If problems in life come as a battalion, in most modern marriages, they come as an army, complete with arrogant Generals. Maybe one reason is that you, the bride, never bothered to know whether your hubby’s clan was famed for producing husbands or quislings and vagabonds. In the past, some communities never allowed their daughters to get married to a man whose clan was known to have issues that would later rock the marital boat. Those who abandoned families, were wife barterers, lazy bones or had a history of being jinxed way back to the great-grandfather were given a wide courtship berth.
Take the Luos. Their women were cautioned against men from Nyakach who were feared ‘thieves’ as their land bordered cattle rustling communities like the Nandi and Kalenjin from where they are said to have adopted their ‘stealing nature’. Men from Alego are said to be vulgar and loved liquor making them undesirable spouses.
Women in Kambaland were not cautioned about clans, but men from Kitui being equated to courting fire due to their hot tempers, male chauvinism and stinginess besides marrying but abandoning wives back in Mutomo with their mother in-law. Older Kitui men are said have no manners. “It’s because people in Kitui are not exposed. I think the distance from civilisation is also a factor,” muses Lilian Nzisa who comes from Machakos but has lived with a family in Kitui.
But today, couples meet online, and if you think checking out which clan or region a man came from before dowry was accepted was the preserve of rural folk, think again. Even in major cities where there are only two clans the rich and the poor, women in certain estates were cautious of getting married to men from seedy hoods.
Many of these beliefs, fears and stereotypes have, however, dissipated with time. Here are the different clans a woman should be cautious to marry in...
These Kikuyu men were jinxed
Kikuyu suitors from the lineage of the Ethaga clan were dreaded with many a parent fearing to marry off their daughter to them. It was said they were jinxed, dogged with witchcraft. Ethaga-also called Ambura or Akiuru- were treated with caution despite being known for good causes like rainmaking and as traditional healers.
The clan came from Nyambura (also called Wakiuru), the sixth of the nine daughters of Gikuyu and Mumbi. But folklore has it that she gave birth to a boy child with hairy tongue hence the fear of the clan. Kikuyu elder Samson Mwangi, 79, said that Ethagas were also feared for having ‘evil eyes and tongues’ and were referred to as “andu a gita or andu a githemengu.”
“If they look at an expectant cow, get excited or covet it but fail to spit some saliva on it, the cow may die, its udder could swell or it could lose the pregnancy. With just a look, some would look at a flying hawk then invoke a curse and command it down right to their feet. They are bizarre people,” explains Mwangi.
Mwangi says that’s the reason many Ethagas end up intermarrying or marrying outside the community where the suitors’ clans may not have much qualms with the deeply-rooted apprehension.
“This fear will never end,” says Mwangi. “It is not their fault but the fear will be passed from generation to another. I too cannot allow my daughter or son to intermarry with an Ethaga however profound their love may be.”
In traditional societies, dowry was not accepted until clan backgrounds were checked and for many reasons.
“Some ancestors left curses in their lineage. Ethagas are not welcome but today it is becoming hard to avoid them. Especially young women are getting impregnated before introducing their fiancée to their kin and this is bringing conflicts,” says Mwangi, adding that other men who were shunned were those from homesteads associated with curses, mental illness and some disabilities.
Besides clans, Kikuyu parents were also keen on where a potential in-law hailed from. Men from Murang’a were purportedly hot tempered as opposed to their more docile brothers from Nyeri, Kiambu and Nyandarua. Murang’a men are said to have developed their aggressive sides from agonies implicated on their forefathers by the feared woman ruler, Wangu wa Makeri who rode and sat on male backs for seven years to 1909.
Mwangi who is among elders in custody of Kikuyu shrine at Mukuru wa Nyagathanga in Murang’a county explains that there was a strained blood between Murang’a and Kiambu men which emanated from Murang’a men having excited women from Kabete in Kiambu who fell, prepared delicious meals for them. Riled Kabete men warned their women against falling for men from the “land of witchcraft”, antagonism intermarriages between the two counties.
Other men who were shunned were families whose folks were collaborators with the British during the colonial period although “nowadays it is not a big issue as it was some decades ago”, says James Gitau, 84. “Many men with unwavering hated for such families are gone and only a few left a curse.”
Lydiah Wanjiru, 77, said that for a man whose seeds produced thieves and witches, elders would advise the wife to secretly “sire children with outsiders.”
Many of these beliefs, fears and stereotypes have, however, dissipated with time.
Wanga men are unfaithful, polygamous
Aspersions have been cast about men from the Wanga, the most populous sub-tribe of the Luhya who are said to be monogamous. Mzee Geoffrey Miheso, 98, explains that “Wanga men are hardworking but very crafty. They welcomed Christian missionaries and Muslims in their town in one breath. Missionaries brought them education, healthcare and nourished their spirit from primitivity. Makerere University was going to be set in Mumias by the missionaries but the act of them welcoming a new religion-Islam for mere manukato and shuka (perfume and gowns) made the Christian missionaries shift the prestigious project to neighbouring Uganda,” said Mzee Miheso who hails from the Isukha luhya sub-tribe in Kakamega.
The dalliance with missionaries and Muslims happened during the reign of Wanga King Nabongo Mumia and even today, Mzee Miheso says, Wangas have the pathological habit, no matter how educated of going for second and even third wives.
“We intermarry with Wangas but it is fair to say if you marry a Wanga woman, your homestead will be noisy! But your daughter needs prayers when she marries a Wanga man as a first wife. She will be very lucky when a second or third wife is not on the way,” said Miheso, “Wangas love welcoming two or more options like they did with Christian and Muslim missionaries.”
Another elder Josephat Kombo from Ematiya Navakholo says that the best men to marry are the Kabras from Malava and Marama from Butere.
“The Malava men ensure their wives feel welcome and protected from marauding mothers-in-law. They can even acquire a plot in town and set up a home for the women who are under oppression from mother-in-laws. The Maramas are the Europeans of Western. A second wife is not their thing, they never divorce and they buy expensive cars and furniture for their wives besides taking their children to expensive and well performing schools,” said the 84 year old, “Unfortunately, they are proud for nothing.”
He said the Isukha and Idakho men are a challenge to deal with, “Isukhas and Idakhos can go to Nairobi for a job leaving their families behind and disappear only to return to a bushy home after retirement. The current educated crop go there and engage in excesses like political demos and cheering in football matches. I don’t know what they love in Nairobi even with devolution,” mused mzee.
Swahili men shunned Maasai, Rendille girls
Chief Ahmed Abdulrazak from Mombasa’a Old Town told said that Swahili men were discouraged from marrying from “mlango wa nane” (a name for eight nomadic communities) consisting of the Maasai, Orma, Rendille and Sanya who were “believed to harbour bad omen and that poverty would befall those who married from these communities” and girls were discouraged from their men as well.
Abdulrazak recounted his youth when he lived near beautiful Orma girls but could not entertain the thought of wooing one for marriage.