Traditional marriage among the Samia people of Kenya
Written by Timothy Makokha and Helson Ongeso Obombo
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The Basamia people believe in marriage as a very important and sacred institution. A young individual has to marry. Marriage was solely between a man and a woman. The woman was not supposed to express interest in a man; the man was the one to show interest.
When a boy was ready for marriage, he informed the father about it. The father will scout around to get him a girl for a wife. If the boy has interest in a given girl, the father will send spies to investigate the girl’s family. The investigation was to ascertain some family background; whether the family practiced witchcraft, night running or other vices.
Parents were the only people to decide who the son or daughter was to marry. The child could have a person in mind but parents had the final decision.
Spies’ report was treated with a lot of seriousness; if negative the youngman was not allowed to marry the girl.
According to a 92 year old Okumu Obombo, “omusiani siyakhadekhiya omukhana yibebusi batadakha. Amakhuwa kobukheri kaumao” (The boy cannot marry a girl who has no parent’s consent. There was nothing like love.)
Parental consent led to negotiation. The parents on the other hand, looked for a girl themselves for their son. They would visit the girl’s home and ask the girl’s parents if they can let their daughter marry their son. When they came to agreement, the parents went back home to start bride prize paying arrangements.
The youngman’s father and clan elders visited the girl’s home to pay dowry. The event is associated with a lot of feasting and drinking. The main drink was millet local brew. They visited the girls home several times paying bride prize in bits. The final bride prize paying function was done by the boy himself; during this function the boy was supposed to see the girl for the first time and also eat the mother-in-law’s food.
At the end of the day the boy was allowed to see the girl for the first time same to the girl. The boy was then given a special plate called ‘esikaye’ to give monetary prize for the mother-in-law. The bride groom to be with his delegation would then go back to arrange for energetic men to come and pick the bride to be.
Picking of the bride was the most interesting function in Samia marriage event. Energetic, well equipped men visited the bride’s home and staged a fight with other energetic men from the bride’s side. They fought and if the girls side won the fight the grooms people went back to prepare and add more well experienced men in war.
The men carried a special weapon called ‘ekhumba’. They fought until they won the war. They then grabbed the bride and carried her on the shoulder up to the groom’s house. The girl is carried throughout the journey.
The bride was accompanied by two brothers who offered security and several girls. The groom’s relatives and friends waited to see the newly married wife who was called ‘omweya’. They spent some time with the visitors.
The two men were given food then allowed to leave. The girls remained. A goat was slaughtered for everybody to eat apart from the bride. The second day another goat was slaughtered and the bride was allowed to eat.
The bride’s ability to work was also tested where the brothers-in-law cleared farm for digging; the event was called ‘ofunaka omwini’. The bride dug till she broke the handle of the hoe. After the event most of the girls were allowed to go back to their home but two girls remained for awhile.
The bride’s father organized another function called ‘esidialo’. During this event there was a lot of millet brew and food. The groom’s family looked for the best singer, the same to the bride. The event involved praising and dancing the whole day. Each side praised their child.
Lastly, the co-wives to the bride (if any) looked for all sort of vegetables and wrapped them in the basket. The basket together with a goat was taken to brides home so that they can be given permission for the girl to eat vegetables. The function was called ‘esieriani’. The permission was then granted for the girl to eat vegetables.
Samia culture by then did not believe in courtship just like most African culture. Marriage was sacred and it was a community concern to ensure each member of the clan gets married. The wife belonged to the clan.