Conversations occur in swahili but have been loosely translated
Among the Kikuyu, there is a custom they call Ruracio. Most communities have it, only that the execution varies from one to the other. And this is why Ruracio is more pronounced than others. Ruracio is a dowry payment ceremony where the groom, with other able men, visits the to-be bride’s home to negotiate and pay the dowry. Dowry payment is a sign that you have intentions of marrying somebody’s daughter.
This practice has transcended years, and it is something you cannot avoid if you’re marrying a girl from Kikuyu land. However, it has been commercialized over the years that it no longer makes sense to others. I say so because of the experience I had last year with my friend.
My beard and old looks put me in jeopardy often, other times it is a blessing in disguise whereby I find myself wearing shoes that don’t fit me. If anything, I have never been good at negotiations. Someone can rip me off my money without me suspecting. I have never considered myself exemplary at anything in my life that needs negotiations or arguments. I run away pronto. That is why I lash out my energy at creative writing. In it, I find solace as only a few people can challenge my idiosyncrasies.
The thought of me ever opening my mouth during an argument never crosses my mind often. When it does, it brings along panic attacks. Panic attacks are bounty hunters that rob people of their sanity and put them in vulnerable positions during crucial times, times when they really need to appear extremely intelligent or wise. To save myself the trouble, I often back from such situations to avoid losing myself in the moment and soaking in humiliation.
Do not by any chance think that I am a weak individual when I say I avoid confrontations at all costs. I am stronger than you imagine. When you want to keep your dominion or maintain your league, you chose the right fights, those that you are sure you can win. It is the epitome of wisdom, being able chose the right fights at the right time and walking away when you know you’ve everything to lose.
I intimidate with my silence. Silence protects you from uttering stupid things. It also allows you to know your enemy by listening to what they say. Listeners are able to find cracks in people’s statements and use them as weapons to disarm them. However, this does not apply to all cases. Sometimes all you need to have is the information to enrich your mind. Therefore, in such circumstances, you keep silent because you have nothing to say and act the expert listener.
This is the reason why I didn’t want to go to Jackton’s Ruracio. When the friendship card is pulled on you in tough circumstances, the unwritten laws of friendship dictate that you should be there for your friends most during their toughest moments. I didn’t want to be the first to break this code and leave my buddy hanging out dry.
He happens to have dated this lady from Mukurweini in Nyeri. Mukurweini is such a bad name, don’t you find it soundly pathetic? It is a remote village in the outskirts of Karatina town. As they come, the lady wanted to be married legitimately and therefore, had asked his fiancé to visit their home and legalise things between them. You know I never picture myself ever doing this.
The reason is that it is the 21st century, and ladies should be able to also pay the dowry for the man they love. If she can’t, there is no reason why I should. The changing times necessitate that men and women can play roles equally, yet there are some roles that women don’t wanna get their heads into. So when I’ll be marrying, I’ll not be giving any dowry. I will also be moving from my parents’ home to make my own life. Times and traditions have died, and we need to move on to new reality.
On any casual day, I’ll slide into my ripped jeans and let my knee caps smile at the world, throw a light t-shirt on, and hide my sausage toes in loafer shoes. On Jackton’s day, we all donned kitenge shirts and khaki pants. It was the only way not to appear corky because if we wore suits they’d think we all work at Citam as managing partners and send the wrong message- you know kiuks with mullah. They can’t be trusted. So we wanted to appear not so poor and not so rich, warm and youthful guys.
Jackton does not have parents or immediate relatives that would join us for this special occasion. He only had us. I was the youngest in the group but looked like the eldest. The eldest was a fellow in his early 40s followed by one in his 39. They were supposed to be the voices of reason that would ooze wisdom. So we thought, and Jackton handed them the mantle. I just followed like a small puppy with a leash on its neck, trailing the owner who doesn’t give a shit-only that Jackton did.
If you have never been at a Ruracio kindly sit tight. Do not throw a stone at me.
Two of my friends have made significant steps in their lives, so they have cars. We are a team of six. I had left my beard to grow longer for about two months to appear older than I am. Jackton rides with the two seniors so that they can have meaningful discussions on the way on how to hack it. All of us were scared.
We leave Nairobi with full boots. I love sitting at the back left and having my seatbelt on. I have been in several grisly road accidents and survived so I don’t take chances. The journey lasts for two hours.
When we reach Mukurweini, we don’t know the direction to her home. So they send someone to show us the way. This someone is a small boy who is dirty as they come and he really gets delighted when he steps into the car and sits like a honcho. Perhaps he has never ridden one. On reaching the compound, the boy alights and gets swallowed into the compound.
The compound is newly built and the hedge fence it thoroughly trimmed. The gate is newly constructed. It lookss like it got planted there a few hours before our arrival. Everything is quiet, and we wait for further instructions. When the boy leaves, he tells us: “wait here.”
(We arrived at half past noon. We waited by the gate for a half an hour before the boy reappeared.)
“Wako tayari,” he says and disappears once more. The gate does not open. So we get out of the cars to know what is happening. Jackton’s fiancée is not picking the phone, so we knock on the metallic gate which is fast bolted.
“Tuko hapa,” a voice of an old man says from behind the gate. “Jackton ako wapi?” he asks. Jackton moves forward, and they start conversing.
“Mzee wa msichana ako apa, wapi soda yake?” I think it is a joke when I hear this. The boots are opened, and gifts start flowing.
“Mama yake apa, zawadi yake iko wapi?” Another gift is handed over, over the gate.
“Aunt ya msichana ako apa pia. Yake iko wapi?” Hands reach out again.
“Uncle yake mkubwa mwenye alisaidia kusomesha yeye pia ako. Kuna zawadi yake?”
These hands go back and forth more than ten times, handing over gifts and what not. When the other side is finally satisfied, the gate is opened. We are welcomed with ululations and dances, and a mugithi that none of us understands but blindly dances to with fake smiles on.
The welcoming part goes on for about half an hour. There is a throng of people in the compound already running errands here and there while others have generally come to celebrate- after all it is a ceremony.
We sit in the main house; half bricked half wooded with an earthen floor. The chairs are dressed in highly flowered cloths. There are two windows on one side and a huge cupboard that seems to house utensils for visitors, and in our vitenge shirts, we try to behave, like we don’t notice anything.
Three women serve us food and then leave after welcoming us. No one from the other side sits with us while we devour our meal. Waru is in plenty. The ugali is not badly off as I had expected. The food is more than we can eat even if on a typical day we won’t say that we can’t finish any food.
Two hours later, it is already 4 pm, two young men show up to keep us company. They are dressed in baggy trousers and baggy shirts, topped with old and dirty caps. They know a little sheng, and we know a bit of good Swahili. But we talk anyway.
“Where are the wazees?” I finally ask one of them because I am already tired of waiting. They look at each other, and a sign of panic and horror crosses their faces.
“They’re having a little chat. They’ll be here in a short while,” the other one answers, taking a gander at me longer as if expecting me to say something.
“Well, they are taking too long, and I am growing impatient,” I retort. No one from my side counters even though they make funny faces. I know they’re also sick and tired of the wait.
The negotiations start at around five. When they start, more food is brought on the table, including porridge. I don’t partake in porridge taking because it comes with running to the toilet often; that is not a good thing when you’re in a foreign land on a special occasion, especially a Ruracio. There are five men from the other side. They are in their late 50s and early 60s, older than any of us.
They start slowly by generally talking about life, their lives and what it means to marry. I swear I am bored to death. I have never been such impatient in my life. It is at six when the real negotiations start. Their offer stands at two million Kenyan shillings at the start. I feel like laughing, but I excuse myself to laugh somewhere else, in the toilet. When I get back, I find them still stuck at the mark.
“Look here our elders; we don’t say that she doesn’t deserve that or that her parents shouldn’t be appreciated well for raising such an adorable young woman, who is not only promising but also someone my friend here, finds solace in. And that is why he has come all the way; he doesn’t want to come and go because the bride price was set to high for him and he couldn’t pay. Love cannot be determined in such a way, and you of all the people understand so.
Jackton is a young man. He grew up without parents and has worked so hard to be where he is at this point. There are so many struggles that he has overcome to look like this, and you are not going to add another battle on him right when he has just found a chance to make something of himself. He is not a manager or a firm owner or an associate somewhere so that he gets to earn good money. Whatever little he has armed himself with should be appreciated as he has made a quick step by coming to honour this deal.
So, you can stay at that price, and he leaves this homestead just because you couldn’t recognize a man’s best efforts or you can appreciate his efforts and let him have a love of his life,” I say after getting tired of the stubbornness of the bride’s team.
“How much are you going to offer?” one of them asks. We all look at Jackton who we let speak for the first time.
“I have only saved eight hundred thousand,” he says in a shaky voice. Suddenly the other team leaves to go and have further consultations.
“Bro what are you doing?” Jackton asks me.
“Don’t you see? These men are hungry and they are coming for your blood. You don’t attack a lion with a machete, you arm yourself with bullets, and that is what I am doing- saving your skin. It is either they take the money or have nothing. And if Nyakio loves, she should do so without conditions like not being able to reach an exorbitant price.”
The team returns after ten minutes. It is already dark outside.
“We can only accept one million shillings,” the leader states. I wait for my seniors on our team to reiterate, but none does. They look like zombies.
“We respect you our elders. When you asked how much we have, we allowed the man of the hour to speak for himself so that he could say what he has. And we believe that you all heard him. When a man speaks for himself, he speaks out his heart and what he can accomplish. And from where I sit, I see that Jackton can only pay eight hundred thousand shillings. The faster you agree to this fact, the better for both of us,” I explain. I often tend to get confident when I know that I can corner my opponent. When I get confident I am sure that I shall win at all costs. Otherwise, I’ll keep silent.
The team leaves again and returns after five minutes to which they take the deal. We shake hands and hand over a heavy envelope. We then realize that we are just getting started.
Outside there is music blaring and all kinds of people dancing and having a good time. There is muratina, the worst drink I have ever tasted, and people are getting drunk. Everyone is dining, dancing to the music and feeling good.
Six women are paraded in front of the crowd, covered head to toe with shukas. This is the tricky part whereby Jackton is supposed to identify Nyakio without touching any of them. He can only use his sense of smell and intuition. If he picks the wrong one, he pays a fee.
Little do we know that Nyakio is not even in the group. Jackton goes through all the pain for nothing. He picks the wrong girl twice and pays one thousand for each mistake. When he picks the wrong girl thrice, he gets outraged.
“If you want to marry her you can marry her. Otherwise I am tired of this bullshit,” he says as he storms out. As his aides, we follow him quickly and try to resolve the situation. But it appears that every one of us is tired of this nonsense. So we enter into the cars parked near the gate and disappear.
(The Supreme Hunter in Captivity)
Where shall we go, we who wander in this wasteland in search of better selves?
Photo Credit: andrewonyango