We have to ask the hard questions on bride price

Friday October 04 2019

Photo/FILE The Marriage Bill recognises polygamy, the payment of bride price for customary marriages and also provides for the various grounds on which a couple can seek divorce.


I am quickly learning that the cheapest way to get married is through the time-honoured tradition of not getting married. If you're getting married or are married then this is a conversation that you can't beat. You might object to it in different ways but sometimes vitu kwa ground ni different.

I asked my Twitter followers what their experiences with bride price had been and it started pretty warmly with tales of kind in-laws and token bride price, and it didn't seem like a bad thing at all. It then went downhill from there, to money requests in the millions which can only aptly be described as extortion. Bride price has become a criminal enterprise and our uncles and fathers are the gang leaders and we young men are the silent victims.

But why exactly do we pay bride price in the first place? According to legend, it's supposed to act as a token of appreciation to the family for the bride and act as a symbolic show that the man is ready to take care of the bride. Dowry was also supposed to create strong familial ties between the two families and it was structured in such a way that it would be paid over a lifetime. That way the families would always have a reason to meet up. It sounds like a pretty noble idea. The legend didn't, however, explain how tokens would appreciate into millions as it's now the case. Does anyone have a few tokens that they want to give me for writing this column? If that's what tokens look like then I'm all in!

The negotiations are usually held by older men. I once managed to eavesdrop on one meeting because I was extremely curious about what went on. A friend, Kandie was getting married and since I envisioned my ceremony would not be too far off (I was wrong), I listened in. As I pressed my ear against the wooden window, I noticed the discussion was cordial and it honestly sounded like a business negotiation. It was like an investment valuation meeting with lawyers huddled on either side with heaps of paper to counter the other's claims. Her attributes were being listed like an item on Amazon and her Masters from a foreign university was brought up at least three or four times. The girl's family was also going to be losing an avid worker who contributed towards household income but who also helped her mother with household chores. This did not sound very token of appreciation-ish to me.

The session took a break when uncles from the groom's side stormed out and were eventually brought back by a mediator from the family. They had been asked for two million bob and the groom's father was having none of it. I walked back to where the groom was seated as we trusted that the drama would be handled.

We conversed about how ridiculous the whole situation was but we were seemingly helpless. Kandie and I swore to never be those uncles who harass the groom's family over dowry. This incident is not peculiar to Kandie. Discussions like these have popped up multiple times over the past few years. It's been a tough economic space for many young men, exacerbated by rising unemployment, a growing number are starting to ask the necessary questions. Why is bride price so high? Why am I paying bride price in the first place? What happens if I don't pay? What's the worst that could happen?


These questions make sense because marriage is supposed to be a happy affair. Starting your life while indebted to your in-laws isn't what you think when you are told about matrimonial bliss.

These negotiations are usually the basis for family feuds that last decades. Some families don't talk to each other over arguments that happened way before Kenya conceded to multiparty politics. Arguments over lesos, blankets, alcohol, and fines for "breaking the leg of a goat" are keeping people from the property-sharing-agreements, which we term as marriage (OK, I add with a touch of love).

People should be more reasonable with bride price. If it's exorbitant, my advice to you as a young man is to take a short break before resuming the discussions otherwise you might break more actual legs in anger.

Take a short walk, get married and have three children and by that time, I'm certain your in-laws will have changed their minds.