A Kenyan Wedding

November 23, 2012

This past weekend, my wife and I were able to attend the wedding of Robert and Lucy. Robert is the Regional Coordinator for Limuru and has been working with CFA for several years now. If you’re not familiar with Kenyan weddings, this could be very in interesting for you!

We all celebrated in the office last year when Robert announced his wedding. Engagements are very different out here however. First of all, there is usually no formal engagement moment when the man asks the woman in a special way. Usually the couple is dating and at some point the topic of marriage comes up. They talk about it for a while, and then start making formal introductions to the families. There is also no engagement ring that is given to the woman. There is only the ring given at the wedding ceremony. After the introductions, there are months of negotiations between the man and the brides family, usually the father and a council from the community. They negotiate if they can get married and how much the bride is worth, either in money or sometimes livestock. During that time, the man also starts making preparations for the wedding. So for for the past year, Robert has been going through this process and saving money to pay the dowry for Lucy. For most Kenyan men, it can be a long road. Not only do Kenyan men have to pay for the bride, they also have to pay for the entire wedding!

My wife and I were invited months ago and had been anticipating the day for a while. I was excited to go to a wedding out in rural Kenya, some people in Nairobi might call it the “bush.” Having a car in Kenya is not the norm, so we were asked if our car would be in the bridal car brigade. We were happy to accept. However, little did we know when we showed up that my wife would end up driving the car and leading the entire brigade! Did I mention we were far out in rural Kenya and had no idea where we were going?!

It was an amazing day seeing the entire community get involved. Friends of friends of the groom are up at the crack of dawn to start the preparations. The first thing that happens is that the cars are decorated and the bridal party, with other women in the village, go to the house of the bride in the morning to sing, dance, and honk the car horns as loud as possible outside the house. When the bride comes out, the whole entourage celebrates, roles out a red carpet, sings some traditional songs, and then goes church. Meanwhile, the groom is waiting with his party at the church. When the bride arrives, the ceremony starts.

In Kenya, there are many similarities to a Western wedding, but everything lasts a little longer. The bride walks down the isle, and there is singing, dancing, the exchange of vows, signing papers, a sermon, some more singing, maybe another speaker, and probably some more dancing. Once the ceremony is over, everyone leaves the church to go to the reception. In between the ceremony and reception the bride and groom and their parties go for a photo shoot. The reception for us was on the other side of the town in a large open dirt soccer field. The field was set with decorations and huge tents with chairs to accommodate everyone.

The reception was what really got me. Over 500 people were in attendance, basically the whole village. Sometimes in Kenya, it can be much more than that and the groom is expected to pay for everyone’s food. Its pretty much a huge town party. Even some members of Parliament showed up to celebrate! It started with a huge conga line, maybe the longest I have ever seen. Then everyone sat down for some entertainment while they ate. There were some normal things like cutting the cake, but in Kenya the groom and the bride also have to hand feed the cake to their father and mother in-law. Towards the end of the reception everyone made a huge line and came up to Robert and Lucy to give them gifts, usually accompanied by a speech. By the time everything was over, the day had lasted over ten hours. I have to say I was exhausted, but it was also a day I’ll never forget.

What surprised you most about a Kenyan wedding?