Young couples who want to get married are finding it increasingly difficult to hold wedding ceremonies because of the prevailing harsh economic reality in Kenya. The problem is compounded by the fact that the groom is often required to pay a hefty bride price to the woman’s family as a pre-condition for marriage. Many couples are therefore finding it easier to just cohabitate.
Pride price is a common tradition among all communities in Kenya. The prospective husband is expected to give some amount of money and material things, including animals. The paying of pride price involves a series of ceremonies and meetings between the bride’s and the groom’s families.
In the traditional context, bride price was generally intended to reflect the perceived value of a woman’s productivity in terms of labour and fertility. It was also taken as proof that the groom had enough resources to support the bride. However, the practice seems to have changed over time in form and intent thus losing its original flavour and meaning.
Bride price is particularly stressful to young men and women in Kenya who want to get married and start families yet they may not have enough resources. The high bride price demanded by the girl’s family, compounded by existing poverty in the country, demand that the groom find ways of raising enough money unless he comes from a rich family.
Young men are going to the extent of fund raising and taking bank loans to pay for bride price even before they budget for the main wedding ceremony. In such circumstances, the marriage goes through tremendous stress because the couple’s efforts are initially focused on repaying the loans instead of building a happy and strong household.
Some of the young men among pastoral communities even resort to the crime of stealing livestock so that they can have enough animals to pay for a bride. This is especially so because domestic animals are the sole legal tender for marriage among such communities.
The negotiations involving pride price tend to be laborious and frustrating for both the bride and the groom. The bride especially has no control over the process and the elders from her family can set her pride price as high as they want. Many people now feel that the practice has become a money-making scheme that exploits young men and their families, especially where they are perceived to be rich.
The whole drama reaches a climax on wedding day when the groom’s entourage arrives in the morning at the bride’s home to pick her up. The bride’s family now has one last chance to demand anything from the groom before he “takes their daughter away”. The groom’s entourage is locked out of the bride’s compound until they part with more money and material things.
Human rights activists have condemned the practice insisting that it is equivalent to purchasing women like one would buy an item. Pride price should therefore be condemned strongly by everyone because it degrades women and robs them off their dignity. For example, a man is likely to demand that his wife remains submissive to him simply because he paid a hefty pride price in order to marry her.
It is hard to believe that in the current global order, women anywhere in the world would wish to be viewed as commodities or have a “price tag” placed on them for the sake of marriage. They deserve freedom from culturally entrenched marital practices that often subjugate, degrade and merchandize them. Abandoning the practice would therefore enhance the institution of marriage by bringing dignity, respect and equality between the groom and the bride at the initiation of their marriage and beyond.
Women need legal protection from cultural practices that violate their rights and make them socially and economically vulnerable. New laws that make pride price illegal in Kenya should be enacted. In Uganda, for example, a women’s rights group took the Government of Uganda to the Constitutional Court in 2007 requesting that the court declare the practice un-constitutional.
Finally, a young couple who are about to get married require moral and economic support from both families and the community at large. More importantly, the couple should be left alone to plan the type of wedding ceremony that they want, according to their means and preferences. The time has come for the old generation to stop burdening young people with meaningless, retrogressive and expensive traditions!