I engage my grandma the day before the big day about the significance of dowry payment in any society. This interview happens in Kikuyu language, now understand that my Kikuyu is as good as my German. I do not speak German, why would I learn a language with Hitler smeared all over it like small kid feeding spaghetti? I would rather Spanish or Arabic so that I can survive through the Al-shabab and if those heartless bastards caught me one evening walking home and demanded to know why I called them bastards, I would have at least a hundred thousand reasons, all in Arabic. Then I would quote the Quran for shits and giggles. My Kikuyu is that bad but I digress.
Grandma emphasizes on the fact that without culture we are all slaves. So on the big day, we head out for the ever green, chilly, quiet and evenly uncharted Nyandarua county carrying all manner of gifts from kiondos, goats to cash and cheques. We are going to buy a bride, scratch that, we are going for thanks giving to the parents of the bride. Grandma you still there? The bride also happens to be my mom who has been unusually silent all through the journey. My questions are met with unwelcome hostility about the event but that is probably because they are all intrusive, like what do you expect am looking for a story.
There are terms I have to introduce to you guys before we get past the gate, okay, a goat means three thousand shillings, got it? So anywhere I say goat, you are supposed to see us the visitors chucking three one thousand notes and handing them to our hosts. At the gate, a welcome committee has been set aside and the drama begins and I enjoy every bit of the happenings through my camera lens. There is ask and answer questions in a melodious traditional rhythm in Gikuyu and for the sake of Kenyans out there, let us make it English, or not.
Hoti Karifu guku kwanyu hodi karifu
Guku gutire karifu guku gwitu gutire karifu
Which is can basically be translated to Knock Knock may we come in? And then the response No! Not Welcome. They do not want us to get in? Shall we pack up our bags and leave? Further into the song we, the visitors start giving excuses why we were late, about Nakuru traffic, the rain and stuff but our host wants to hear none of that. They respond behind the closed gate that the gate was closed with two locks, therefore two goats, get it? GOATS! Heavens! these people will run us broke before we are even past the gate.
Well, our hosts receive us eventually and they are not all mean, a lovely buffet has been prepared for everyone plus all traditional Gikuyu meals, gourd porridge being my favourite. This event is definitely modern and has Christianity written all over it, for example instead of praying facing Kerinyaga where the gods of Gikuyu and Mumbi home during the night, we pray eyes closed and to God who lives in heaven. Instead of pouring libation to the ancestors, I drink all the Uji in my cup. Things have changed and perhaps such traditions sound primitive.
It is never about the money because you can never estimate the value of someone using money. Therefore you can never pay for a girl fully to her parents even with all the money in the world. So Dennis you are not coming to buy your mom, she cannot be bought!
Grandma had emphasized and for one moment I sat there in my thoughts and thought of how noble the Gikuyus of old were and how much they valued their daughters. How much will I pay for my future bride? Scratch that, how much will I give thanks to my parents in law when the moment comes? How may goats? I snap out of this delusion and continue listening to grandma with her fluent Kikuyu, am envious.
After the meal and the sermon, the group of elders from both families are led to an isolated door to discuss terms and conditions. Not for camera eyes, my uncle had interjected and locked the door and I was left in the cold ice with no idea how much these Gikuyu of old wanted for my mom and I switched off my camera and walked to the tents where the Uji was. There was something about this Uji that made it absolutely scrumptious, not the taste of course but the fact that it was the only tradition that has held up not authored up to the changing fortunes of time. Uji had not been replaced with money as the goats had or perhaps, the Kenya National Animal Association had filed a law suit against using goat life as an exchange for human life, so tradition had to be re-written.
If Joyce Njeri, my grandma could read this article she would be disappointed an equal measure as I am writing it. Not because the Uji ran out or because they asked for many goats but the fact that modern people have found a way to attach a monetary value to everything. Nothing is priceless anymore, not love, not even our traditions since the white man showed up and when it seems crude and selfish we find nice words such as ‘thanks giving’. And I had asked Njeri about it of which she had snapped that when had my own daughters in future I would understand.
The closed doors opened now, a deal had been made and a cheque had been written, the drinks are to brought out now with women chanting traditional Gikuyu songs plus more GOATS. The elders declare that it was time to celebrate now and the women dance and the men toast. It was a happy moment at Joyce Njeri’s compound.
Would things be different if grandfather was here?
Definitely, women do not make good negotiators that is why I will invite some of you mom’s uncles to stand with me during negotiations. If your grandfather, Githinji, was here I wouldn’t need to do that.
Will you give some of the cash to these people you invited to help with the negotitions?
Yes, in fact a large amount. But I will not tell you how much Dennis because you are a critic and probably will not understand.
And with that I had asked no more. I had heard enough corrupted tradition to last me a decade. Now, I do not know what other tribes and other cultures do during dowry payment or if they do Ruracio at all but the fruit could not have fallen so far from the tree. We still claim to hold on to our cultures when we pluck and inject ideas to them at will to suit our purposes. Will we still say Mwacha mila ni mtumwa ten years down the line? Well, I will write all about it even then.
Now I will be doing a series of about five articles on creativeconneckt.net about Climb to Educate 2 from Climb to Educate 1 early this year. I hope you will follow me there and stay here too. Check out also short monologues on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as have always done.