Bringing in the Dowry…a Timeless Kenyan Tradition

After a two and half hour drive through Nairobi and past the small bedroom community of Machakos, we finally arrived at Masii, an extra small community in ‘up-country’ Kenya. We followed the not so clear directions onto unmarked roads. We drove “through the football pitch, left for 500 meters, then right for another 500 meters to find the white tents in a large field”, as our directions instructed us. Along the way we passed a few pedestrians telling them where we were going. All seemed to know of the location we described and pointed us in the right direction. They, too, would be joining us there in a matter of hours. It appeared this event was to be a whole community event.

Today was the day that Dan’s AIM AIR colleague, Starline, would be celebrating ‘bringing in the dowry’ for his wife of 10 years, Leah. “Bringing in the dowry?” you say. “Do they really still do that?” Well yes, they really still do that here in Kenya. The dowry consists of a combination of cows, goats, various foodstuffs and money, as a payment and thank you to the bride’s family for raising a woman ready for marriage and it is negotiated before the marriage takes place. Most times it is paid before the wedding, but at times it can be deferred, as was the case with this couple. Our family was privileged to be invited to the ceremony celebrating the payment of the dowry that was completed the night before the celebration for this sweet couple.

Stirring the delicious cabbage

Every Kenyan celebration includes food, and tasty cabbage is often a staple served.

Preparing the delicious food out back

Cooking the scrumptious morsels over multiple jikos (Kenyan charcoal cook stoves) out back.

Pots overflow with food for the celebration

Pots overflowing with potatoes and other tasty food for the big celebration!

Chickens are running around the compound, a usual Kenyan sight

Chickens run freely around the compound, a common Kenyan sight.

The dishes must be cleaned...in a wheelbarrow!

The dishes must be cleaned…in a wheelbarrow if that’s what’s available!

Upon our arrival at the white tents, we were met by Starline, dressed in a ‘smart’ grey suit and a hot pink tie. Looking around, we noticed several young boys dressed in the same manner, looking quite sharp, I might add. Three of them were Starline’s boys, Griffins, Graham and Grant. We continued taking in our surroundings, observing two women dressed in hot pink and grey dresses. Not knowing them, we presumed they were dressed that way to coordinate with the men and boys. It turns out they were Leah, Starline’s wife, and her ‘matron of honor’.

The young boys dressed in smart grey suits with hot pink ties to coordinate with the husband and wife's attire.

The dapper young boys dressed in ‘smart’ grey suits with hot pink ties to coordinate with the husband and wife’s attire.

We noticed other women outfitted in dresses of bright, beautiful lavender and yellow Kenyan fabric with matching head wraps. The four tents set up in the dry, grass field were all labeled…one was for guests (where we were ushered to sit down), one for neighbors, another for the choir and the fourth for family.

One group of ladies had their beautiful purple dresses on with matching head covers.

One group of ladies had their beautiful purple dresses on with matching head wraps. I love these Kenyan fabrics!

Settling into our blue plastic chairs, music began blaring out of two very large speakers as five young men danced rhythmically to the music in a coordinated fashion just in front of them. One of the young men was no older than 10, but boy could he dance! I couldn’t stop watching him as they performed for all who were gathering in the tents.

Some of the early entertainment

Some of the early entertainment.

More women arrived, perhaps 15 of them, all dressed in matching navy blue and white polka-dotted dresses, taking their places in the tent for the choir. The place was beginning to buzz with excitement as more guests arrived by the minute.

The choir sang and danced to Christian Kiswahili music for nearly an hour

The choir sang and danced to Christian Kiswahili music for nearly an hour.

A group of young women approached us with small paper ribbons with the center stating ‘Welcome Guest’.They were selling them for 100 Kenyan shillings each (about one US dollar). Not knowing much about the traditions at such events, we bought one for each of us, and later were glad we did. 

The "Welcome Guest" ribbons we purchased.

The “Welcome Guest” ribbons we purchased.

Later on in the ceremony when we looked around, we saw that nearly all of the Kenyans had purchased these guest ribbons as well. It was clearly a common Kenyan tradition in which everyone participates. Still sitting in our ‘guest tent’, the women in blue dresses joined the young men in dancing and singing to some Christian Kiswahili music.

After a couple of hours of watching the dancing and seeing guests trickle in, it was finally time for the big event to start, about 2 hours after the time we were told the event would begin (this is common in a ‘warm culture’ like Kenya where relationships are held in higher honor than sticking to the stated time). The MC got up and launched into the official ceremony with a few jokes as various family groups entered, dancing and singing their way to their chairs.

The Emcee for the event. He made us laugh with his crazy comments.

The MC for the event made us laugh with his crazy comments and sometimes misunderstood jokes.

Another family group coordinated in blue and dancing into the ceremony.

Another family group, coordinated in blue, danced into the ceremony.

Starline and Leah's youngest son Grant.

Starline and Leah’s precious youngest son, Grant.

Grant enjoyed staying close to his Mama for the celebration.

Grant enjoyed staying close to his beautiful Mama for the ceremony.

The beautiful couple, Starline and Leah, celebrating the 'bringing in of the dowry'.

The beautiful couple, Starline and Leah, celebrating the ‘bringing in of the dowry’.

Grant and his Daddy.

Grant and his Daddy.

Cutting the cake.

Cutting the cake with the ‘best man and matron of honor’ as we would refer to them.

Looks like Grant is enjoying his bit of cake.

Grant is enjoying his bit of cake.

Lovely Leah

Lovely Leah enjoying the ceremonial traditions.

Dashing Starline also enjoying the traditions.

Smartly dressed Starline also savouring the traditions.

Joyful!

Joy and laughter in the midst of the celebrations!

Everyone joined in the dancing.

Everyone joined in the dancing.

The nephews' gift was a goat.

The nephews’ gift to the couple was this cute goat.

We enjoyed the celebration from the guest tent.

The four of us enjoyed the celebration from the ‘guest tent’.

Dan sharing words of encouragement to Starline and Leah.

Dan sharing words of encouragement with Starline and Leah.

Dan and Starline discussing things.

Starline instructs Dan on what to share during the presentation of gifts.

After about 6 1/2 hours of celebrations with dancing, singing, feasting, cake cutting and eating, gift giving, and other fun Kenyan wedding/dowry traditions, we loaded up in our white Land Cruiser for the long journey back to Nairobi. The day was full of laughter, joy and celebration. We were so thankful for the privilege of participating in this ceremony with Dan’s colleague and good friend. A beautiful day ended with a magnificently painted sky and fabulous sunset. It was a great day, beginning to end, and so fun to get another peek into a timeless Kenyan tradition!

We enjoyed a beautiful sunset on our long drive home.

We drove into a beautiful sunset on our long journey home.