The Marriage Process In Pokomo Settings

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Newly wedded african couples

For several days, the women spent a lot of time pounding rice, fetching water, fetching firewood, preparing snail shells which were used as spoons, preparing mats, etc. all in readiness for the wedding. The relatives pounded rice in small groups. Several mortars were availed so as to hasten the work. They pounded the rice in unison while singing happily.

The eighth journey of proposal was the last one. It also marked the last official round of gourds of honey beer to the girl’s parents. For the first time, the boy accompanied his father and mother. He was introduced to his future parents in-law and other close relatives of the girl. They stayed there for two days. The boy was given ample time to chat and joke with the girl. The boy was usually in the company of some of his close male cousins and brothers. The girl was not allowed to be alone with her future husband. She was always surrounded by her close female relatives.

During this visit, the brothers and sisters in-law shared meals in one hut. It was a taboo to leave food that was served at the in-law’s home. Should the boy not finish the food served, the mother in-law claimed a fine called dabva from him. This fine was not defined. The girl’s mother merely told the boy, “kudabva!” i.e. “I have fined you!” and the boy would give her anything ranging from a small present to a substantive gift.

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At night, the boy slept in a separate hut together with the other boys. On the second day of their stay at the in-laws, close relatives from the girl’s clan poured in. While the women prepared various dishes of food for the visitors, the men sat down to negotiate on the dowry. During the negotiations, an independent person acted as a mediator between the two parties. To signify the acceptance of the marriage, the girl took some honey-beer and gave it to her father who sipped it. The girl’s father sipped the honey beer and blew it on the girl’s head as a sign of blessing. It was known as kubifa madzi. He then handed her over to the boy’s mother. The marriage was sealed with this act.

Back at the boy’s home, a marriage ceremony was held. People celebrated the occasion by feasting, dancing and singing throughout the rest of that day. After the bride had been put into the house, the women returned to the centre of the village (moro) to dance. They composed songs to glorify the bride, the groom and their families. The married women were usually ecstatic with joy at weddings. “Another one has joined our group”, they said amidst the shouting and dancing.

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Payment of dowry started after the marriage. It was 50 bags of rice and it was paid in instalments. The Pokomo believed that if the dowry was paid in a lumpsum, it would cause infertility to the newly wedded woman. The relationship between the boy’s parents and the girl’s parents did not end there. For instance, on many occasions, the husband was called upon by his wife’s parents to go and help them do specific work like planting rice, harvesting crops, building a new house, etc. Such work was known as kazi ya ukwe i.e. work for the parents in-laws.

Sometimes this procedure of getting married was flouted. A betrothed couple could be in a hurry to get married. In such a case, the boy eloped with the girl. This was usually done at night when the parents of the girl were asleep. In the morning, the boy’s father went to the girl’s home in the company of a mediator and declared himself the “thief of the canoe” i.e. that he had the girl. In such a case, the boy’s father was fined for allowing his son to elope with the girl. This fine was called kitswa. After the payment of this fine, which is currently fixed at 1,500/-, the normal negotiations took place thereafter.

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Despite the fact that midwives physically checked the virginity of girls from time to time, some girls became pregnant prior to their marriage. The Pokomo had provisions in their customs to take care of such eventualities. For instance, if a man wanted to marry a girl who had given birth at home, he paid the normal bride price apart from paying an extra fee in order to be allowed to have the custody of the child born out of wedlock. The man was thereafter said to bethe legal father of the illegitimate child. In case a man wanted to marry a divorced woman, he paid a reduced bride wealth to her father in order to legalise the marriage. But the children of the divorced woman remained children of their legal father at the time of their birth.

If a girl gave birth at home and died before marriage, the child was treated as her brother’s. When he grew up, he paid some negotiation fee and he was accepted back to the clan of the father who was responsible for his birth. If a married woman was impregnated by another man, the child nevertheless was still considered to have been sired by the recognised husband. As such, every Pokomo child had a legal father, whether the mother was married or not.

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Edward M. Yesse is a Pokomo from Ngao. He was born on 18th December, 1957. He passed through Ngao Primary School, Tarasaa High School and the University of Nairobi where he graduated with an Upper Second Class Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Public Administration in 1986. In addition, he has a First Division Diploma in Constitutional Law and a First Division Diploma in Parliamentary Institutions and Procedure from the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi, India, which he obtained in 1990. He is also a Parliamentary Fellow from the same Institute. He passed the Administrative Officers' Examination administered by the Public Service Commission in 1990. He obtained a Diploma in Business Management from the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) in 2003. He attended numerous other courses. He is currently pursuing his MBA. He opted for an early retirement in June, 2013 as Regional Manager with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) due to personal reasons. E-mail: edwardmyesse@yahoo.com Mobile No: 0722647327 or 0733860825

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