TRADITIONAL PRACTICE

Cultural relevance of dowry now reduced to money-making

Wealthy families exclude some classes from marrying into the family, deepening class hierarchies

In Summary

• Women no longer play the role of wife, go out to find careers, hence men do not find the need to pay their dowry. 

• Most marriages start as cohabitation, as opposed to back when men were expected to pay bride price before marrying a woman. 

Orma community women build the house that will be used by newlyweds for one week after their wedding
CULTURAL PRACTICES: Orma community women build the house that will be used by newlyweds for one week after their wedding
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

As tradition evolves, some practices vanish from our social landscape. A practice that is seemingly holding on at tether hooks is dowry. To date, its relevance remains at the centre of discussions.

Once revered as a gesture of appreciation and a way of uniting families through marriage, dowry has now been reflected as a money-making venture.

Years back, as long as a woman leaves her family to live with a man, she assumed his family name and became the matriarch who will bear him an heir.

She also ensured that he is clean and happy, and comes home to a habitable home and warm meal.

Very few modern women are able to do this; most of the duties have been left to house manager and most marriages are cohabitation.

Dowry contributes to sexual abuse and battering among women and has denied them the right to own property. So each dowry that’s paid reinforces a system where women are viewed as second-class citizens. They are subjected to violence because someone ‘paid’ for them.

Dowries often compel poor families to take loans with steep interest rates, sell off their land to raise money, promise to pay dowries in instalments and other scenarios that can lead to crippling debts. Dowries also deepen class hierarchies. Wealthy families who expect higher dowries essentially exclude poor families from marrying into the family.

Whether it’s a ploy to instant wealth attainment or hamper to man’s progress, it’s evident that dowry continues to form an integral part of the Kenyan tradition and cultural fibre.

At the end of the day, personal choice surpasses the threads of culture. Dowries are widespread and oppressive but that does not mean the practice is so entrenched that it cannot be dismantled.