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Strange wedding rituals

By | December 3rd 2011

Marrying across one’s race subjects partners in love to a fare share of strange traditions writes, THORN MULLI

I recently had the pleasure of attending a multi cultural wedding between Wanjiku, a stunning Kenyan lady and Claus, a charming German gentleman.

During the colourful reception, I had the pleasure of interacting with Claus’s family. Being a friend of the groom the ushers inadvertently led me to his ‘side’ and this was what broke the ice to what turned out to be, not only a cheerful conversation, but an informative one as well.

It turns out that the seating arrangement amongst other Kenyan ways was rather amusing to the visiting Germans. "Ruracio", a common practice amongst the Agikuyu and in essence most Kenyan communities that involves haggling over bride price was an odd experience as is nonexistent Germany.

Morning gifts

Marriage is essentially by common consent amongst parties involved and the only custom that came close to bride price was "morgengabe" that loosely translates to ‘morning gifts’. It involves presenting gifts to the bride’s family by the groom’s on the morning of the wedding.

Katana, a Giriama hailing from Kwale made the banter even more interesting when he pointed out an odd traditional Mijikenda practice. He explained that in the olden days, a respected elderly woman would accompany the newlyweds in their room to witness their first night together. Her role was to present the bloodied beddings to the community as proof of the bride’s purity.

She was also meant to offer insight in case of any shortcomings, no pun intended. A bride whose beddings came clean was condemned and in some cases ostracised by the community. It was even shameful for a bride to enjoy her first night as this amounted to proof of prior youthful indiscretions.

An unspoken tug between the visitors and us, the Kenyan hosts, erupted with each trying to show that their culture was indeed richer and stranger than the other. Mr Dominic, the grooms father and most knowledgeable of his kinsmen’s customs led the onslaught.

First was the "kossenbitter" practise. He is one of the brides cousins charged with the duty of hand delivering wedding invitations. Donned in a tuxedo and hat, he dispatches the invites that take several days to complete. To urge him on, he is offered two glasses of "schnapps" that represent the bride and groom at every stop.

During the weeks preceding the wedding, Germans organise "paube", which generally involves a house warming party that doubles up as an engagement party for the couple.

On the eve of the wedding, a tradition called "polteraband" involves the couple cleaning up a mess of dishes broken by friends and relatives. The significance of this tradition is to scare away the "poltergeists", an evil spirit. The dishes broken are believed to bring good luck as they signify breaking up of old lives and beginning new, fresh, and ultimately better lives.

Blessing the marriage

At this point, those rooting for Kenyan native customs got a boost when the conversation was interrupted by gift presentation. Wanjiku’s clan presented the couple with a bed symbolising they had officially blessed the union and allowed the bride to make a home with her husband.

To wish them health, traditional cooking implements were presented to the bride assuring the groom that he would never lack. This included a nyungu (earthen cooking pot), a mwiko (wooden stirring stick) and of course a kiondo, a sisal basket for carrying groceries from the market.

Not to be left behind, Charlotte, the groom’s cousin explored a contemporary German custom initiated also on the eve of the wedding day. The groom gathers friends not involved in kidnapping and hiding his bride for a search. The search would of course begin in a bar where the groom buys drinks for the search party.

Still practiced is a lighthearted practice called baumstamm sagen that exerts the newlyweds who amazingly wear their wedding bands on their right hands. They are required to saw a log on half using a two-handle saw. The aim is to not only test their physical strength but also how well they can tackle problems together.

Dusk soon raided our party and as Wanjiku tossed her bouquet to a frenzied group of single ladies who scrambled to catch it in the belief that it would force lady luck ensuring their wedding was next, Gisela, Dominic’s mate noted that if it were a traditional German wedding, fir tree branches would be laid out in front of the couple as they left the reception.

This was done to attract luck and fertility. And so without a clear winner we again silently agreed to a draw and bade each other goodbye.

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