An Account of Kikuyu Betrothal and Marriage

Traditional Kikuyu Betrothal and Marriage

A girl’s betrothal is entirely her own affair. The leading wife of the chief Munge was asked, “What I should tell the white women on my return to England about the women of Kikuyu?” “Tell them,” she said, “two things. One is, that we never marry anyone we do not want to; and the other is, that we like our husbands to have as many wives as possible.”

The account of marriage is best given in the words of one of our Kikuyu servants, who was in the happy position of having recently completed the payment for his bride. It is, I think, of sufficient interest to warrant transcribing at length.

It was given most fluently, the various dramatis personae being represented by coins, matches, beads, etc., to make quite sure that I was following the story correctly.

The account of marriage

“The young man says to the girl, ‘I have many goods at my father’s, and you do your work very beautifully, I should like to buy you,’ and she says, ‘Yes’. So he goes to her father, and the father asks the girl, ‘Do you like the man very much?’ and she says, ‘Yes’. The mother says, ‘You don’t like anyone else?’ and she says, ‘No’. The young man has made two gourds of native beer (Njohi), a big one and a little one, which have been brought by two friends, and the girl takes the Njohi and pours it into the horn of an ox, and the father says, ‘If you do not like this man I will not drink,’ and then he drinks; then the beer is poured out again, and the mother drinks, and the friends who have been called drink. This is in the morning. The young man goes back and tells his father that he wants to buy the girl, and the father asks, ‘How many goats her father wants?’ and he says, ‘Twenty’. The father says it is all right, and they go and tell the young man’s mother. In the evening, when the goats come home, the father picks out twenty, and the young man’s friends take them to the girl’s home, and the man himself follows behind and delivers the goats, and he returns to his own home. His father asks if it is all right, and the young man says, ‘Yes,’ and goes to his mother’s house to get food and to the boy’s hut (Thingira) to sleep. He may, however, take only ten that day; if so, the next day he does not go to the girl’s, because he has not paid up all the goats. But in the evening, when the goats come in, he gets the other ten, and his two friends, one behind and one before, and himself last, take them to the girl’s home. The girl stays in the house, and the father looks at the goats and says they are all right, and the young man goes home and says that he will want a sheep tomorrow.

“The next day he and his friends, one before and one behind, take the sheep to the girl’s home; and he goes back, and goes to the shamba and cuts sugar-cane, and makes more native beer.

“The day following, all the bridegroom’s party, his own friends, his father and his friends, his mother and her friends, all go to the bride’s home. The mother carries a little gourd of beer, and one of her friends a big gourd, and two other friends carry one cluster of bananas each. The bride’s father and mother have collected friends, but the girl works in the “shamba” (her mother’s plot of ground), and does not appear. “Two friends of the mother of the girl take the two gourds, and two others the bananas, and all women go into the house. The girl’s mother produces two gourds of gruel and gives one to the young man’s father and friends, and one to the young man and his friends, and the two mothers and their friends dance the ‘Gitiro. ” Then the father of the girl goes inside the house and brings out the big gourd of beer, and says to the young man and his friends, and to the young man’s father and his friends, ‘Have you finished drinking gruel?’ and they say, ‘Yes’. And the young man and his friends say, ‘We do not drink beer,’ so they go away. The girl’s father brings out two half gourds, his friends drink out of one, and the father of the young man and his friends drink out of the other. The two fathers retire and talk, and the girl’s father says, ‘Your son likes my daughter very much, and has brought the goats, and I have raised no objection’. Then they join the circle, and kill and eat the sheep, and finish drinking.

“The father of the young man and his friends go back to the father’s house, and the friends of the girl’s father all go away except one.

“The girl’s mother brings out the little gourd, and the young man’s mother and her friends come out at a little distance from the girl’s father and friends, and have an empty gourd, and drink beer: the girl’s mother and friends drink inside the hut. Then the young man’s mother comes inside the hut and asks for her gourds, and the girl’s mother gets grass, and puts two pieces inside each gourd (this is a very old custom), and stays in her hut, and two of her friends give them to two of the friends of the young man’s mother, and the mother and her friends retire home.

“The girl’s mother divides one cluster of bananas between her friends and keeps one for herself, and the father takes his one friend to look at the goats, and the party is finished.”

The story continues: ” The third day the young man comes to the girl’s home and says that he is going to dig a big shamba for her, and he gets his friends, and they all go and dig a big plot. He need not ask any one where it is to be except his own father. The girl goes and sees the shamba, but does not go anywhere near the hut of her future mother-in-law. She sees the shamba that it is a beautifully big one, and she comes back and tells her mother, ‘He has got ready a beautifully big shamba’. He says to his mother, ‘Did you see the girl,’ and she says, ‘No’. He says to the girl, ‘Why did you not come to see the shamba? ‘ and she says, ‘ I did come.’ Then the girl and her two friends go and cultivate the shamba, and when all is ready the young man and his two friends take some beer, and go and ask the father’s leave to take the girl, and he says, ‘ Yes’. The girl is in the house. When they have finished drinking, the young man and his friends go and cut sticks for the house and build it, and his mother puts grass on the top. When all is ready the girl is out walking or working in the shamba, and the two friends of the bridegroom seize her and carry her off to the new hut, and she makes much noise. The bridegroom does not come near her, but sleeps in his father’s house, and the girl’s friends bring her food. She weeps for four days. The mother-in-law brings her fat, and she puts it on her head, and two girlfriends of the bridegroom accompany her, and she goes to her mother’s house and stays three hours, and makes a noise in the house of her mother. Then the two friends go back with her and leave her, and the bridegroom comes and sleeps in the hut. Afterwards, he gives the remaining ten goats to her father, and one more.”


See the full story (page 124 to page 133)

Source: “With a prehistoric people, the Akikuyu of British East Africa, being some account of the method of life and mode of thought found existent amongst a nation on its first contact with European civilization” ~ A book by Routledge (W. Scoresby & Katherine Pease)

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