The man who is seeking for a wife chooses a girl and ascertains that she is willing to marry him. The old rule was that he must take her from outside his own clan (mbai); but at the present time, if there is no near relationship any longer apparent, a marriage is possible although both parties are of one clan. This happens, for example, in the large Atangwa and Aombe clans, although in the latter there is a reaction against the practice.
When the suitor has made his choice, his father goes to see the father of the girl. Should his father have died, his place is taken by a paternal relative. If the father of the girl agrees to the marriage, the mother of the man will visit the mother of the girl to ensure that she is also satisfied.
Two goats are then sent to the girl’s father - the “mbuisyantheo” _ and the night after these are received, the girl’s father and mother will have coition together. These goats are sent with a leather halter or strap of cow hide. The day after coition the strap is returned to the sender as a sign of consent. If the girl’s father has changed his mind, the goats can be returned.
When the strap has been returned to him, the suitor’s father brews beer. He takes this beer in two calabashes, one large and one small, to the house of the girl’s father, and with him go one , two or three elders of his family who are his witnesses. On their arrival the small calabash is placed in that part of the hut which is the sleeping place of the girl’s mother. The other is put in the large main room. The beer must be notbe placed, nor must it be drunk, outside the house. The elders of the two families begin by drinking the beer in the large calabash, and when it is finished they go into the sleeping place of the girl’s mother – she may have been in the main room previously but she will retire in time for this. Sitting on her bed, she pours out beer from the small calabash, first for her husband and then for the father of the suitor. These two then take the calabash with its remaining beer and return to the main room. This ceremony shows that the mother agrees to the marriage.
In the main room of the hut the remaining beer is drunk. When only littleremains, four “miatine” (fruits from the sausage tree) of those put in to give the beer strength are taken out and the beer is wrung from them into a drinking gourd. This last beer is drunk by the two fathers, and each in turn spits down his chest and stomach and on the underside of the gourd. The four “miatine“are then put aside by the father of the girl; the others and the calabashes can be taken away.
This beer is called “ukiwakuatiiambui” –“the beer that follows the goats”. After it, the two fathers and the mothers will call each other “syitawa” – “my daughter – in – law’s mother” , etc.- until death, or until the couple are divorced.
The father of the suitor must now send more goats four, six or eight – two will not suffice this time. There is no ritual coition after receipt of these goats. Of them one must be a male, and it should be slaughtered at once and the blood poured on the ground by the father of the girl. This is to show that these and the “mbuisyantheo” have now become his property, and hehas no wish to change any of them. If the ceremony is not performed, the girl’s father can still claim replacement of any that may happen to die. The suitor himself normally goes with these goats, with strict instructions from his father to make sure that the ram is slaughtered. This ram is the “nthengeyakwitiambuinthakamenthi” – “the pouring out of the goat’s blood on the ground”
The second beer drink that follows is called “ukiwakuthambyanzele” –“the beer for washing the drinking calabashes.” It is on this occasion that the agreement is reached on the bride price. The beer is again brewed by the father of the suitor, a large quantity, and sent by him to the “musyi” (homestead) of the girl’s father. He himself follows it the next day, with several elders of his family. The drinking and the negotiations then take place. When the agreement is finally reached, the man’s father takes back his four “miatine”.
There are always one bull and two cows in the bride price, and a certain number of goats. It is the number of goats that varies, according to the agreement, not the number of cows. Nowadays, sheep or cash, or a proportion of each, may often take the place of goats.
In addition to the foregoing animals, the suitor’s father supplies three others for slaughter – one bull, one goat and one sheep. These are often sent together to the girl’s father, and are not intended for a joint feast of the two families. The girl,s father decides when they shall be slaughtered for his own family- this meat is the enjoyment the women of the homestead get from his own family – this meat is the enjoyment the women of the household get from the occasion , as the beer is for men.
There is a third and final beer drink before the marriage takes place. It is called “ukiwakukinyamusyi” – (the beer of walking the homestead). Once again the father of the man brews beer and invites the father of the girl to come to his house, together with some of the elders of his family. He shows them his property and his house, to which the girl is to come. Here, too, there is beer in the mother’s sleeping place, and the ceremony previously described is repeated at the end of the visit. When the beer is finished, the guests take their sticks, which in accordance with custom they have left at the door of the hut, and go. For this reason this last beer is called “wamwosandata”- (of the taker of the stick).
Payment of the bride price is made according to the wealth of the suitor’s family and the terms of the agreement, sometimes it takes a long time. In theory the payment should be completed before the girl is taken away from her father’s house, but by agreement she is often allowed to go before this time. Small presents to the mother of the girl and other close relatives are customary at the time of the negotiations. And on three or four occasions the girl will be given permission to see her future husband in the fields or in the bush.
Ceremonial bride-taking by force is definitely not a kamba custom. The girl is fetched from her father’s house in a peaceful manner. However, if bride price has been paid in full, and the girl’s father still delays handing her over to her husband, the husband and four of his family can take her away by force. If when a girl is taken forcibly, her neck is smeared with ghee by her suitor’s mother, she will not be returned to her father for two days. On the second night she has coition with the man. The girl’s father, if on his enquiry he learns that she has been marked in this way, does not expect her to return until after this time. She should then be returned by her husband’s father, who will take with him a present of beer “ukiwakuthaithaithewamwiitu”- the (beer for entreating the father of the girl) – and will try to come to an understanding on the matter.
However, in a normal marriage a day is fixed on which the girl shall be taken to her husband’s house, and on that day a sufficiency of beer is supplied by her father- in- law. Two women of his family, the husband and another male relative- the composition of the party is not rigidly fixed- then lead the girl away to her new house. All the bride’s friends go to visit her in her new home and bring her presents of bananas and other foods. They sing songs of regret for her departure from the unmarried, and for the dances and other joys in which she will no longer share. It used to be called “ngoma” (dance).
Visitors do not come until after the second night and they stay until the fourth day, dancing and feasting. After all visiting is donethe newlyweds continue with their lives and start their own family.
BY JOSEPHINE K. NZUKI
NATIONAL MUSEUMS OF KENYA