Kuria - Marriage Traditions
|See also Kuria feature articles - Child weddings, and a number of wedding song lyrics in the section on Kuria music and dance: the Ibirandi (Isururu) wedding dance, Embegete and Egetomo wedding dance, Induru wedding dance for adults, Isubo celebration for pregnancy, and Ekegogo wedding and circumcision dance.
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Marriage between women
A lot has been made of the Kuria marriage traditions lately, both positively and negatively.
The negative comments, verging on acrimonious, have focused on the traditionally early age at which Kuria girls got married. The debate (extremely one-sided at present), clearly shows up the conflict between the needs and values of Western-style development and the cash economy, where Western-style education is crucial for anyone to have any chance of success, and the lingering traditions, where this question was irrelevant. For more on this, read the somewhat one-sided article, Teenage marriages - A most foul custom.
The positive comments, on the other hand, have centred on an unusual marriage arrangement between women, in which an older and usually richer woman can marry a young woman to bear her children for her.
Kuria marriages necessitate a hefty brideprice (also called bridewealth or dowry), paid for in head of cattle from the groom and his family to the family of the bride. In the past, twenty five cattle was not unusual, which was prohibitive for many Kuria men, especially given that their land was more suited to agriculture. In such a case, the groom's family members would each contribute one cow to make up the total number needed.
As cattle-rusting has increased in recent years, the impetus for parents to 'sell off' their daughters has grown, making these forced marriages an easy way to compensate for stolen herds. This is in part the seed for the present debate about child weddings. The other contributing factor is that the husbands - those able to afford the bridewealth - are mostly old men: polygamy was common until recently, the only barrier being a man's wealth.
The following has been adapted from Richard Trillo's Rough Guide to Kenya (Rough Guides, 6th edition, 1999), and is reproduced here with his kind permission
The Kuria have an interesting, quasi-matriarchal system found in various parts of Africa, which essentially allows women of means to "marry" younger women in order to have children without the need to live with a man.
In practice, it's often a married woman who can't have children who invites a younger woman into her home. The young "bride", in turn, chooses a male partner, often in secret, to father (biologically speaking) her children, who are brought up by the two women without the involvement of the father or the older woman's husband.
The older woman is sometimes a widow, sometimes simply a single woman. In any case, she lives like a male elder – attending to light business affairs but essentially waited upon hand and foot from dawn to dusk. It's a system with much to recommend it, especially when it takes care of unmarried mothers (who are barred from marrying men), who come into the family as "wives" – surrogate mothers – and whose children are automatically adopted.
Ironically, despite these apparently female-controlled arrangements, it's male children that women-families want – and men who inherit land.