Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Negotiating at a Dowry Ceremony

The entire week before the village director left for Nairobi for other assignments, we were held up in an SOS family meeting with one of our girls on her future prospects. She informed us of her intention to get married and indicated that there was a man who had proposed to marry her and that she had consented, but needed our blessings.

The next morning I received a call from the Village Director asking me to facilitate in the negotiation on his behalf. He informed me that the elders from the man’s side had sent word that they want to visit and have a meeting with the SOS Family. Because he was held up elsewhere, he was requesting that I stand in his stead. Unsure of exactly what I was going to do and what sort of questions to ask and expect, I put on my suit.

Again I was unsure of the day’s events and got fairly obscure explanations when I asked, so by the time I arrived in Mama Ngudi’s living room I decided I should stop asking questions and just go along with whatever was going to happen.
The entourage comprised 12 members from the man’s family and elders of the extended family. They were met by the SOS family who had also by that time called their group of elders led by the school Principal and another teacher, as part of the negotiation team from the girl’s side. The visitors brought small gifts of dry foods such as rice, wheat, sugar, tea, cooking oil, etc. This is a common practice when one visits any family, and so this is not part of the dowry.

The SOS family house was modest, fairly furnished with large sofa sets. A small radio sat in a large wooden shelf, playing gospel music. I found a comfy space on a couch next to the Principal who was chairing the meeting. Soon it was time to file up and fill our plates with food. After washing our hands in some hot water, then plates in hand, we walked down the row of dishes, having heaps of local favourites piled high on our plates.

After the food and the warm welcome, the elders of the man said something like this. We have an interest in one of your "sheep", and we would like to bring her to our homestead. This is when I got my first inclination that the event was more than just an eating y and familiarization activity. The talking was done only by the elders and it is a taboo for the young man to speak and in doing so, he could seriously jeopardize the negotiations.

In the cause of the negotiation, I learnt that dowry is not about buying the bride from her family. It is a test for compatibility. Compatibility of the two families involved. It proves that the two families can discuss, even argue about an issue and come to a consensus. It also shows to what extent the groom is willing to humble himself before his in-laws and how much he is willing to sacrifice for his love.

Hardly any wedding takes place in Africa with no dowry having been paid. Even church weddings are a culmination of successful dowry negotiations. In fact some churches in Africa will not officiate a wedding if the groom has not paid bride price or the bride’s parents have pending issues.

by Fredrick Ochieng - youth leader coordinator


Anonymous said...

African culture is rich and this story is one of the many that prooves that. On my side, I also think that dowry is away of showing appreciation to the parents of the girl for bringing her up in a way that has caused the groom-to-be to desire her-want to marry the girl.

Anonymous said...

I am an US citizen trying to understand more about the dowry ceremony,so I do not make a fool of myself when. I get to this step. My future wife is Kikuyu and has tired to tell me some of the things I need to know. I agree that a dowry is a token that is given to the brides family for the raising of their daughter. I am looking forward to being her husband.
I am glade I read this because it helped me understand dowry process a little more!

Anonymous said...

Accepting the dowry system in Africa is not such a big problem, even if "we" Europeans or Americans do no longer know this.So, as a matter of respecting African traditions, I can live with that.However, is there a guideline about what is common sense in negotiating a dowry? I am about to marry a Senegalese woman, and now it is discussion to pay a dowry of CFA 6 mio, which is the equivalent of about EURO 10.000. So is this a reasonable amount? I have my doubts...I am grateful for any advice!