful things before the negative associations came into play.

The fourth and final ceremony is the "mathaa". This is a ceremony in which the whole community, on the woman's side, gathers to give her daughter a good start in her new home. They offer her money, household items, traditional clothing, etc. so that she can start a happy home. The lady is sent to her new home because from that moment on, she ceases to be called by her father's name and is now referred to by her husband's name. The lady adopts the husband's name and can even legally change her name on all official documents.

Once the traditional wedding is over, people move on to a formal wedding at the church or mosque, or at the Attorney General's office, which are the two marriage options recognized by the Kenyan constitution as legal. Traditional marriage is cultural. Thus, most people in Kenya normally have 2 marriages, a traditional/cultural marriage and an official church/mosque/AG marriage.

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