Kikuyu culture is one of the most documented cultures, what with books and movies depicting certain practices among the Kikuyu people. Below, the steps of the traditional Kikuyu wedding process.
It should be noted that while some families are strict on following these customs, some families sometimes do things differently.
Kuhanda Ithigi “Planting Twigs” (Stating Intentions)
Before the ceremony is even considered, the groom and his age mates (“his boys”) must make a trip to his soon-to-be father in law’s homestead to state his intentions. In traditional times this was a very serious affair but in modern times it is a fairly fuss-free visit. There might be some hard questions asked by the father in law but that is to be expected. However, he should NOT show up empty handed. Bringing some food stuff for his new mother in law, and a token for his father-in-law is a good way to be on his in laws’ good side.
NOTE: After this visit then the parents notify their trusted friends of a certain man who would like to marry their daughter. From these trusted friends a small group of men and women will be formed to negotiate on the details of the dowry with a similar group from the man’s family.
Kumenya Mucii “Knowing the Home” (Parents Meet)
Now that the parents of the bride have met this man coming to take their daughter, it is time to meet the people who raised him. Yes, the groom’s parents and close friends will be expected to also go to the bride’s home so that the parents can meet and set a date for the Ruracio. Here, the bride’s elders will also inform the groom’s elders of their dowry requirements. It is important to follow the requests as given; otherwise, it can lead to a breakdown in communication during the dowry negotiations.
NOTE: Kumenya Mucii is normally combined with the Ruracio, due to
Ruracio (Dowry Negotiations and Payment)
The Ruracio is the traditional dowry negotiation and payment ceremony. Before the groom’s family is allowed into the house, the women of both houses sing songs at the entrance of the home. This vocal tussle is done to illustrate the coming together of two families, that start off singing two different songs but end up in sync.
It should be noted that during this function the bride is usually in the house, away from all guests until the MC calls for her.
As with all other functions, the food is served first before getting to the heart of the matter. Once everyone’s done eating then the festivities kick off with introductions. The bride’s family (the hosts) are introduced first. During this introduction the family will introduce everyone except the bride, they will usually end the introduction by mentioning that they have several other daughters who have been sent to the river to fetch water. Other introductions on the host’s side will be done and the MC will invite the spokesman from the groom’s side to introduce his guests.
The introductions again will begin with the family of the groom but not include him until the very end when he will be called up. He will be asked if he is sure that he directed people to the right home (this is especially the case when a ruracio is combined with the Kumenya Mucii). He answers in the affirmative, he will be asked if he has seen her on that day, as she will be in the house he will say no.
They will then bring 2 or 3 people from the house, uncovered for him to identify. Once the girl is selected then the men will retreat to a room to proceed with the negotiations and payments. Once in the room the bride will be called and asked to give her blessings for the discussions to take place.
According to Kikuyu custom, all Kikuyu girls are valued at 99 goats. It would seem easier to just round off to 100 but the 1 is left with the groom’s parents so that they can amass a new flock (equitable indeed). Some cases have 90 or 100 goats as maybe agreed. There also other items to be settled as part of the dowry.
The groom’s family can be allowed to pay for some items using the monetary equivalent, though this varies per family. The negotiations are only conducted by the couple’s elders, and representatives. It is important for each side to pick a great orator who can speak on behalf of their family, and took maintain the spirit of negotiation. It is usually a closed door affair.
Once the negotiations by the men are done, the women have their discussions and once all the matters are settled. There are ululations heard and some beer / wine is drunk.
If tradition is observed then the groom’s family should leave the bride’s home before sunset.
Ngurario (Kikuyu Customary Wedding Ceremony)
A Ngurario (Kikuyu traditional wedding) is the most important ceremony. In traditional times it was considered to be the actual wedding but in modern times, in melding church and culture, it is held as a traditional ceremony to honor culture. It is a fun and festive occasion full of laughter
On this day the groom comes with his greater family and age mates to enjoy an incredibly large amount of resistance from the bride’s family. The groom’s ladies carry lots of gifts such as bananas, flour, sugar and carry these while singing at the gate. It is an offense to put the gifts on the ground, so the women must remain strong while this continues. The songs are Kikuyu songs which request the gate to be opened. There is often a sing-song exchange between the ladies on either side of the gate, which culminates with the gates being opened.
There is a short reprieve to eat a meal together. If the function takes place on a different day then introductions would take place yet again in the same order as the Ruracio. Then the groom will have to find his bride again. She will be hidden in a group of women all wearing lessos which cover them up completely. To make it just a little harder, the women will even wear thick woolen socks. So if he thinks he can cheat the system by recognizing her ankle tattoo, too bad! If he should accidentally pick the wrong girl then he will be fined.
Once he successfully finds his bride, he will then be asked to cut the shoulder of the goat (kiande) slaughtered in honor of the occasion. Some tips from the local butcher may come in handy here because that shoulder joint fights back! But once this is done he can breathe easy because he is almost done. Next he will share some select pieces of meat with his family and in laws. For example, the ears of the goat are served to the bride’s young single friends as a reminder to the women to listen to their husbands. He will then answer a few tough questions asked by a representative of the wife’s family and voila, it is done.
The pressure now switches to the bride. She will have to ceremonially groom her husband by combing his hair and shining his shoes. Then she will have to feed him some porridge. This is symbolic of how she will take care of him as his wife.
A ngurario need not take place before the wedding, but one had to take place before a man can marry off his daughter.
How We Do It Today
In the interests of saving time and accommodating different cultures and religions, some families agree to have only the Ruracio which combines several aspects of the full Ngurario experience. The playbook for this is set by the parents of the bride and elders from her family so the groom may want to warm up to them as much as possible. It is all a fairly easy process and one we would recommend any couple about to get married go through. Life is made of these great memories.