What is a BridePrice?

  John Shabaan is the Google Cloud Specialist for Vita Global. He lives in Nairobi, Kenya and he took the time out of his wedding planning to share the unique process of the Kenyan pre-marriage ceremony.  In John’s words:

I have been in a relationship with the woman I am to spend the rest of my life with (come December 12th)

Sophia for the last three years and we’ve been friends for six years. We’d come to the stage in our lives where we figured it was a good idea to get married, move in together and spend the rest of our lives together. Taking that step is something that was the subject of hopes and fervent prayers (which depends on the relatives or friends of Sophia or myself) and I’m sure Sophia as well (just to be honest). However for a man marriage isn’t something to be entered into a trifling manner which behoves taking your time to arrive at the threshold of matrimony.

African culture, ah yes; when you arrive at the decision with your beloved you go to your parents and tell them you have now found a woman to make your wife (even though technically you’ve know each other for quite a few years). Your family then initiates a series of activities and steps that ultimately end up in a wedding day before family, friends, God & hopefully no strangers. With the end result of the joining together of two families & of course you and your’s truly.

This intricate process has no written script and has been happening for long long before my time or my fathers fathers time as an aside – I really really would like to meet the person who came up with the idea for bride price and all the accompanying steps.
To return to the process let me break down the steps which have different names but have generally the same processes in different tribes:
Introduction – you bring your bride home to meet your parents, so they get to know who will be joining the family.
Request – you go to visit your bride’s parents with a few friends to introduce yourself to her parents & express your intentions. You then agree on when you will come with your family.
First visit – this is the first official meeting between the two families where the two sets of parents meet. Some ceremonial steps are accomplished at this step. This includes ceremonially placing a beacon on your bride’s home and then gifts for her relatives. During this visit your families then agree on the next step which is the bride price ceremony. As the groom you don’t get to speak during the ceremony except to identify your prospective bride. This makes for fun times as you watch your family (who you love) and prospective in laws who you’ll come to love negotiate about bride price.
Bride price – This is the biggest single ceremony apart from the wedding and it is when your family brings the first instalment of the bride price agreed during the first visit. What happens during this ceremony vary from culture to culture. As an example in some cultures your family goes with the food that will be eaten, during the ceremony & actually does the cooking – this may include firewood. With the new constitution this is now recognized as an official marriage ceremony.
Groom’s home visit – a visit to the groom’s home to see where they come from and what home the bride is going to and to make sure it’s not an unacceptable place.
Drinks & Suitcases – a few days before the wedding the women from the groom’s side take soft drinks (sodas) and a suitcase to the bride’s parents – to facilitate the releasing of the bride without additional delay (on the wedding day)
Wedding – we finally come to the wedding (religious or civil) and the couple can then proceed on a well deserved and by this time thoroughly needed honeymoon.

So these are the general events that transpire during the steps two people who are in love take on the route to getting married. Suffice it to say by the time you are at the wedding – you should really, really, really be sure you want to get married.

As I write these steps down I’ve come to an interesting observation these steps we take should actually be a natural screening process to ensure that when you do end up in marriage, you’re sure and extremely committed to remain in marriage through good times and bad times – that though is a story for another day ☺☺☺

Now before you write off this process I’ll say this – this is a general rule not strictly enforced though and families are free to modify the steps as they see fit. Some families do all of them and each step follows the traditional process – others have only one step and do everything then. So it’s not all stress, strain, long visits and empty pockets.

In that light I’m super blessed because my mother in-law agreed to condense all these visits into two visits – which is no mean feat as a widow in a society such as ours. We only had two major visits and then the wedding.

You might be asking yourself if we only had two visits out of a possible six – I should be super grateful (which I am) and not whining (which I’m not) – just thought we should put that to rest right here and now.

Now getting back to my experience we had a first visit where my people met Sophia’s people we took gifts (literally and in cash form) we were lovingly relieved of both in order to show our intention and “claim” the homestead for our son (me). This was the most nerve wracking visit for me due to a few reasons & I shall elaborate.
Firstly I didn’t know what was going to happen despite reassurances (family), fervent prayer (me, family & friends) and also I wasn’t going to be allowed to speak during the negotiations but I had to sit in the room though it.. This was a small visit going by what would transpire at the second & final visit (mercifully).
Secondly as the person who has brought all these people together you want them to succeed – you want them to get along and become friends. To this day I can remember what the food looked like but not what it tasted like.
In the end it worked out and my family seemed okay with the result and the leaving of gifts.

All this brings me to where we started at the beginning of this article which was the day of the second visit – to take bride price. By this point I’d made my peace with this process and I’ll tell you why.

You see despite being an African & a Kenyan I really don’t agree with the concept of bride price (the actual giving of money in exchange for permission to marry), now don’t get me wrong. I think you’ll agree with me those steps are good because they make sure you really want to get married. I think the money that would be paid should be given to the couple of put towards the wedding not given to relatives as a thank you for raising the bride (whether or not they have actually participated in raising her & no being a relative doesn’t count in my opinion as raising someone). Also now there is a bride price app which will calculate the premium of bride by a series of questions.

So come the morning of the bride price ceremony day (November 22nd) I made sure I had something to do so I didn’t have to spend the whole morning twiddling my thumbs. Luckily we had an end season event for a ministry we serve in at church. I’d invited family, friends and we’d agreed on meeting times. Provision had been made for food and drink and before I knew it the time was came and the most amazing thing happened….

God, Our friends and families came through, it was a fun event with pictures, dancing, singing, food (I actually remember the taste this time) and we got a wedding as the saying goes.

Ultimately I believe this process has grown me & Sophia as individuals in addition to bringing us closer together.

Come this Friday we have our wedding & after that blissfully the honeymoon……….

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