Dowry payment in modern Kenya is still the cornerstone of a modern day Kenyan society. Family in a traditional and biblical sense begins with a man and a woman joining together in holy matrimony. This union between a man and a woman in marriage is often marked by various caltural events based on one’s tradition and values. Dowry payment in the modern Kenya spans nearly all the major tribes.
To many even a Church wedding is not complete without the tradition of dowry payment. Whereas christian weddings have become more and more popular today, the settlement of dowry remains steadfast among many couples. As with many things, Modernization of society is catching up with us and people’s feelings towards dowry payment is starting to reflect certain modern beliefs in particular Feminism.
Traditionally dowry payment was symbolic in a sense that since the woman was essentially leaving her family and joining her new husband’s family the quote a quote old family needed to be compensated for loosing a daughter. Obviously the more the Father had invested in their child’s upbringing , the more they could ask for.
Inject Feminism in the mix and suddenly it became the convoluted notion that the man was “buying” his new bride and equating it her to his property to do with and treat as he pleased. Historically in the African village, the number of animals, Cows in this sense signified wealth and it was then a natural assumption that dowry would be made in kind. Cows were the defacto currency of the time.
Fast forward to today and understand that The age-old custom which is regarded as an appreciation of the bride’s parents for bringing her up has become commercialised and exploitative. Some fathers are tempted to force their young daughters into marriage just for the sake of acquiring wealth via the dowry system. Others demand exorbitant payment, sometimes leading to cancellation of the marriage.
Recently I attended a pre wedding of sorts and this was the dowry payment requirements that the bride’s parents were asking for.
ITEMS OF MARRIAGE EXPECTED
- An introduction letter
- A suit for the father
- Cows: 14 Total (uncles get 1, aunties get 1)
- Cash accompanying Cows
- Mothers (cash envelope)
- Fathers (cash envelope)
- Grandma’s Adinyo
- Cash to open brew
- Kina Baba’s (cash envelope)
- Kina Mamas (cash envelopes)
- Walking stick
- Servers cash envelope.
- Cash for sweeping the house.
- Marriage agreement
If you can see a pattern to this you are right. In today’s kenyan economy that is close to 500, 000 ksh which is nothing to sneeze at. That is unless you are one Kenyan business man, Jared Otieno. For the sake of discussion if you are not in the know of who that is, he did this
For those who embrace cultural practices and the affluent, paying dowry in modern kenya is not a big deal. However, there are new age people who have contrary opinions. That dowry rarely becomes a subject of discussion for these couple when they plan marriage is perhaps very telling. Mostly you will find that it is the parents who insist on this tradition.
Uganda’s Supreme Court recently banned dowry refunds upon divorce. which it ruled that the practice of refunding the price of the bride upon the dissolution of a customary marriage was unconstitutional and should be banned. In the 6-1 decision, the majority believed that the practice infringes on a woman’s right to divorce. The judges also said it suggests that a woman is being bought when she marries. Supporters of a ban on the bride price, including the NGO Mifumi, which brought the suit, said the practice makes women the property of their husbands. The group welcomed the court’s decision, despite the court rejecting that bride pricing itself was unconstitutional. In Legalese fashion, they left the question open for public debate.
Why Dowry was important
The significance of paying dowry has never received any backing of a religious nature. Many constitutions do not have robust legal frameworks to give a direction that all marriages have to be sealed by dowries. On the other hand, people pay dowries for other psychological and social reasons. Dowry is somewhat an appreciation that the bride or the groom expresses to the family of his or her spouse of accepting him or her in the marriage. Done correctly dowry payment can create a stronger bond between families that lasts for generations.
Why is it losing its touch?
Modern day trappings of marriage, skyrocketing divorce rates and people marrying mutiple times in their lifetime has all worked to erode the idea of dowry payments. Feminisms also plays a major role. The Idea that a man is buying his wife is now more than ever frowned upon. As with many other African traditions that are falling to the wayside, this may ultimately be gone as well.