Friday, October 15, 2004

Traditions, traditions

To all those who believe that we have lost our culture and traditions!!!!!

How Ngugi and Njeeri Got 'Properly' Married at Ngurario


Holding one end of a goat's roasted right "arm" in his left hand and a knife in the other, the bridegroom asks his bride to hold the other end.

Then with the precision of a surgeon, renowned Kenya author Ngugi wa Thiong'o cuts the piece of meat into two.

His now excited bride, Njeeri, holds her piece high in the air, waving it about amid ululation from simply-clad village women. Invited guests join in, clapping and cheering the "newly-wed" couple.

The occasion, in the dusty village of Mitero in Thika district in Kenya's Central Province, was a traditional wedding ceremony on August 28.

Ngugi, who professes to practice his native Gikuyu culture, had returned to the country from the US on July 31, after a 22-year self exile. His main mission was to formalise his marriage to Njeeri under Gikuyu rites.

The author had fled Kenya in 1982 at the height of state persecution of dissidents, when he was perceived to be a thorn in the flesh of then Kanu government of former president Daniel arap Moi.

"There are two things you can never shed: your age-group and your culture,'' he said, during the ceremony at the humble chief's camp in Mitero.

It was interesting to see the celebrated author receive lessons in tradition, and more so, from a villager of modest education.

So over the course of the hot afternoon, the director of the Irvine-based International Centre of Writing and Translation, became the willing student of his agemate, 70-year-old Paul Muthumbi.

Ngugi and Muthumbi belong to the Gikuyu age-group Warurungana, which comprises young men who were circumcised between 1951 and 1953.

Muthumbi is the chairman of Warurungana group from Ngugi's home village of Kamirithu in Limuru, about 30km northwest of Nairobi.

Muthumbi explained to the guests that, in Gikuyu tradition, a marriage is incomplete without the Ngurario ceremony.

This tradition requires the bridegroom to take to the bride's home, days before the ceremony, a he-goat that is the same colour allover.

The ceremonial cuts are the goat's right "arm" (guoko); entrails (gitungo kia mara); ribs (inkengeto) and the two kidneys (higo).

These cuts are served in a bowl covered with banana leaves. Should the kidneys, which the "experts" roasting the meat are wont to eat themselves, be missing, the bridegroom is fined another goat that is slaughtered and roasted on the spot.

To be on the safe side, the bridegroom brings along several goats.

Like a university lecturer supervising a student's thesis, Muthumbi uncovered the bowl, picked up the meat pieces one by one, and upon finding all the ritual cuts there, declared: "Ngugi has passed the exam.''

He added, "Normally, only one ceremonial goat is needed, but because of Ngugi's generosity, he has brought two.''

The author had in fact brought rather more animals, more perhaps than was necessary. There were nine goats and two bulls. But only five goats and the bulls were slaughtered – at Njeeri's former homestead, about 50 metres from the chief's camp. Tradition demands the animals' blood be spilt within a bride's homestead.

There was also plenty of traditional brew, muratina, which the elders as well as the young men and women drank from big horns.

The Ngurario ceremony was mainly attended by villagers. However, a few VIPs were present, including psychiatrist Frank Njenga, who was the couple's key counsellor during their four-day stay at Nairobi Hospital following the attack.

Seeming eager to learn, Ngugi followed the instructions carefully as Muthumbi guided him in cutting the roasted "arm" (guoko) into two. The author remained with the lower-part and Njeeri the upper, kiande (shoulder).

The couple then fed each other a piece each. And the Ngurario ceremony had reached its climax.

The Ngugis then distributed the rest of the meat to the guests, starting with Ngugi's mother-in-law, Mary Magdalene Wambui, who is in her late 1970s.

Muthumbi said a typical Gikuyu man was only truly married after performing such a ceremony.

The author was then seated between two agemates, after which he had his hair groomed by elderly local women.

He sipped porridge from a calabash, which was held for him by a villager, Mary Miring'u, who, from time to time, wiped Ngugi's lips with a white cloth.

Meanwhile, Njeeri had been whisked off to the chief's office, metres away, where she was covered with Swahili kangas from head to toe. Another 10 women of similar height were also covered.

Singing and dancing, the women surrounded and walked Njeeri to where Ngugi was seated. They challenged him to pick out his bride from the rest.

Ngugi thrilled guests as he danced and mingled with the women in a bid to identify Njeeri. There was ululation after he finally identified her, perhaps after recognising her light skinned legs, not to speak of her black leather shoes.

The couple sported beaded rings in place of their golden wedding bands, which were lost during the August 11 attack.

The author, who does not profess any religion, then asked Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology assistant chaplain Fr Peter Ngugi, and Pastor Shadrack Kang'iri of the African Independent Pentecostal Church, to bless the rings.

Ngugi had a traditional marriage to his first wife, the late Nyambura, with whom he has six children: Thiong'o, Kimunya, Nduchu, Mukoma, Wanjiku and Njoki. Apart from Kimunya, an economics graduate from the University of Nairobi, the rest attended US universities. All his children are working, in the US and different African countries.

Njeeri has a 24-year-old daughter from a previous relationship with an African-America partner.

The couple have two children, 10-year-old Mumbi-Wanjiku and Thiong'o, aged nine years.

The couple and their two children left Kenya for the US on the following day (August 29) via South Africa.

Ngugi was to take up his job at the International Centre for Writing and Translation. Njeeri is a counsellor in the US.

Njeeri told the press at Nairobi's Jomo Kenyatta Airport that the rape ordeal had actually encouraged her to market Kenya abroad. "Wherever we go, we will be telling people that Kenya is the best place to visit. The attack on us was just an isolated incident.''

Ngugi said he would be returning to his homeland "over and over again.''


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