Today a friend of mine from campus dropped me an email. She shared that she is getting married soon and so they’ve began planning for the wedding. She mentioned that her fiancée is preparing to visit her parents for dowry negotiations later in the year. She went on to ask me for any pointers I could share on the dowry issue.
Someone asked me for advice! I was so thrilled I did many cartwheels (in my head) in celebration 🙂 I know I write about marriage and relationships all the time but this was new. It is one thing to give your unsolicited opinions to an audience and it is another thing all together to be asked for advice. When someone asks you for advice, they are telling you that your opinion matters. I have to say my self-esteem got a serious boost today. I almost changed my walking style 🙂
When the excitement subsided and the imaginary cartwheels stopped, it hit me what a heavy issue she had raised and I was humbled that she wanted to know my thoughts on it.
Dowry ceremonies are extremely sensitive and have the potential to be stressful. They rank up there with money matters on things that trouble young couples. In an ideal Christian world, parents would give their daughter willing and accept a token of appreciation from their son-to-be without making demands. Sadly, this is not the case for many folks especially in Kenya. You cannot proceed with the wedding unless you have received approval from the girl’s parents and so this becomes a huge hurdle for the couple. Sometimes, it is a stumbling block and can cause a lot of heartache.
If you are a girl who wants to get married sometime, whether soon or in the far future, this post is for you. I will share with you what I told my pal.
Cultivate a good relationship with your parents – this mostly applies to ladies who are not getting married soon although it wouldn’t hurt to work on it even if you are already engaged. Here is my reason for saying this. The dowry negotiation process puts you as the girl in a very tough spot. You get caught between your parents/clan and your man. Your clan wants to ask for so much and feel entitled because of all the things they “have done for you”. At the same time your man is enduring a lot of pressure and needs you. My husband and I are from different ethnic communities and the dowry negotiations were quite stressful to say the least. In all honesty, if I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, we probably wouldn’t be seeing eye to eye today. You need to raise some issues with your family and sometimes disagree with their demands. You can’t do that if you don’t already get along well with them.
Wisdom is key – you have heard that a wise woman builds up her home? Well, wisdom starts right here. You need to protect your man from unrealistic demands from your family/clan without offending your folks. This is so hard, sometimes those two things are almost mutually exclusive 🙂
Here is how I did it: I figured my community did things differently from his and I did not want his family to come and be ambushed by our side’s needs. I spoke to my mom and asked her about what my man was expected to do/give. I noted them down and then shared them with my fiancée. He in turn spoke to his parents about them and by the time they came home, they had an idea of what was going to happen.
Stand up for your man – do not let your clan harass your man as you watch. Respectfully stand up for him. If you give your clan the impression that they can demand everything they want and they will receive it, then you’re in for a hard time. Don’t forget that it is that man that you are marrying, you are going to spend the rest of your life with him. Begin to stand up for him as early as now. Some parents will want to influence your life even after marriage. They will want to influence when/how to invest, when you should have a baby and other major decisions in your life. If you’re not firmly on your man’s side, they will manipulate you throughout your marriage. However, be respectful. You don’t have to insult people to get your point across. These are your folks. They deserve your respect.
Question/challenge what you don’t agree with – In my case, I had an issue with the number of visits that were needed. I didn’t see why we needed 4-5 visits for dowry negotiations. So, I reasoned with my mom (see what I meant by have a good relationship with your folks?). I showed her my point of view. Long ago when a man wanted a wife, he ambushed her as she came from the river and ran away with her. The man probably lived on the ridge/hill across the girl’s home. His parents would then come to the girl’s home to “report” that they had the girl. A series of visits would follow – girl’s clan would visit the boy’s clan, a visit to be told how many “cows” they needed to give, another visit to take those “cows” to the girl’s home and eventually a customary wedding would be done. The old men would even have more visits just to share beer now that they were friends 🙂 Can we do that now-in the 21st Century? No. Imagine my fiancée’s family coming all the way from Western Kenya to Central 5 times! Not practical at all. After a lot of convincing, my mom requested for only 1 visit. I have an amazing mom –I know 🙂 Question things that you don’t agree with and suggest how they can be done differently. Again, be respectful.
I hope that our generation will rethink this dowry business – pun intended. Personally I have no intention of stressing some young man over all the things he needs to give me before he can have my daughter’s hand. If he wants to appreciate us as her parents, that’s OK but I will not give him pressure. You may feel that way too but for now as you plan to get married, bear with your parents and be wise about the entire process. I repeat, be respectful.
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