Dowry Day

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Africa » Kenya » Central Province » Mt. Kenya
February 1st 2014
Published: June 5th 2017
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Today Speck will be introduced to the rest of the family and extended family. The rooster wakes him up several times and he finally surrendered at 9 am. Breakfast is a couple pieces of arrow root, a sort of purpleish potato, and tea. Everyone is in preparation mode, the plan is to eat at 1pm before the church elders arrive, then at 3 have a kind of ceremony, and then afterwards Speck will go through a dowry ceremony. In expectation of needing some money, Speck and Caroline went to Nyeri town and hit the ATM, then a quick stop at the grocer and back to the house. Speck and Caroline grab showers and get ready and shortly after 1pm are ready to eat. They are given some confusing instructions and then are left waiting. 2pm comes, still waiting and getting hungry. 3pm comes and then since the elders are here the ceremony begins before food. Speck is led outside the gate and with him are Karen, the toothless scholar, and Gloria, Shiro Grace's little niece, because that have each attached themselves to one of his hands. Then Bilha and Mama Jo start singing and dancing and leading him toward the gate. They get to the gate and are greeted by more singing and chanting and then everything comes to a screeching halt. The cameraman was not ready. Back up and start again. At the gate Speck is asked for "keys" to open the gate. (this kicks off the tradition of asking for things but meaning money... More to come...) After passing an envelope with money the gated is opened and the singing and dancing continued to the front of the tent. Finally Speck is seated and his small friends sit with him to keep him from being the sole focal point for the audience. Moments later there came more singing and dancing from the courtyard. Caroline was coming. Speck was surprised when she had beer Garber with a new cover and shawl, then Speck was given a new shirt and belt. Then beads were put around Caroline's neck and wrist. Finally they were allowed to sit. Then the elders and pastor were introduced followed by a series of songs in Swahili and a sermon in both English and Swahili. During the sermon Speck learned the Caroline is polite and patient and prayerful. After the sermon it was finally time to eat. It was 4:30 and everyone was very hungry.

Sometime after the meal it was time to meet the tribe elders. Normally this would be only Speck negotiating the dowry with the elders but because of his unfamiliaritywith the language, process, and customs Caroline is allowed to sit in. There were a few tense moments when it became apparent that Speck had not arrived with the minimum amount that was expected, but everyone was friendly when Caroline found some US dollars that converted to the number of expected Kenyan Shillings. The final breakdown is in several parts:


1. Njohi-beer, to start negotiations

2. Mwati & harika, a male and a female goat, to start multiplying

3. Mburi ya kumagaria mwati & harika, a third goat so that the other two are not lonely

These three "gifts" lay a claim on the woman so that no one else can come to the tribe and make a claim to her.

Dowry=ruracio, 120 goats, can be paid over lifetime, is actually rude to finish paying because then you are saying that you don't need to come back

After dowry, like a mortgage party where you celebrate the end of a debt

Nguarano, 2 male sheep, a heifer/bull, beer to wash down the sheep, 20L raw honey, a 90 kg sack of sugar (since they no longer sell 90 kg sacks, 2 50 kg sacks instead, so really 100 kg of sugar), and a mwati or lamb to give to the women as bribery to get them to cook the 2 sheep

Last thing, Maruta, nyathiba or dress for the mother, githii or suit for father, and a blanket and a set of sheets to keep them warm in their old age.

The women of the tribe also need gifts, once again these are metaphorical gifts, they are really cash payments to compensate the women of the tribe for the loss of one of their co-workers.

Soda 6 cases

A bottle opener to open the soda

Towels to wipe the soda (it got dusty on the way from the ATM)


Rugito, payment to the sisters of the bride, to keep their bed warm now that the bride has left them

These must be paid at the time of marriage.

After this meeting with the elders Speck and Caroline are quite worn out and soon headed to bed.

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