Farida’s dowry negotiations
The driveway of the Kokita’s home in West Pokot. A massive storm was brewing, echoing the tension we all felt at how the day would progress.
A photo of a teenage Farida and in the corner, late former president Daniel arap Moi. A child of the 80’s, Moi’s rule defined the childhoods of our generation.We drank maziwa ya Nyayo (a school milk programme), Farida went to Moi Girls Nairobi and I briefly to Moi Forces Academy.
Hakim, Farida’s firstborn son. He wasn’t feeling well that day. Calpol, the box of medicine he’s holding up, has been a cure-all for aches and fever ever since we were children ourselves. To this day the advertising ditty is stuck in my mind ‘Calpol takes it awaaaaaayyy’.
Halima, Farida’s mum checks in on her. Sitting beside her are her beautiful cousins Chumba and Monje, a relationship akin to sisterhood in most African cultures.
In the room with her are her girlfriends, a group that includes me. We’ve been the best of friends since university.We’ve climbed Mt. Kenya together, gone kayaking on the Indian Ocean after a tsunami, we’ve seen each other at our best and worst.
Count on any gathering in Kenya to be accompanied by mountains of delicious food, made by our aunts, mothers and sometimes reluctantly, us.
Guests start trickling in.
Halima and a lady who can only be a relative. The wear the same frown.
Harun, Farida’s late younger brother and some of her cousins holding up sticks meant to represent cows and goats for the dowry.
An elder counts the ‘livestock’. Ten in each bundle.
The boys, our partners. Too young to be part of the negotiations and not family, they spent the afternoon playing chess and sitting outside in a post-food stupor.
Dahlias and Maize, Halima’s shamba (farm).
Understandably nervous, Farida gets her makeup done by her cousin. I like that she likes what she sees.
Mark, Farida’s fiancé arrives with his delegation. Not off to a good start as they are late. They’ve driven 8-10 hours from Nairobi and some from Machakos to get here.
A stray dog. There’s always one.
Inspite of being Farida’s only living parent and this event being in her home, tradition dictates that she not overtly be a part of the negotiations. These are done by the male elders of her family.
Mark cooling his jets.
Farida spots Mark.
The spokesperson of the event, Farida’s uncles make notes and calculations. In todays society, the more education a girl has had, the more valuable she is.
Beautiful, kind, gentle Harun.
Mkaiwawi on a phone call and the stray dog.
Mark’s delegation, all smiles before they went inside.
And so it begins. Introductions.
Do you recognise the supplicant amongst those seated? Farida’s cousin is asked to identify Mark.
And is this the young woman whose hand in marriage you have come to seek?
With delighted cheers and clapping, Mark’s people acknowledge Farida.
Harun ushers in the ‘cows and goats’.
Not smiling anymore, Mark and his delegation deciding on their proffer. Farida’s people weren’t too amused by the offer of honey in lieu of some livestock. Pastoralists place the highest value in animals whilst honey is a valuable resource in Marks community.
Negotiations are over and a number of cows and goats has been agreed on, indicated by the pile of sticks in front of them. Farida and Mark’s union gets a thumbs up of approval.
Straddling tradition and modernity, contemporary African dowry negotiations can be fraught with complications for couples. More so when they come from different cultural backgrounds as was the case in this instance. Relationships have sometimes been broken by the inability of the two parties to come to terms.
I was both glad and relieved my friends could overcome the odds and were able to have a civil union months after this event. They now have four beautiful children and are living their best lives together.
Farida, thank you for allowing me to share these intimate photos of a very special time in your life. I have never seen anyone make you as happy as Mark does and are beyond delighted you found each other.