|Gutiri mburi itangiracio tiga inawathe. (Gikuyu)
Mbuzi yeyote hukubalika kama mahari, lakini asiwe na dosari. (Swahili)
Toute chèvre peut servir de dot, à moins qu’elle ne présente un défaut. (French)
Any goat can serve as bridewealth unless it has a defect. (English)
Gikuyu (Kenya) Proverb
Background, Explanation, History, Meaning and Everyday Use
The Kikuyu people in Kenya were traditionally farmers and good livestock keepers. Their products from the farm and animals were used to trade. Among their many traditions, marriage was one of the most significant. In fact, bridewealth payment was valued using goats, sheep and cattle. A man with many daughters considered himself wealthy since each daughter’s dowry propelled him to a higher level in the society.
When a woman agreed to a man’s proposal for marriage, he would approach his parents/guardians and elders to inform them of his intention to marry. A special committee of reputable elders, athuri, organized and facilitated the bridewealth payment process and also the marriage. The bride’s family invited them to a ceremony known as kuunirwo miti, that is, to be told what they were supposed to bring as bridewealth. The amount was determined by the amount of bridewealth that her father had paid for her mother. A specific number of goats, cows and sheep would be requested among other things. The animals were selected from the best breed, big, spotless and healthy looking. If a family did not have cattle, the number of goats equivalent in value were presented. Animals with any defects, such as disabled, thin or of poorly bred, were never presented because they would not be accepted. It would be disrespectful and a sign of undermining the value of the bride.
Today things have changed. Bridewealth may be determined by several factors such as the level of education the girl has received, if she has a career and her social class. Goats, cattle, cash and other properties of value are used if the family accepts them. Since bridewealth payment lasts a lifetime, the groom is thus required to pay a certain portion of it before being allowed to marry the bride. The balance is paid in portions throughout one’s lifetime to ensure that there is a continued relationship between the families.
Proverbs 31:10 “A capable, intelligent and virtuous woman – who is he who can find her? She is far more precious than jewels and her value is far above rubies and pearls.”
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
Contemporary Use and Religious Application
In contemporary African society a wife is considered to be of very great value to a husband, family and community. To show that they appreciate her, the groom’s family presents the best choice of gifts to her family as bridewealth. Her true value cannot be measured by wealth in any form. However, the society requires gifts to be presented to the bride’s family as a sign of appreciation. A wife cannot return to her home under any circumstances once she is married and the bridewealth has been paid. She and her children become permanent members of her husband’s family and community.
According to both the traditional and Christian values and customs, a marriage is permanent. Bridewealth and marriage help to build strong bonds and respect between the couple, their families, the church and the community. The church is working hard to instill these values in the youth and parents so that better cohesion is realized in order to save the Christian marriage institution and to work towards reducing the rate of divorce in today’s society. The value of a wife according to the Bible should be emphasized and amplified in order for this endeavor succeed.
This Gikuyu proverb is a very important and relevant in the follow-up to the III Extraordinary World Synod of Bishops in Rome in October, 2014 that “defined” the “status quaestionis” (Latin for “state of the question”) of the topic of family and marriage. Then the next synod – officially called the Synod of Bishops XIV Ordinary General Assembly — to take place in Rome in October, 2015 — will ”seek working guidelines in the pastoral care of the person and the family.” Hopefully African leaders will be involved in this whole process and plan and contribute African values on family and marriage.
NOTE: This proverb is No. 15 in the Collection of 100 Kikuyu Proverbs about Money and Wealth, Nairobi, Kenya: August 2014. TO BE POSTED AS AN EBOOK.
Margaret Wambere Ireri
P O Box 2056 – 00202 KNH
Cellphone: 254 722 537 774
Cephas Yao Agbemenu
Department of Fine Arts
P O Box 43844
Cellphone: 254 723 307 992