Ngurario, Kenyan marriage
John ( Sudan )
Ngurario, the Kenyan cultural marriage ceremony – John’s goosebump moment
“Hello! My name is John from Southern Sudan. My goosebump moment was when we were doing our wedding. I am married to a Kenyan, and in their culture, they normally cover the bride completely and then they line her up with other ladies who are also covered up completely. Then the groom is supposed to select and handpick the right wife or his bride, which is what I was supposed to do. It’s very tricky because if you choose the wrong person, you have to pay a fine. You actually pay a fine to the men. And so, my day came and that was what I was asked to do. Luckily, and fortunately, I was able to pick her from a group of around six ladies who were completely covered. It was just by good luck I guess, because it was just guesswork. She was completely covered. I could not notice which one she was. That was my goosebump moment”.
A representative Kenyan ceremony
Ngurario is a traditional wedding ceremony of the Agikuyu, the largest ethnic group in Kenya. One of the most representative rites of this ceremony is the one performed by the women, who cover their faces, while the groom must identify which of them is his bride.
The women, often friends, sisters or cousins of the bride, wrap themselves from head to toe in khangas (wrappings) and present themselves in groups next to the groom and the congregation.
The groom proceeds to uncover his bride by removing the head wrapping. When he identifies his bride, the ceremony is characterized by loud jubilation. If he chooses someone other than his bride, he will be penalized with a cash payment to the bride’s family. If you are stuck, you can enlist the help of your best man.
In traditional Kikuyu culture, the ‘Ngurario’ ceremony marked the climax or the final part of the marriage formalization process.
After this ceremony, the woman becomes fully part of her husband’s family and can never divorce or marry any other man.
In fact, this rite makes the marriage so final that even if the woman had a child by another man, the husband had to take care of it and take it as his own.
Traditionally, the ‘Ngurario’ was done before the girl went to the man’s house, but nowadays it is mostly done afterwards.
What marriage is like in the Agikuyu tribe
Almost a quarter of Kenya’s population are Agikuyu. When the man wishes to marry a certain woman, he and the group of men visit his father. There he expresses his wish. This tradition is called “kuhanda ithigi” (“planting twigs”). The future groom has to bring some gifts.
What follows is yet another visit. It is known as “kumenya mucii” (“getting to know the home”). The groom’s parents visit the bride’s parents. There they determine the date on which the “ruracio” (“dowry payment”) ceremony will take place.
According to the Kikuyus a woman has the “value” of 99 goats. The groom’s parents can keep one goat and thus have the basis for the new herd. In practice, the groom’s family may give money instead of animals.
The dowry includes objects intended for men (“athuri”) and those intended for women (“atumia”). Some objects for men are goats, sheep, etc. Traditionally, women get pottery, clothing, etc. Items may vary according to social status and region.
Former family members or elected representatives conduct the negotiations for the “ruracio”. A festive meal is held after negotiations are successfully completed.
The traditional Kikuyu wedding is called the “ngurario”. On the wedding day the groom, his parents and other attendants arrive at the bride’s house. But they are not allowed to enter the house.
A tradition called “kuhura hoti” is performed. The women in the groom’s entourage start singing. They carry various gifts. The women inside the house also sing. After a while, the door finally opens. In some communities an extra amount of money has to be paid for the door to be opened.
Finally what follows is a kind of game where a groom has to recognize his bride among the group of women dressed in the same clothes. This tradition is known as “gucagura muka sailboat”. If he makes a mistake, he has to pay some money.
More about Ngurario, the Kenyan marriage ceremony:
- How ‘Squid Game’ hijacked Halloween and a traditional Kenyan wedding ceremony
- Agikuyu Wedding
- Customary marriage in modern day Kenya