Last week Pastor John Piper shared an opinion titled Weddings: Do not Break the Bank. I have had the discussion on the cost of weddings with a bunch of my friends for a while so when I read the article I could not resist sharing it on my Facebook timeline. The pastor just shared my thoughts to the letter. It generated quite some excitement and in the course of the week I have had discussions on the subject with several people. But one of my friends said that the wedding is not my call and that got me thinking. Whose call is it? The girl’s? Relatives? Friends? Well, let’s just say that to the extent that it is going to cost me, then it is my call. I have a big say on that. I have radical thoughts when it comes to the cost of weddings. It is going to be war, and I have realized this week that I need a well laid out battle plan. So I made one.
The underlying philosophy of this war is that I think weddings are a luxury and should not make me bankrupt. I am not willing to spend all my resources, and the resources of my friends and acquaintances, just to get married. This war will be fought on two main battle grounds: Dowry and wedding committees. These are the two places that I expect the battle to be heaviest, and where casualties are likely to arise. I will therefore need to employ all my resources, especially in terms of mental fortitude, if I expect to stand a chance of overcoming. I will tackle them here one by one.
BATTLE GROUND ONE: DOWRY.
This is where the War of Matrimony will break out. I know many people are unable to afford weddings because dowry has left huge holes in their accounts. Here is the thing: I am not paying dowry, I am giving dowry. And that’s not a question of semantics. You see, payment is made when you are buying something. It is value for goods. The owner of the property knows its value and therefore sets the price. If you want to acquire the property, you pay the price. If you can’t afford it, you go your way. The seller will then wait for a more serious buyer.
In this case, the girl will be the property. Her people will sit down and set the bride price which I am required to pay. My people will negotiate, or rather bargain, until a deal is struck. Now, at this point I will admit that my battle plan has a weak link here. I have never attended dowry negotiations, so I lack procedural insight. My friends have consistently passed me over in spite of my sparkling credentials: a bald head and a rotund figure. I mean, I only need to have the remnants of my hair sprinkled with white ash to pass for an entitled uncle who is ageing gracefully thanks to a thriving hardware business in some remote part of Githongo. But because of this lack of foresight on the part of my friends, the only experience I have is gathered from Afro Sinema where old men sit under a palm tree, eating Kola nuts and sipping palm wine as they trade incoherent proverbs:
“Elders of Kianjokoma, I greet you. We are here because our son has seen a butterfly in your compound. Our forefathers said that when a man is not sleeping, he is awake. We therefore seek favor in your eyes.”
“Our in-law, you have spoken well. But our forefathers also said that if you cut a tree, it will fall down,” (he pauses and looks around to see if everyone is appreciating the depth of that profound revelation. Several elders grunt in approval. He therefore goes on, feeling very wise) “we therefore demand that you give five hundred thousand shillings (or naira) to take our daughter.”
My spokesman rises to his feet. “Elders of Kianjokoma, our forefathers also said that a goat is not a small cow. We can only afford one hundred thousand shillings”
Ok fine, Afro Sinema will kill me one day. But the thing is, they go back and forth and settle on three hundred thousand shillings. I am not allowed to talk so I watch in silence. I had already told my people that I only have twenty thousand, but they dismissed me saying this is a serious matter that people should not joke about. But when they later ask for three hundred thousand, I will just produce the twenty thousand and act like I don’t know what they are talking about.
They say you don’t finish paying dowry. This is usually said to support the claim for the exorbitant prices. I used to believe in this concept until recently when I changed my mind. You see, it is still a sale, only that it is the type called Hire Purchase. You set the price, I pay an agreed deposit and take the property and pay the balance in instalments, but the property essentially remains yours so that if I default on payments you can retake it. Here is the catch: if you set the price at 300,000 shillings, I will be expected to pay a deposit of at least one hundred thousand, and feel grateful for your kindness. What if I have only 20,000? I will feel the pressure to go look for the 80,000 in order to save face. I will take a loan, borrow from friends, and do all manner of things in order to pay you. Then after paying you I will go back to my house and start taking strong tea and mandazi for supper. And I won’t even enjoy it because I will be stressed about the cost of the expected wedding.
See also: Warpath to the Altar II
Here is the thing. If I buy of piece of land from you, it becomes mine. You don’t come later claiming that your favourite avocado tree has ripe avocados that you desire. Or that you want cassava from the corner of the shamba where you had invested heavily in manure. No, if you sell me land you disappear. Similarly, if you sell me your daughter, you disappear. You don’t come to my doorstep unless you are hawker selling curio. You don’t even call her because she is my property now.
But I have no intention of buying any woman. That is why I believe in giving dowry. And the nature of gifts is, you don’t demand what I will give you. It is up to me to assess my financial status and decide what I can comfortably afford to give you as appreciation for bringing up a fine girl. And if I liked her enough to marry her, then she is a fine girl indeed. But I expect that you will accept my gift with gratitude and give us your blessings. Because when I marry your daughter, you become my parents as well. If you fall ill I will be just as distressed as your daughter trying to get you medication. Whatever respect my parents get, you also get. Because you are my parents as well now.
I am under no illusion that it will be easy. I know I will face stiff resistance to my position on this one. My father might shake his head wondering where it went so wrong for his once promising first born. My mother simply won’t understand why I am being dramatic. My peers will say that I should pay what is demanded like everyone else has always done. But here is the thing, unless they are voluntarily topping up to what I have, I am not listening. The girl’s parents will of course decide not to give us their blessing. This is where the girl will have to make a decision: either defy her parents and marry me anyway, or it’s the end of the road for us. Because I can’t give what I don’t have.
Then there are pastors who insist dowry has to be paid before they can preside over a wedding. I don’t know the scriptural basis for that. And I don’t know if my pastor is one of them, but I sincerely hope not. Because I really like and respect him and look forward to having him preside over my wedding. But if he turns out to be one of them, that’s a battle I won’t fight. I will not even go shopping for a pastor-for-hire. We will go straight to the Attorney General’s office and get done with this business. The more the reason I need a fighter girlfriend. This battle won’t be easy.
I will be accused of breaking tradition. But the way I see it, tradition was broken a long time ago, people only cling to this particular one because it is commercially beneficial. If we are strictly following tradition, my father would have given me a piece of land years ago, from the portion he would have inherited from his father. And because I am a very hard-working young man, I would have grown arrow roots, cassava and bananas in plenty which I would then sell to buy a heifer. Within six years, I would have a sizeable herd. So I would spot a village girl and declare I want to marry her. We would go for negotiations and they would ask for twelve cows. From my herd I would be able to get five. My father would give me two more and the girl’s kinsmen would give me their blessing, on the agreement that the balance of five would be taken later. My peers would mobilize and we could construct a hut worthy of a married man. Then my bride would come and start taking care of my arrowroots and cassavas, as I take care of the cattle. My mother would stop giving me food because well, I now have a home. My wife would then bear me nine healthy rascals to take care of the cattle as I engage in village politics as a junior elder.
But as things stand now, I inherited education from my parents. And by the time I am getting married, I will still be trying to make sense of the career that is arising from that education. The salary is there yes, but I am still in the lower ranks of the pay slip. And even before it gets to me, the government will take a huge chunk of it so that it has something for politicians and tenderpreneurs to steal. Then HELB will also lay their claim, now that they helped me reach here. And since my peers didn’t show up to build me a hut, there is another character called a landlord to take a share, in order to give me a place to hide from pneumonia. And oh, I don’t have camel to ride to work, so I have to pay matatus every day. And these days, I don’t go straight to the in-law when I want to marry a girl. I have to win her heart first. And that comes at a cost. You see, she can’t go to that kiosk on Njugu Lane where I sometimes sneak to take a mug of tea for 30 bob. No, she can only take Cappuccino from Java. Even though the tea from Njugu Lane is sweeter than anything Java has ever produced. Ok fine, smoke from the charcoal jikos at the back of the Njugu Lane kiosk fills the whole place and you may cough once in a while and speak as if you have a sore throat, but every nice thing has a price, no? All that means I have very little money to throw around.
Anyway, the thing is, I am not wiping my account dry to pay dowry. I am not taking a loan to pay dowry. I am not borrowing from friends to pay dowry. I will give what I can afford. Period. Next Friday I will tell you about the battle against forming a wedding committee to fundraise for the wedding. For now just know that the War of Matrimony has already started. From the corner of my house where I pray, I have started asking God to give me favor with in-laws. And if He doesn’t want it that way, that He should give me the strength to fight this battle. And a like-minded warrior girlfriend to fight alongside me. To fight against the commercialization of our love and matrimony. And I know out there somewhere there is a fighter girl who shares my sentiments. It is only a matter of time before I find her.