Samburu weddings battling modernism

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When a Samburu man meets a girl he fancies, he initiates a cultural process that can sometimes last months of negotiations, haggling over bride price and several visits before the girl’s family agrees to ‘hand-over’ their daughter to the young man.

But the bride-to-be may not even know the man is interested in her until his family shows up at their homestead with part of the dowry. She has limited choice over who marries her. The whole process is done oblivious of the girl’s decision. No dating. No courting.

“If the man loses interest in the girl after the talks have started, he can pass the marriage opportunity to his brother as long as they are of the same age-set,” explains Christopher Lemaletiian, the 2012 cultural ambassador of the Maralal International Camel Derby Festival.

Christopher Lemaletiian

We were lucky to be guests of a Samburu traditional wedding at the sideline of the Camel Derby in Maralal. Susan and Jackson Lekokuk were officially getting married though they have been together as a couple for the last 10 years and are blessed with four children.

This is not unusual, says Christopher. Depending on the economic situation when they met, the families agree the two can stay as husband and wife until the man’s family can pay the dowry price.

But ideally, the wedding ceremony follows a set script followed for many years. The groom’s entourage which consists of his family and close friends approach the homestead of the bride and state the reason for their visit.

“During this initial visit, the man’s family usually comes with tobacco, sugar and tea leaves as gifts to the girl’s family,” says Christopher.

But its not always smooth sailing for the groom and his family. The girl may be on high demand and can get as many as five proposals from different families. They all present gifts and put forward their case why their ‘boy’ is most deserving to get the girl. Even at this stage, the girl has very little knowledge about her suitor/s. It is the girl’s family, especially the mother that decides the guy who will become the ‘most eligible bachelor’.

After an agreement is reached, the groom’s party goes out of the homestead and comes back singing with a goat in tow to be slaughtered as a sign of consensus. The bride is introduced to the guests. She is adorned with the ceremonial gown of goat skin and a necklace chain which indicates her new marital status.

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