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Why non-virgin girls paid the groom 10 fat sheep

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Way before missionaries' teachings and modernity annihilated African cultures, virginity amongst Kikuyu girls was revered and applauded during deflowering process. Those who jumped into bed with men before being betrothed drew shame and huge cost to their kindred whenever it was discovered they ruptured hymen clandestinely.

Penalty on adulterated girls would be Ngoima (fattened male sheep) and the girl's relatives would pay the groom's family a fine of between five and 10 sheep.

The process started with young man identifying girl she desired to marry. They were never to share bed leave alone sex. The man's relatives would take over the task of probing her background to determine if there were cultural, past history or links to hinder the affair.

Love beyond handshake

Then initial steps of dowry payment are negotiated and even at this point the lovebirds were not allowed to extend love beyond handshake and sharing pleasantries.

Mzee Njoroge wa Kimani, 90-year-old Kikuyu elder says virginity was not taken lightly and rarely girls conceived while at their father's house though few would get deflowered before marriage.

It was after some amount of dowry was paid that bridegroom was allowed to take the girl but the exchange was not as simple as holding her hand and walking her down the village road.

"This point was starting of another challenge that did not go well with the bride and age-mates as well the man and his age-mates. It was a hunting of sort that culminated in virginity test that would bring happiness or sorrow to her family" says Kimani.

Husband-to-be was to assemble his age-mates and send them to hunt for his lover. This time old women waited outside the man's house as he lay in his bed. On the other side the girl and her friends kept close to thwart attempt to take her away.

"Wherever she was spotted she would be carried shoulder high by the energetic young men. Even if she was fetching water, firewood or working in the shamba she was dragged away albeit unwillingly as she wailed while her female age-mates pursued wailing too and trying to grab her away from the men" says Kimani.

Waiting like a hungry lion

Back in the man's house old women readied to receive her and escort her to her husband in bed waiting like a hungry lion" He says.

"Old women make sure she does not run away or throw herself on the ground and get injured. In many cases these girls behaved like scared, trapped antelope. So, these women made sure they handed her him and even help him pin her down on bed then walk out, close the door and wait patiently and quietly outside the hut" Kimani tells.

Mzee Kimani says a high-pitched scream and blood on bed confirmed she was pure and ululations followed.

"That was dreaded, the much-awaited moment that would leave her clan either happy or with an egg on the face and a huge penalty if she was not a virgin. If was impossible to fake virginity even if the two lovers conspired and screamed themselves hoarse. Fresh blood was the final prove" he says.

"These rituals have since been drowned by modernity and Christianity. Girls married through this forgotten tradition were respected and such had share in that family even if their husbands died early. They remained in their husband's home and sometimes if widowed very young the husband's older brother would take her in as her wife" Kimani notes.

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