by Jasmine Atieno
Marriage is a beautiful thing, it is believed. Even the Bible says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, right?
But, just what happens when the clan is far from right? What if the mention of her clan creates a cold atmosphere before the elders, whose approval means a whole lot?
There are tales of women from some clans among communities who are renowned headaches while others are famous for ‘fast and furious’ separations.
To convince a love-struck man of such dangers, an aunt in the know would draw his attention to the fact that even the girl’s grandmother ‘ran away’ 500 times during her marriage.
But do such traditional beliefs about clans with ‘unmarriageable’ women still hold water?
According to radio host, Gaspery Tumaini, there is no possibility whatsoever he would even date a Pokomo woman.
As a young boy, he had already been warned frequently about their dangerous habits. They are a kitsapi (a Giriama word for bad omen).
“We used to be warned against marrying the Pokomo. We were told that if you marry from them, you will never have any wealth. Be it livestock, even good clothing.
If you are a farmer, then you will never have a good harvest after that marriage; everything just dies away and sometimes rather fast.
In fact, we were taught in case you have sexual intercourse with a Pokomo woman, you must climb down rather than rolling on your back after the act.
Because when you roll on your back you can easily transfer the kitsapi to yourself. To avoid all these complications it was better to just avoid them completely,” he shares.
While many other Giriama men hold this belief to date, others converted to different religions that do not support such tales.
Kaya elder and Chairman of Malindi District Cultural Association, Emmanuel Mnyaya, says the origin of this belief within the Giriama began with the ancestors and did hold water until recent times.
“Kitsapi is a word not strange to many Mijikendas. It was used to target tribes and clans, which were weak in recognition. For instance, the Waatha tribe.
They lived in the forests far away from other communities. They were hunters and gatherers.
It was believed marrying them was close to a curse; you would start losing wealth and maybe get completely poor.
So many people feared them. With civilisation and modernisation, the belief does not hold as much water today,” he says.
According to the Kaya elder, it is believed the Waatha would be involved in magendo (illegal dealings) and it was unsafe to do any business with them. They could not be trusted.
At the same time, they practiced powerful black magic and would use this on people they feel did them wrong, or weresunfair during a business transaction.
Hence no one wanted to be caught up in these ties whether through business or marriage.
While the Waatha are infact cushites, they have most of the time been regarded as Mijikenda.
According to the elder, most of them secretly merged with the Giriama and slowly intermarried with them.
“The younger generation was born in a time when the negative perception about the Waatha was still highly held by other communities and this made them want to run away from the same.
There was no pride in being known as one carrying a bad omen, and thus for a young girl, it became hard to attract suitors.
It was so bad that it was believed that whenever one egotiated a business with them and won, they would use their black magic on you and things woul begin to go wrong.
Nobody wanted to live around them either, and so they had to hide their identity while living amongst others,” he says.
To break this omen from further effect or transfer, one needed to undergo a cleansing.
“It was not called a cleansing ritual as such because it included only the people involved.
The elders would often advise that if a marriage of such happens, then either one of the couples had to cut themselves on their private part.
The little blood spill would then be a form of cleansing and the bad luck would stop.
This was the only way to break the omen, which also served as a form of cleansing,” shares the elder.
Marriages among Kikuyu clans had few restrictions, but men were warned against getting wives from the Ethaga (also called the Ambura), one of the nine clans.
Muguro wa Gitau, an elder from the Acera clan, says in the traditional Agikuyu community, there were many reasons that barred a member of a certain clan from marrying from another clan.
“It was a taboo for a Mûcera (from the Acera clan) to marry from the Aithera Andû clan.
Why? The Mûithera Andû (especially from the Ethaga sub-clan) were rainmakers. So, Acera didn’t hold them in a good light,” he says.
Some clans were believed to be witches, thieves and red-eyed (gîîta). Gîîta is when people believed that a certain person would look at your child, cow, goat, banana, among other things, and they would die. Other clans were also perceived as inferior and others lacked a prosperous hand.
Thieves and murderers
“So, a father or senior elders of a clan would advise their sons not to marry from such clans.
Even daughters were barred from getting married to sons of such clans. Some clans in Murang’a, till today, don’t marry from some areas of Kiambu.
They believe women from Kiambu, especially from Kabete, are thieves and murderers.
They believe that when their son marries a woman from Kabete, she will someday kill him and run off with all his possession,” shares the elder.
For the Luo, Michael Otieno from Gem Yala, says equally that the clan from where someone came from mattered in marriage. Growing up this had been made very clear.
“We were warned against marrying from Homa Bay and Imbo because they are notorious night runners and have juok mar wang’, which means if they looked at you when you are eating, your stomach will hurt and if they look at your baby, she becomes sick and or die. Same is the case with livestock.
Women from Kano were too strong, masculine and hard to domesticate. They beat their husbands.
While women from Siaya were beautiful and brainy, but were also troublemakers.
These things are today covered up with modernity which believes everything goes and this is why so much trouble is happening,” he explains.