So the colonialists called it buying the bride,even though they are not in the same position any more-they still maintain this. We, the Gikuyu people, call it bride price, not to buy but to appreciate, we passionately say they need to understand what they talk about and we are right, they don’t know, they can’t comprehend and they don’t need to understand, its a different culture beyond an ignorant man’s understanding. Any way, i have no issue with them,why would i? it would add no salt nor sugar on the matter at hand, but it is this very subject i seek to explore a little.
How and why? Ha! its good question for all sober minds, but i am not sober, so lets leave it there, sobriety is a luxury left for interpreters, not a fancy any creativity admires.So at least you know what drives me along this path, and yes, i am drunk and disorderly with curiosity and a thirst for more truth, right from the roots. That i am stubborn, is a fact my mama can better elaborate on, by the way, that is also a subject for another day and maybe that’s why today, on this 22nd day of November, in the middle of the night as the world dances around, i sit here thinking of this strange thing, i welcome you to join me, even if i know you most likely will dance tonight, drink yourself to a heavy hungover tomorrow, and then join me as you take some tea to kill that headache sometime in the afternoon, all in all, my door will still be open so you can hung your coat somewhere and relax.
Okay, i start. As an answer for the why question, because of what it has become or what it is now, not what it used to be or ought to be, and this is what has inspired me to jolt something down about it, because i care, because i miss its beauty and because i wish to see it not lose its meaning, like it has. So we commence from the genesis of it all, those old days, those golden days where the beauty of it all was crafted and practiced and enjoyed, and then we compare notes with now- by the way, i write this knowing well it might not interest many, but for the few who find amusement in the learning of a different culture, please fasten your seat belts.
It was meant to show appreciation, a humble thank you to the family that had worked so hard, with their sweat they toiled, with their wealth they provided and brought up, with their passion and wisdom they nurtured, and the product of this great effort? well, its this beauty that makes your tummy bubble with butterflies flying all over, whose smile alone drives you into a confused stance, with whom with no words uttered, just a gaze would tell any stranger of how connected you feel and yes, to them she is this child, this girl but to you, she may have been a girl once upon a time, but the beauty of womanhood is written all over her body, her skin and her soul-this you bet in your heart. And yes, she is the remaining piece of the puzzle to complete this incomplete life of yours, no loneliness shall befall you in her presence. And yes, you feel the necessity to show appreciation, in kikuyu its called Gucokia guoko( returning a hand-in its actual meaning is like returning a favor..the hand was so important in the kikuyu sayings because it works, it gives and it takes) So for this reason, everyone wanted to return this favor, in fact it was done out of honor and the man doing it would do it with a lot of pride, it was an event you would want to attend in style, so its not a simple buy and sell thing, No, its an honorable event-i hope we are still on the same page, right?
So the how. It was a long process, it started right after you identified the one you crave for, and she accepts your proposal, music and dance which was regular in all seasons would be the meeting point, maybe that’s why we go to social places in the present day,dance was in all seasons to celebrate the rains, the harvest and anything of such and more nature-we might talk about this in another day. So after this identify and accept stance, came the long process of visiting family members, your aunties your uncles and all other important relatives together so that you can learn and really know each other completely. The relatives role was in actual sense to inquire and probe if you were related in any way by blood, if so, they called it off- incest was not accepted in this culture and still isn’t to date plus they were also required to vet the new in law coming to their house- this was very important and so that’s why good manners was a virtual that all people complied with, it was a rigorous exercise, and still should be, the results? they all would accompany you in settling the deal, you being the boy who is about to become a man, the bride groom whose position in society would be elevated soon. So you also got to know her better, and she would know you. You would understand her temper-if she had any, she would understand yours and the roots it’s derived from-of course the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and one of your many relatives must have had the same trends as you, it wasn’t a social science but looking down at it today, there was a lot of science behind it. And that leads us now to the event, the bread and butter of this long saga we wish to explore.
Now, the event in summary. You would go, you, your friends, your cousins, your brothers and sisters, your mother and her co wives-your father had to have more than one-he was allowed,your mother’s friends, your fathers friends, the elders in your village, the youth who were not your age-mates, your age-mates, the many children in your village, in short, your entire village! If you were not invited to such an event, you must have been an outcast or a fugitive escaping the elders judicial Baraza, in short you did not need an invitation card-the art of writing wasn’t born in this culture yet, and if it was, wasn’t practiced by a majority, it was an open invitation for all, You would have to bring lots of traditional liquor with you, bred by the best in the village, mostly your grandfather had to have organised for this in person and the Miratina had to be prepared by a virgin girl- this was considered to be the purest, simply the best for such an occasion. There would be song and ululations and cheers from ridge over ridge, which would echo across the mountain of God, for this would be home in those days. So imagine this spectacle, a group of more than five hundred and counting, comprised of all ages and walks of life, going up and down the hills, crossing the streams and the forests, singing, dancing, ululating and shouting their lungs out in joy, and all because two people have decided to be one, what an honor, a humbling honor indeed. And on the other side, the brides home, lots of cooking, song and dance, her whole village present and singing their lungs out when they hear the groom party which is like two ridges away, so the echo of celebration would be like songs asking questions from one end of the ridge and another song answering the same two ridges away, asking if they are welcome to the house of Mrembo, and Mrembo’s people saying yes and naming all they have cooked and prepared for this day, Kijana’s party would say they have some beer bred by the best, they have the goats and they come in number, huge number, and mrembo’s party would answer back say welcome and come smiling come easy but quick but don’t rush the old for they might fall near a certain stream such a spectacle, now would you call that buying something?ha! just what i thought, it was amazing and that’s why i feel so bad that we are losing it.
The goats and cattle and everything that the groom came with was bought and contributed by his village, by his friends and family, by his community and they all came with him to accompany him appreciate and honor the in laws. Mrembo’s people and family would understand this, and all they wanted was to bless the two, they also would understand that Mrembo would now be another family’s daughter and they would send her there with gifts and presents and advice her on obedience and service for that was what was expected of her-don’t get me wrong, that was the culture then, things and times have changed i expect a different Mrembo who will not just serve but question why and serve her self life purpose so the question in your mind is settled and we are just rearing back on what was lost and how sweet some of it was.
So it is with great sadness that i reflect on this today, in a day when the groom as young as he is is asked to foot for extravagant things, things he cannot afford, things that made Fadhili williams sing Malaika, for money has replaced all the spectacle that was, and now Mrembo must fall for the guy who drives the best car, the guy despite of his character and behavior, who will afford to effort the demands that her family will make, that one guy who can buy a tank, a herd of cattle, a fully grown camel and load the bank account of the bride’s parents with lots of cash. It has become like gold digging and he, the man, who has no gold to be dug up on, will forever be haunted by the frustration of never advancing in achieving his desired Mrembo, and Mrembo is forced to feign love halfheartedly for the man who will take care of her financial needs even if her heart would have fallen elsewhere, this is the death of a true spectacle that was once love, we find ourselves falling below the social concepts of love, falling for the monitory vices, falling on our cultural values and falling in love with the idea that a better life means money, money has this thirst whose quenching has thrown turmoil world over, whose hunger drives men and women of this world to violence and inhumane acts, we could as well say goodbye to the days of our true love, our pure love stories, without it,love, we just make shit out of our lives because money and power dictate so.