Marriage is supposed to be a beautiful thing. After all, the Good Book declares that ‘he who finds a wife, finds a good thing.’ But marital unions are not always rosy. Apparently, there are clans in Kenya whose women are a no-no for men seeking a happily-ever-after marriage. Women from some clans among the Kikuyu, for instance, are renowned ‘headaches,’ while other clans are famous for ‘fast and furious’ separations, even before the totos crawl. To convince a love-struck man of the dangers, an aunt in the know would draw his attention to the fact that even the girl’s grandmother ‘ran away’ 500 times during her marriage.
But do such traditional beliefs about tribal clans with ‘evil eye’ and others filled with ‘unmarriable’ women still hold water in the 21st century? Does the ‘mahewa generation’ do a background check on their potential spouses to find out whether they come from the right clans? Something else: even with the advancement in education and exposure, do the reasons why some clans were no-go zones still hold water over 50 years after independence? Well, you will be shocked to learn that nothing much has changed.
Ignore Kabete, Kiambu, marry a Murang’a woman
Marriages among Kikuyu clans had few restrictions, but men were warned against fetching wives from the Ethaga (also called the Ambura) clan, one of the nine Agikuyu clans. The Ethaga were renowned rainmakers, but their women were famed for witchcraft, which though meant to protect the community from marauders, was nevertheless treated with caution in Central Kenya.
“Ethaga are not necessarily evil, but when comparing them with other Kikuyu clans, few would marry or get married to an Ethaga for fear they could use their special powers to harm,” says Mzee Peter Kibue from Kiambu County.
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Besides no-go zone clans, the Kikuyu were even keener on individual families and those with a history of curses and a trail of misfortunes were given a wide berth. Josephat Chege, an elder from Murang’a, says such families would be avoided over events dating back decades. Kikuyu families known to have supported the British colonialists or served as ‘homeguards’ were also treated with caution, especially if a man or woman from such a family was interested in someone from a family of freedom fighters. A woman’s background and upbringing counts for more than hailing from the Ethaga clan in view of the Kikuyu demarcating choice of spouses by regions.
Chege says the cruelty of British colonialists in Nyeri hardened their women into no-nonsense spouses, with their domestic military exploits reinforcing the stereotype of that Nyeri women are hard nuts to crack. Parts of Kiambu, where the Kikuyu and Masaai were in constant fights over cattle, also produced ‘hardcore’ women, just why Kiambu means ‘the place of screams.’
While the Kiambu woman is known to have a penchant for material possessions, those from Kabete are particularly feared
“We can’t put a blanket judgement on the Kiambu and Nyeri women,” says Chege, who adds that, “But some brought up with the hardened personality will not hesitate to pick fights with their husbands and it is for this reason that some men would be sceptical about marrying them.”
While the Kiambu woman is known to have a penchant for material possessions, those from Kabete are particularly feared for, among other things, harbouring murderous intentions, another stereotype reinforced by media reports and that not-so-small matter of Kabete having the highest number of widows per square kilometre in Central Kenya.
Kibue admits that women from Murang’a, Nyandarua and outside Mt Kenya region generally make for good wives “as they are not so combative,” and this narrative of praise has buttressed their upbringing and expectations.
Kangundo chicks are ‘gold diggers’
Kamba women are famed for taming men with blind doses of love, but as far as clans go, the Aombe, among the biggest in Kambaland, are said to be overly aggressive and brook no nonsense from men who are lazy bones. Agnes Kalondu, an Aombe - which is one of the over 10 Kamba clans - says that Aombe women are violent, with their positive side being “workaholics who know how to mint their own money without bothering men” even though Aombe women are said to be hard-headed and iron-fisted single mothers. And while Kaos are not strict on clans, they have untouchable regions known for producing women who are either too aggressive or randy for marriage.
Kangundo in Machakos County takes the cake for the most ‘unmarriable’ women who are notorious gold diggers and have no qualms carting away a man’s belongings with the sympathetic ones only managing to leave a pair of slippers and a lone shirt dangling from the rafters. Makau Mwinzila, an elder from Kyanzavi, notes that Kangundo women are so wired because of Kangundo’s proximity to Nairobi, which fires their monetary ambitions.
“You would notice that in Kangundo, they grow coffee, unlike other regions in Ukambani. That tells you these are people whose DNA reeks of money and will go to any length to acquire it,” he says with a chuckle, adding that Kangundo women make for a sizeable population of Nairobi’s call girls.
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Peter Mwangangi, a 78-year-old Kamba elder from Kilome in Makueni County, agrees. He observes that women from Masaku (Machakos) were considered very naughty. “These women could not settle and that did not come as a shocker, as they were pros when it came to brewing kaluvu and dancing to wathi (traditional Kamba dance),” says Mwangangi, whose wife is from Oloitoktok.
Mwangangi, who hails from the Aiyini clan, says that things have changed and Kambas are intermarrying with other tribes, especially those from the coastal region. Another lot said to be too hot to handle are Kao chicks along Mombasa Road - Mlolongo, Mtito Andei, Kibwezi, Makindu, Sultan Hamud and Salama, centres along Mombasa Road where long-distance drivers pitch tent for a night of decadence and debauchery.
“Due to years of being enticed with cheap money by truck drivers,” warns Mwinzila, “these ones have never learnt the art of keeping their legs closed. Take her home at your own risk.”
Mwinzila singles out women from Kitui and parts of Makueni such as Mbooni as being submissive and thus wife material, but 60-year-old Mzee Kisilu Muange from Kiima Kiu contradicts both, claiming that “women from Masaku are the best” and those from Makueni “especially Nunguni have very nasty tongues,” besides being the headquarters of loose morals and dark powers.
Nyakach women are generous vichwa ngumu
Bachelors and bachelorettes are hardly taken seriously among the Luo, where they’re considered nga’ma oran (hopeless case). Ker Nyandiko Ongadi, an elder in the South Nyanza faction of Luo Council of Elders said that the Kanyamkago, Kajulu and Kamenya clans were no-go zones for having been fluent in matters witchcraft and sorcery.
While not everybody from the clan was into this dark trade, many “were known to associate with bilo and juok (witchcraft and traditional medicine), hence marrying into that clan was discouraged,” he says, adding that today, it’s families and not clans that are considered.
According to Mzee John Lazare, the Secretary of Nyakach Elders, men are also warned against women from Nyakach as “Nyakach people are originally warriors, brave and suffer no nonsense; a trait that still runs in their blood. It is little wonder that women from Nyakach are branded hard-headed and hard to domesticate,” explains the former teacher, adding that these women were deemed ‘unacceptable’ to others because of their evident masculinity, but despite their toughness, Nyakach women are the most generous in Luo Nyanza.
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Women from Siaya County are said to be ‘charming troublemakers,’ while those from Yimbo are known to use witchcraft to cast spells on their husbands. But women from Alego, also in Siaya, are said to be hardworking, but love starting trouble and are lelo (loud), an ecological economist from Boro in Ugenya in Siaya County said. The ecological economist adds that women from Seme in Kisumu County are said to make for the best wives as they’re disciplined and their naiveté adds to their alluring package.
Maragoli and Tiriki women are domestic dictators
A woman from the Maragoli and Tiriki sub-tribes of the Luhya community are not wife material as they’re domestic dictators who turn their husbands into coy ‘yes men’ according to Mzee Geoffrey Miheso from Isukha West County. He says that Maragoli and Tiriki women are known cheats who maintain a straight it-wasn’t-me face, even when caught red-handed with their pants down. Their only advantage, says Mzee Miheso, 98, is that they’re ‘hustlers.’
“These women can turn a lazy man into a hard-worker overnight. We have seen many men grow wealthy in the hands of women from these sub-tribes. They nonetheless will demand that you declare your wealth, salary and find a way to sit on you to achieve this.”
Mzee Laban Sindani of Malava in Kakamega County singled out women from the Tachoni and Banyala sub-tribes as the other no-go zones because of witchcraft.
“If people needed to ascend to power, they would visit these communities for charms. They would also go there for charms to protect themselves against spells from others,” says Mzee Sindani, who lists women from the Bukusu and Marama sub-tribes as being humble and excellent homemakers.
Kipsigis, Kamosin a no-no zone for Kalenjin men
The Kalenjin have eight sub-groups, but the term tibiik che mwoneech or ‘bitter women,’ refers to ‘jinxed women’ and among the Sabaot community of Mt Elgon region in both Bungoma and Trans-Nzoia counties, young men were discouraged from bringing home a wife from the Kapsong’utook clan.
Martin Kibet, a 74-year- old Sabaot elder said that men who married from the clan somehow mysteriously died early in their marriages and “most of the women from the clan are widows.” He adds that women from the Kamosin clan of the Tugen sub-tribe are also feared for the same reason of men dying early and that wealthy men end up poor if they marry women from this clan.
This is ‘confirmed’ by historian Pastor Peter Chemasuet, who says that, “It is true. Marrying women from some clans in the Kalenjin community can result in death. Other wealthy men became poor after getting hitched. Some of these men’s cows just started dying after they got married.” He explained that “special rites were conducted to cleanse such women, but the sway of fear has dissipated over the years.
Kalenjin clans that produced prophets like the Talai clan (Orkoiyot Koitalel arap Samoei) found in both Nandi and Kipsigis communities, are feared and not recommended for marriage.
Swahili men don’t marry from ‘Mlango wa Nane’
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Chief Ahmed Abdulrazak from Mombasa Old Town said that young Swahili men were discouraged from marrying from Mlango wa Nane (a name for eight nomadic communities) said to harbour bad omen. Mlango wa Nane consisted of the Maasai, Orma, Rendille and Sanya, whose women were “believed to harbour bad omen and that poverty would befall those who married from these communities,” said Abdulrazak, adding that nomads were viewed as wild and warlike and the perception still holds to date. Among the Mijikenda, the Mtiza subgroup among the Agiriama was a no-no for young men from other communities. Mwembe Tayari Chief and Mijikenda elder, Shabaan Ndoro, a Duruma from Gandini Location in Kwale County, explained that the community had no choice but to intermarry among themselves and that those who defied and married a Mtiza “ended in abject poverty and misfortunes.”
It was the same for Duruma men who married into the Mtongori lineage believed to harbour bad omen, including gainfully employed husbands getting sacked arbitrarily. The Wavumba who live in Kwale had beautiful women, but myriad problems faced men who married them. Both Abdulrazak and Ndoro agreed that the misfortunes rarely included deaths.