Posted on December 10, 2014

Inside the ‘Traditional’ Tribal Wedding Ceremony That Still Takes Place in Kenya

Chris Pleasance, Daily Mail, December 10, 2014

This is the heartbreaking moment young girls in Kenya are sold into arranged marriages for a dowry of livestock as part of a traditional ceremony which marks their passing into womanhood.

Clad in tribal jewellery and with their hair tied up in braids, some of the women can be seen struggling as they are hauled away, traded by their fathers for 20 goats, three camels, and ten cows.

Many of the girls, who are members of the Pokot tribe, are not aware they have been bargained away until their husbands come to collect them after spending a month in isolation before the ceremony takes place.

Often their parents will keep the details of the marriage hidden for fear that their daughter will run away if she finds out about the deal they have made.

As part of the ritual, which lasts a day and night, the village men will also select a bull from the herd of cows which the women will punch into submission before it is executed with a spear-thrust to the heart.

This particular ceremony took place in the bush around 30 miles (50km) from the town of Marigat in Baringo County which is home to around 133,000 plains Pokot.

Many of the girls will be as young as 14, despite Kenyan law now forbidding childhood marriage. As with many tribal customs, however, strict adherence to tradition is considered more important than complying with the law.

The Pokots developed their social structure and practices in order to maximise their chances of survival of each household in an often difficult and hostile environment, but they are coming to be viewed as barbaric and unacceptable in modern-day Kenya.

During the ceremony the girls will sing and stay standing from the afternoon through out the night and the morning after. At the end of the ceremony, the girls and the boys of the community dance together, supervised by elders.

While the images show the girls’ shock and distress at what is happening to them, it is unlikely to be the first time they have suffered hardships at the hands of their parents and tribal tradition.

The Pokot people are also known to practice female genital mutilation, a practice whereby parts of a woman’s sexual organs are removed using scissors, a razor blade, or glass before they are sewn up and have their legs bound together until the wounds heal.

The tradition is carried out at a much younger age than the forced marriages, in the belief it will help to keep the girls pure until the time comes for them to undergo the ceremony that will see them become women.

However, as the ceremonies are usually carried out by unskilled quack doctors operating miles from any hospital and with no anesthetic or antibiotics, deaths are common due to blood loss or infection.

If the girls do not die, then the stitches can cause them terrible pain and discomfort for the rest of their lives, especially during childbirth.

As with child marriage, the practice has now been outlawed in Kenya, with a maximum penalty of life in jail if a girl dies, but so far there have been no successful prosecutions.

Between Kenya and Uganda there are around 700,000 native Pokot speakers, with the vast majority living in West Pokot county.

Pokot society is largely divided in two between the hills Pokot, who live in rainy uplands and are mostly farmers, and the plains Pokot, who roam the dry lowlands and are mostly cattle herders.