Last weekend found me travelling to my paternal grandfather’s place for a dowry ceremony. My father’s half-sister has been married for years but her in-laws wanted to visit and pay a little something in appreciation for her.
When my father first told me about this, I agreed without hesitation, thinking ‘family road-trip… fun’. A few days later, having lunch with my parents, I brought up the subject of dowry and how I think that it keeps women back, because we are viewed as property or objects for sale.
All over Kenya, girls are raped and their families see it fit to negotiate for financial reparations with the families of rapists. This does not happen when boys are raped and I think it is because the idea of paying for a male child is ludicrous. Men after all have intrinsic value as humans while girls and women bear a financial cost.
I made it clear to my dad that I would not want any kind of dowry to be paid for me, and went as far as to ask if I could pay it myself. He bristled, told me I would never get married with such notions and I dropped the subject because I didn’t want to upset him.
Since then I have recounted this conversation to two girlfriends and a male friend. One girlfriend pointed out that I was putting my father in a weird situation where he has no paradigm in which to act as ‘father of the bride’.
She said, “White fathers dream of marrying off their daughters, they save money for the wedding and prepare to walk their girls down the aisle. Kikuyu fathers receive dowry and they walk you down the aisle, you are denying your father that.”
My other girlfriend said that for a woman who wants to get married, I am being weird by bucking tradition. She felt I want to start the traditional institution of marriage but I want to reject very important aspects of it. My guy friend laughed and said he wouldn’t marry a chick with such issues and that he is looking forward to paying dowry and marrying his woman properly.
Let me be clear, my father is wonderful. If there was ever a man who deserved recompense for loving his children well, investing in us, and creating a home in which we could flourish, it is Mr Njoroge.
I do not begrudge him his dues. I also understand that those wedding negotiations and visits get families to meet and bond, and being brought together by the love of two people is a beautiful thing. I am wondering where I fit in all this as a modern woman who is keenly aware that you cannot put a price on my head.
I am all for culture and tradition but you have to admit that some of it keeps a large part of the population behind. Is there some other way that we can honour our parents and our roots, meet our in-laws and establish this union without leaving a young woman feeling like she is an object, albeit a prized one?
As you sit with your family for Christmas, perhaps you can brainstorm and send me an email? I’d love to hear your thoughts [email protected] Merry Christmas.