Kikuyu Dowry Payment Procedure, Ruracio

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If you are planning to marry a Kikuyu,you have to pay dowry and follow the procedures necessary for you to be allowed to marry the lady.Ruracio is the name given for dowry payment to Agikuyu community.

Introduction

The Kikuyu are found in Kenya and live mainly around Mt. Kenya in the Central Province. They believe to be the descendants of Gikuyu (father) and Mumbi (Mother) whose origin was in Mukurwe wa Nyagathanga (meaning a certain tree-mukurwe, with a certain species of birds-nyagathanga). This is a place in Murang’a Central Kenya. The Kikuyu believe in one deity (Ngai mwene hinya) who they believe lived in the highest peak of Mt. Kirinyaga (today’s Mt. Kenya). They are traditionally farmers and good livestock keepers. Their products from the farm and animals were key in trade. Infact, dowry payment was counted in form of goats, sheep and cattle. The man with many daughters considered himself wealthy since each daughter’s dowry would propel him to a higher level in the society.
Today, dowry payment precedes a wedding in Kikuyu. The dowry payment is in a series of events namely “Kumenya mucii” (getting to know the bride’s home), “Kuhanda ithigi” (literally means planting a branch of a tree), followed by “Kuracia” (actual dowry payment) ..This last process lasts a lifetime. Itara (getting to see the nest or nesting place of their daughter) which is a visit to the Groom’s homestead is next and finally Kuguraria (aka gutinia kiande) the traditional kikuyu wedding of antiquity.
Letting the word out

A man first proposes to a lady and after she agrees to be married, a series of events follow.
The groom approaches his parents/guardians and informs them of his intention of marrying. The parents then enquire about the lady’s background, e.g. clan from which she comes from, her community etc. This is to ensure that there is no cross marriage between family members. Once they are satisfied with the information, the groom’s father/guardian informs the extended family and clan who then go ahead to convene a special committee of reputable village elders “athuri’. Their task is to organize and facilitate the dowry payment process and also the wedding. From this committee the groom’s father/guardian chooses a spokesman for the dowry and marriage negotiations. The spokesman must be self-controlled, wise and be able to rise to the occasion. This is a key post.
NB: The groom must have passed through the initiation stage (circumcision) and belong to a ‘rika’ or age group otherwise complications in negotiations could be introduced.
The bride also approaches her parents/guardian and informs them of her intention to get married. The parents/guardians then enquire about the groom’s family, clan and community. They then inform the extended family members, clan and community at large. Like the groom’s side, they also form a committee to facilitate the dowry payment process and also the wedding. The bride’s father and uncles have the sole responsibility to decide who joins this committee.

Who makes a reputable village elder.
There are certain qualifications that elders must meet in order to qualify to be in the committee of elders.
• The Committee elder should be of the same age group as the bride/groom’s father.
• He should have married and have children with a good reputation and standing in the community.
• Be a member of the ‘kiama’ of the community. This is achieved by presenting ‘mburi’ (goats) for the leaders and other members ‘mburi ya kiama’.

THE PROCESS

When the man wants to marry the woman, he first proposes to the woman. If she agrees, he then sets a meeting with elders of his tribe. Elders are usually members of the extended family who are in their 60’s and above. He then sends this delegation to the girl’s family. Before they go, they send word that they want to visit on a certain date. Usually, this is done between 1-3 months. The entourage is usually a group of 8-15 members. When the elders go to the girl’s home, they are met by the girl’s family, who also have by this time called their group of elders. They usually bring small gifts of dry foods, for example rice, wheat, sugar, tea, cooking oil, etc. This is a common practice when one visits any family, and so this is not part of the dowry. After the food and the warm welcome, the elders of the man say something like this. We have an interest in one of your “sheep” or we have noticed one of your sheep, and we would like to bring her to our homestead. Likewise, if a girl elopes, the elders go to the boy’s home and say something like this. “We have lost one of our sheep, and we heard that it was seen here….
The negotiations are not done that day, so the elders then say that they just wanted to come and visit and they will be back. After a time is set, usually in a few weeks, the elders return. The negotiations then start. The talking is done only by the elders. It is taboo for the young man to speak, and in doing so, he could seriously jeopardize the negotiations. The rule of thumb in negotiating the dowry used to be whatever the father of the bride paid for his mother that is what he would request for a bride price. Things have changed much since then. The bride price now is determined by several factors.
• How much education the girl has received
• If she has a career
• Social Class

FIRST VISIT- ‘Kumenya mucii’ (Getting to know the bride’s home)

Once both sides are organized and ready, the groom’s side first take a gift of two fattened rams ‘Ndurume’ to the bride’s home as an indication that the bride is about to get married. The number can vary depending on culture. Later on, the groom’s side communicate their intention to visit the bride’s home. This is communicated by the groom to the bride.
The groom’s side cater for all expenses arising from the food and drinks to be consumed on that particular day. They come with gifts in form of cash and also in kind and give to the bride’s family. After eating, the two families get to know each other. The bride then informs the group about the nature of the visit – to get married. The groom likewise states his intentions of marrying the said bride. After this both sides agree on the next stage of dowry payment which is ‘kuhanda ithigi’.

DOWRY PAYMENT ‘KURACIA’

On the day of dowry payment, the groom’s side visit the bride’s home. After eating, they settle down to business. First, they go through the process known as ‘kuunirwo miti’, that is, what they are supposed to bring as dowry payment for the bride. A bride’s dowry is determined by the amount of dowry that her father paid for her mother. The groom then starts by ‘kuhanda ithigi’ which literally means planting a branch of a tree which symbolizes that the lady has been booked officially by the groom.
After this, the groom goes ahead to start the dowry payment process. Since dowry payment lasts a lifetime, he is thus required to pay a certain amount before being allowed to marry the bride. The rest of the dowry is paid after the two have married. The dowry payment is also determined by the state of the bride. If she is a virgin, then the above applies. If she is pregnant, the process is hurried so that the child can be born in a stable home/family.
Dowry or bride price constitutes the following:
Athuri (items for men)
• Goima (fattened ram)
• Thenge (he goat)
• Ng’ondu (sheep)
• Kaburi
• Blankets
• Mori (heifer)
• Mburi cia mirongo (goats – these are counted in tens)
• Njohi ya uuki (beer made from honey)
• Maaha-indo cia muthuri(assorted items for bride’s father)
• Itangi ria mai (water tank)

Atumia (Items for women)
• Nyungu (pot)
• Ciihuri (calabashes)
• Ithanwa (axe)
• Mukwa (new rope)
• Nguo cia atumia (women wear)
• Lesos
• Njohi ya atumia (beer for women-now sodas)
• Ushuru wa mukio (fermented porridge)
The quantity for each of the items varies with the clans and communities and also regions.
When all of the dowry has been paid, the bride cannot return to her home under any circumstances. (Traditionally speaking. It has nowadays been amended to the Wedding day due to Christian values & customs). This is called ‘ngurario’ or ‘gutinia kiande’(cutting of one of the front limbs of a fattened ram). Here the husband cuts of one of the front limbs of a fattened ram (gutinia kiande) that has already been roasted and gives it to his wife as a sign that she now belongs to him completely. This part contains only one joint and it signifies the permanence of the union between the husband and wife. It is considered as a seal over the wife. Both of them now cannot be separated except through death of one partner. It is also very tender and signifies the love and tenderness that both husband and wife have for each other. In addition, the ‘kiande’ represents the importance of the human hand which does all the work as compared to any other part of the body e.g. cooking, fetching water, washing etc. After this event the wife now becomes like a son to her marital home.
During this ceremony, there are other parts of the roasted fattened ram that are given to all who attend the ceremony. The following parts are given to women:
• Ngerima(true stomach)
• Mara (small intestines)
• Honge (pelvic bone)
• Mbaru/ikengeto (ribs)
• Matu (ears) (given to single women so that they can understand instruction)
• Higo (Kidneys)
Young men today are having a hard time because there are no rules and some people have become very greedy. The dowry is still negotiated in terms of cows, goats, and honey. Once the price has been determined, it is now converted into cash. The elders leave a major down payment and a day is then set for the wedding. Dowry negotiations are usually done over several weeks or months. The balance can take years to pay. Usually the family never asks for the balance. If the man doesn’t finish paying the balance then he begets a daughter, she cannot be married unless he finishes paying the balance. (This is very embarrassing, and most people avoid this) If they never have children, then the man’s family is left with a “stain” that they never honor their word and this becomes common knowledge. For this reasons, the bride price “loan” is always paid up. When the bride price is finally paid up, there is a ceremony done. This in the olden days signified a marriage. The family of the bride usually kill a goat and they give the front legs to the husband. This signified that he was now the husband of the woman and that he and not her father bears the full responsibility for her. This practice is still done even today.

The Marriage Ceremony

The whole community usually gets involved. The women team up and organize the menu, and they contribute the food. The young men and women team up and raise funds for the wedding. This is done through a “pre wedding party”. The young men arrange for transportation and refreshments. The girl’s family is usually responsible for the bride’s dress, and the younger children who will be in the wedding party. The bride chooses her bride’s maids and she usually chooses from both sides (families) and includes her friends. Kikuyu weddings are usually huge. It is not uncommon to find the bridal party of 20+.

Eve of the wedding:

In the days before the wedding, the young man brings women from his village to visit his future in laws for the drinks ceremony ‘kurehe soda’ or formerly ‘kurehe ucuru’. They usually come not just to visit, but to help with the wedding items. They bring with them drinks – soda, sour millet porridge ‘ucuru wa ugimbi’ etc. to support the bride’s family who will be ‘cooking all night’ for the ceremony the night before the wedding.
This is really a way for the women folk to socialize with each other and build some ties. It is not uncommon for a few men to attend from the Man’s side to render any assistance and escort the ladies. As they get close to the house, they all start hooting their cars and they don’t stop until they are allowed in the bride’s homestead. When the hooting starts, the village women from the bride rush to the gate and block it. The negotiations for entrance then begin. This time, it is done in form of music and song. The women sing that they “didn’t hear” the ‘strangers’ come and why do they want to “steal” their daughter away? They are requested to go back and return in the right way. The groom’s team may have to drive back (about 1/2 mile) and then return. The women then ask for blankets, sugar, tea, soda pop and other small items. The idea behind is: Our “daughter” used to cook & make tea for us – we don’t know who can replace her. All this is done through song and dance, and the young man (this is his mother’s domain) usually brings a woman who would be the main negotiators in the song saga. This can go on for about an hour. The young man’s team is then let in . The items that are requested are then shared out among the villagers. The women then join in the festivities and the ‘all night cooking’
In modern times, there is no longer the ‘all night’ cooking parties since most weddings are catered by professional cooks. This ceremony however is still observed in the days preceding the wedding.