AMONG African societies, the payment of dowry is one of the important issues that are considered so that a man is allowed to marry a girl.
Although the penetration of modernity has disrupted some of the cultures that were considered by those communities, the Agikuyu community still pays attention to some of its customs, for example the payment of dowry.
Recently, there was a dowry payment ceremony in Equator, Ndaragwa Sub-County, Nyandarua County, and this help one to learned a lot about dowry payment procedures in that community. Before a man is allowed to perform a wedding, he must complete all the dowry payment procedures. If the girl ran away from them and went to a man without telling their relatives, it is necessary for the man to report that he took there girl. The real meaning of that step is to tell the girl’s family not to look for your daughter because she is in a safe place.
“The man accuses himself that he took the girl, so they should not look for her anywhere,” says Elder Geoffrey Mukundi, who has been participating in the events.
He says that when the father goes to sue him, there is a certain fee that he pays to the girl’s parents or guardians. The second step is called “mwati na harika” (sacrifice sheep or goats). At this stage, the man pays a certain fee to express his intention to marry the girl or woman in question.
“Here, the man always expresses his intention to marry the girl, so no one should claim to marry her. However, he always gives a certain fee – in the form of money (counted as a goat),” explained Mzee Mukundi.
Also, a man is not paid a lot of money or “goats”, as these are the first steps to “buy” a girl. The third step is usually called ‘kumenya mucii’ (that is to know the home of the girl who is destined to be married).
At this stage, the man who plans to marry the girl is charged a certain fee as “entrance” to the girl’s house.
“This step is to allow the man to get to know the relatives of the girl he plans to marry, such as her parents and relatives,” says Mzee Kamau Mundia.
The fourth step is called ‘preparing ithigi’ (or planting a branch). According to elders, this is where the actual process of dowry payment usually begins. They say that at this point, the man usually gives arbuni—that is, the first payment to ‘buy’ the girl.
“At this stage, a deep conversation usually begins. It is at this stage that the elderly are properly involved. It is at this stage that they call their local liquor. Mothers also call their payment to the man who marries the girl. Due to the change of times, all payments are given in the form of money, instead of goats, as was the case in the past,” says Mzee Mundia.
The last step is the payment of the dowry itself, that is ‘ruraacio’ or ‘kuraacia’. At this stage, the girl’s family usually gives its speech. It always tells the price that it would want to ‘sell’ their girl.
It is at this stage that the elders who represent the man usually talk to those on the girl’s side to agree on how many goats (price or cost) the man will pay for the girl. Here, the man buys their (local) alcohol from the elders, as they are the only ones who participate in the action.
“This is only an action for the elderly. Thus, a man must be well prepared to fulfill their wishes, as thanks for helping him find a girl,” says Mr Mundia. After this step, the man is free to take the girl as his wife, without any debt.