Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Negotiating a bride price

On 10th January, led by the Village Director and the School Principal, I had the honor and privilege of attending a dowry negotiating ceremony for one of our independent youth from Mombasa Village who works at the SOS Children’s Village Eldoret. When we arrived at the venue, we were met with curious stares from all corners. Firstly, we had to dust ourselves because the road to the bride’s home was a dusty affair. Secondly we had arrived slightly late and we could almost sense an atmosphere of unease. Ironically, the people showered us with warm hospitality. The Nandis (a Kenyan tribe) were the quintessential hosts; warm, welcoming, caring and constantly plying us with the best food I have ever eaten. I left each meal with an ear to ear grin, a full belly and two notches looser on my belt.

We were both looking forward with much anticipation since we had scant information about what it was like in such ceremonies. The Village Director, Mr. Peter Mungai was the spokesperson (or is it the broker?) from the groom’s side. The atmosphere in the house was tense and the conversation intent. We were constantly reassured by the spokesperson from the bride’s side that nothing will go wrong. No food was served for the entire period of the negotiations until a bride price was agreed. The brokers from both sides engaged in lengthy negotiations on the size of the dowry. Both parties made concessions.

While I thought the figures quoted were “very high, extremely high,” the bride’s team moved quickly to reassure us that Bride Price is not about monetary value or even a comparison of like for like. It holds an extremely emotional and symbolic role in the psyche of the people and family from where the bride comes. After four hours of strong negotiations, offers and counter-offers both parties emerged from the meeting room with a smile on their faces – bruised but happy that they had accomplished a big task and that Loice (bride) and Alexander (groom) will finally start living as a man and wife even as they prepare to tie the knot at a date to be announced in December with the full blessings of their families and community.
After the negotiation was complete, part of the ritual involved being offered “Mursik”, (fermented milk) to drink as a sign of friendship. Then there was cooking oil passed to the mother of the groom by the female friends and members of the family of the bride to signify a new bond between the two families. The groom’s father and the old men accompanying him also received a “sotet” (gourd) and a cup. It truly enhanced the experience. I was touched, moved and awed. Indeed, the traditional way of doing things becomes different when two cultures are introduced into the equation.

The negotiation ceremony ended with some humor and fun! The close relatives of Loice and Alexander paraded for introduction. They then gave them a few short words of advice about maintaining a successful and happy marriage.

This was a wonderful event overall. At least we were not thrown out of the home of the bride as sometimes it is when tempers flare up during dowry negotiation in some African societies. I will continue to cherish the values that the SOS family and that of the bride hold in common. It became clear to me that despite the apparent contrasts in culture and way of life, we really are very similar. Perhaps that is why Alexander found his bride in a small village in Eldoret!

by Fredrick Ochieng

No comments: