The Concept Of Marriage And Family
Marriage in the traditional Kenyan context is defined as a rite of passage that every individual is expected to undergo in his or her lifetime, and the integral purpose of this institution is to widen the kinship network of the individual through procreation. Also, affinal relatives (relatives by marriage) are acquired in addition to consaguineal kin (blood relatives). Families are made of a wide network of members, including brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, in-laws, unborn children, and deceased relatives. The wide network of family members functions as a social unit with norms and beliefs and as an economic unit for the survival of its members.
The family system in Kenya is mainly patriarchal (consisting of paternal lineage or descent) and patrilocal (consisting of paternal residence). This system is emphasized by the need for the groom or his family to pay dowry to the bride's family before marriage. Payment of dowry is usually in the form of money or in kind (livestock) and may be done a few days before the marriage or over a long period, from the time of birth to years after the marriage. Dowry serves to fulfill justice and legality in the eyes of the families involved. With marriages breaking down in the modern society, this tradition is seen as a factor that links the society to the strong moral standards of earlier days because the woman feels worthwhile to her husband and may, hence, stay faithful to the marriage.
On the other hand, modern, educated and urbanite Kenyans, who ardently believe in marriage based on love, view this tradition in the reverse, arguing that it builds the marriage on purely economic factors because the wife's motivation to stay faithful to the marriage is based on fear that her parents would be required to return the dowry to her husband's family should she fail in her marriage. The argument goes on to draw attention to the demeaning status that the wife is subjected to as she is viewed as a commodity to be bought and sold (Kilbride 1994). With women subject to this situation, men are favored to control property, income, and labor. Furthermore, dowry violates women's rights because it encourages early marriages in cases where parents are eager to collect dowry on marrying off their daughters. It is against this backdrop that the dowry tradition is slowly eroding.