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Honouring the age-old tradition in different ways

By Vision Reporter

Added 2nd October 2009 03:00 AM

Bride price in Ankole has undergone many changes and innovations. But the basic guidelines are the same. It is an exchange of gifts from the families of the boy and girl to signify a new bond. Because the boy’s family gains a new membe

Bride price in Ankole has undergone many changes and innovations. But the basic guidelines are the same. It is an exchange of gifts from the families of the boy and girl to signify a new bond. Because the boy’s family gains a new membe

Bride price in Ankole has undergone many changes and innovations. But the basic guidelines are the same. It is an exchange of gifts from the families of the boy and girl to signify a new bond. Because the boy’s family gains a new member, it gives more as appreciation and compensation.

Cows and goats are the preferred gifts. Chicken, pigs and sheep are unacceptable and may be considered belittling, which can easily end the relationship. The girl’s family asks for a number of cows which include the cow(s) they will sell to raise money for the gifts they have to buy for her as she starts her new home.

These gifts are mandatory and can cause squabbles if they are fewer in value in relation to the number of cows the boy’s family gave. Another cow is slaughtered (or will replace the one slaughtered) for the kuhingira function. The third is usually reserved as a gift they give whole to their daughter as she starts a new home. Thus the cows cannot be less than three, unless behind the scenes, the boy’s family agrees to forfeit the gifts. Thus if a family asks for five cows, one is for conversion into gifts (emihingiro), another for slaughtering at give away, the third is a gift for the girl at kuhingira and the remaining two are what they keep. There are a number of goats that are mandatory during the process of marriage which takes at least four stages; the introduction (okweyanjura), deciding bride price (okucwerwa ebintu), paying the bride price (okujuga) and give away (okuhingira/okuriira ebintu). Certain relatives like the aunt and uncle have to take goats.

During kuhingira the girl’s family hands over the gifts and tradition requires that they are announced one by one to everybody present. Other relatives, neighbours, family friends, community leaders may also add gifts which are usually in form of cows and it is not uncommon to pay five cows in bride price and be given more than 10 as presents depending on the family’s social-economic status.

In the sad event that the marriage has to be dissolved, the bride price has to be returned as it was given. The girl’s family will return five cows but the boy’s family will not return the gifts they received. Even after 10 years, the boy’s family will receive only five cows and cannot demand for the cows’ offspring as well.

If the cows were converted into money, the refund cannot be in terms of cows but money that was paid without factoring in inflation or assumed profits. If you paid sh2,000 for your wife in the 1970s, that is what you receive in 2009.

Traditionally, a man paid five cows, five goats and a cock. These days it can be negotiated upwards or downwards. It can be anything between one and 10 cows. A paternal and a maternal uncle of the girl each gets a cow. A paternal and a maternal aunt each gets a goat.

Often all aunties of the girl gang up and confiscate one goat before the gifts are presented, forcing the visitors to find a replacement later. The price is agreed weeks or months in advance and the marriage ceremony usually begins in the afternoon. The girl’s parents inspect the livestock brought, before allowing the visitors into their home. The gifts are presented, followed by eating, drinking and dancing, which typically goes on till about 5:00am.

The groom’s father and his contemporaries are each served a whole chicken while young men share a chicken between two. The women eat beef, with the groom’s mother getting a full dish. The visitors are usually 15-25 on average. When the visitors leave, they are given a cockerel, whose feathers they pluck off as they walk home, leaving a trail. As they reach their home area they roast the cockerel, eat the meat and then disperse.

The first Mugisu, Masaba, paid bride price of 15 cows, 10 goats and 20 chicken for a Kalenjin girl from present-day Kenya. Elders say he did this to show a sense of responsibility and appreciation to the girl’s parents. To-date the Bagisu emulate their ancestor by paying bride price. Traditionally they paid 15 cows, 15 goats and 20 chicken plus five jerrycans of local brew.

This was reduced to 10 cows, five goats and 15 chickens when famine hit Bugisu in the 16th century. Later on elders added a busuuti, coat, kanzu and a suit.

The clan leader presides over the marriage ceremony. He and the girl’s father select a number of elders to receive the bride price on behalf of the family. After introductory speeches the chief presents their demands to the boy’s parents.

They must be able to pay at least half the bride price immediately. In return, the girl’s family slaughters a bull and 20 chicken to feed the guests. The boy’s family is treated to a feast and then one elder after another pours local brew and chicken blood on her feet, urging her to take care of her husband and to produce as many children as possible.

The girl is then officially handed over to the boy’s family as he is instructed to protect his wife, give her comfort, produce children and seek advice from the elders whenever there is a problem.

Traditionally, the man would pay between 10 and 20 cows, 10 goats, an egg, a spear and sh100,000. The gifts taken by the man such as busuutis, saucepans, paraffin, soap and salt were merely that - gifts.

But after the Karimojong raided the region and took their cattle in 1989, the bride price greatly reduced.

The change was also brought about by inter-tribal marriages. The major item is still the cows but this has reduced to between three and seven cows, three to five goats, an egg, spear and sh300,000 to sh5m. Plus gifts brought by the man.

These days, the list of items asked for by the girl’s parents is sent in advance to the boy’s parents, unlike in the past where the marriage was done in fours phases.

The boy’s side would go to the girls parents to declare their intention, second would be the boy and his entourage visiting the girl’s home, upon which his clan members would meet the girl’s clan members to haggle over the bribe price.

In the third phase, the girl’s parents and clan members would visit the home of the boy to inspect the cows and goats meant for bride price and the last phase was when the boy’s side delivered the bride price to the family of the girl, upon which they would receive their bride.

They traditionally paid 30 cows, 10-20 goats and 10-20 chicken.

Over the years the payment reduced to an average of five to 12 cows. At the ceremony, the bride is asked to introduce the groom.

She asks him for cash so talks can begin; these days this ranges from sh10,000 to sh100,000. Often the prospective bride and groom negotiate in advance so she does not ask for what he cannot afford.

She and the groom then walk away and the elders negotiate the bride price. The parents ask for some money for ‘opening their mouths’. They then negotiate and agree on how many goats, cows and chicken.

The haggling can go on for 8-10 hours. In most cases it starts in the afternoon and can go on up to 1:00am or beyond.

The groom’s entourage then presents the livestock they have brought. If it is less than the amount agreed, they promise to bring the rest later. Payment of the balance can go on for two to four years. If the woman dies before full payment is done, the parents demand for the balance before burial.

Customary marriage rites today begin with a visit by the woman’s suitor to one of her maternal aunts, who then becomes the official emissary between the families.

Through this aunt/Ssenga, the man sends a message to his future in-laws asking to ‘be born into their family.’ If they are agreeable, they will reply giving the suitor a date to visit their home for introduction (kwanjula).

In the same response, the future in-laws state what they want as bride price. While there is no limit on how much he can ask for, it is today considered most proper to ask for something symbolic but of little monetary value.

Today most fathers –in-law ask for a bible/quran, hymn book or walking stick, done to their specifications, for example a brown leather-bound Bible. In the past though, prospective fathers –in-law used to ask for any number of gourds of local brew.

The demand by a father-in-law is the only one that must be fulfilled by the suitor. Sometimes, a father-in-law who does not approve of his daughter’s suitor might make a very hefty demand to send the message of his disapproval. While it is not strictly mandatory, it is standard practice that the groom’s entourage carries gifts for their hosts when they go for introduction.

Gifts like busuuti fabric for the women who were instrumental in the raising the bride, kanzus for the similarly involved men and a cock for the brother who will be officially handing her over to the groom are always included. Other gifts are usually foodstuffs.

Honouring the age-old tradition in different ways

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