In some communities, the giving of bride price is sadly regarded as ‘buying the bride’ or compensation for resources spent bringing up the young woman, writes PETER MUIRURI
A few years ago, a 25 year-old man in Nyahururu committed suicide for what was termed as his inability to raise the prerequisite bride price for a young girl he intended to marry.
Though not many young men end up taking their lives for lack of ‘enough’ cash to pay bride price, there is still much concern out there as to how much bride price prospective parents-in-law should give or receive.
Many young men find themselves caught between the desire to further their careers with the ever rising inflation and a need to marry, but cannot fathom the ancient custom of having to ‘buy’ a bride.
Though the custom of paying bride price differs from place to place, the idea behind the practice remains the same.
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In most cases, relatives from the prospective groom arrive at the girl’s homestead carrying various material things such as foodstuffs, lesos and drinks.
The visiting group will select the most ‘experienced negotiators’, usually some older men to lead the bride price deliberations. A lot of haggling takes place before both parties agree on an amount. Only then can the two lovebirds have the liberty to organise a wedding.
Among the Kikuyu, for example, paying of bride price consisted of several steps such as the initial visit by the groom to be to the home of the future wife called kumenya mucii (to know the home). While making this visit, the future groom brought with him several gifts. He would then make another visit to ‘mark his territory’ again bringing with him more gifts.
The bride price proceedings would follow in another visit as outlined earlier. When bride price proceedings have been dispensed with, the groom arranged for a ngurario or gutinia kiande ceremony where he cuts the front limb of a ram, giving a piece of the meat to his future bride.
The front limb has one joint signifying that the two are now one flesh, more like the wearing of wedding rings in religious ceremonies.
In other communities, bride price is usually paid in installments and may take the form of livestock, vehicles and even bicycles. However, money is still the preferred means of payment.
Whatever form it takes, the question still remains as to how much bride price is too much.
Andrew (not his real name) in his late 20s desires to settle down. To him, bride price is a token of appreciation hence the amount cannot be dictated by a set of rules and regulations.
“Anything above Sh100,000 is too much. Remember it is a token or a gift to my future in-laws. You cannot dictate the kind of a gift you want from someone else. Of course if you are a billionaire, you can raise the stakes a bit higher,” says Andrew.
According to Andrew, getting a wife is not the same as buying a product. There can be no price tag for a human being.
Sadly, in some communities, the giving of bride price is referred to as ‘buying the bride’.
“Some parents will tell a young man to compensate them for what it cost them to bring up or educate their daughter. Yet the education she got was to help her sustain herself whether married or not,” he says.
But some ladies have defended the practice arguing that lowering the bride price is akin to show that women are of little value.
“My father has set a prerequisite amount for the bride price he expects if and when I get married. There is nothing I can do about it since I will not be the recipient of the bride price,” says a girl we will call Ivy.
The fact that there has been no set of rules governing the payment of bride price may have introduced an element of greed in the negotiations.
This, however, may change in view of the new provisions in the new constitution that do not recognise payment of bride price/dowry.
Future in-laws may need to consider Article 54 of the revised Marriage Bill which states: “An agreement to give bride price, whether made before or after the commencement of this Act, shall not be enforceable as a contract and the breach of any such agreement shall not give rise to any remedies for breach of contract.”
Interestingly, the Bill legalises polygamy, but outlaws the payment of bride price.
According to Article 55, bride price payments gone sour are not issues that may be admissible in a court of law as “no action may be brought for the return of bride price whether in whole or in part.”
All said, the payment of bride price seems to be a deeply entrenched custom that shows no signs of ending soon.