Courtship and Marriage

Samburu practice arranged marriage. Men identify a suitable partner, and make many trips to the girl's family to get permission, to negotiate the bridewealth payment (approximately eight cattle) and other gifts he will offer the family. If it is their first marriage, men must get permission from their fathers, but unlike girls—who must simply accept their family's choice—they choose their own wives. Physical attractiveness plays a role in men's choices, but Samburu emphasize selecting a girl from a respected family whose mother has shown herself to be a good wife. Girls whose mothers are reputed to be lazy or unpleasant often have difficulty marrying.

Marriage is the beginning of a relationship between two families, as well as between two individuals. Many family members share in bridewealth, at least indirectly. The dual-family relationship forged through the marriage is also indicated by the fact that a group of elders from both families bless the couple before they proceed to the husband's home. Likewise, any children born to the couple will belong to and inherit from the husband's lineage, not just from their father.

Following the bride's initiation, the marriage ox (rikoret) is slaughtered, officially enacting the marriage. A day of celebration and blessing ensues, and neighbors come from miles around to partake in the singing and dancing, and to drink tea. Men and women eat the meat that is specifically designated for their age and gender, and men receive tobacco as part of the blessings. At night elders keep the bride and groom up late, admonishing them and giving advice. The following morning, the couple receives more blessings as they proceed by foot to the husband's home.

Some time after a man's first marriage he is promoted to full elderhood, while wives are promoted to the status of fully married women. In the case of the woman a new totally clean house (nkaji naibor) is built in the middle of the cattle pen. In the evening men kindle her first fire using a wooden base with a depression (ntoome—a feminine noun) and a kindling stick (Ipiroi— a masculine noun). The wife then is responsible for nurturing and maintaining this fire. The fire is seen as a joining of male and female in an act like procreation. Conversely, if it is his first marriage the man must make the transition from being an Imurran, who should eat in the bush, to an elder who can be fed by his wife. This ceremony, in which he is fed milk and meat by his wife, is often held together with the nkaji naibor ceremony.

There are occasional exceptions to this pattern of arranged marriage. In the past men occasionally practiced marriage by force (kunon) in which they would secretly bring their own marriage ox and slaughter it before the rightful groom could do so. Men are still known to abduct girls, and girls may occasionally acquiesce or act as accomplices. The groom will usually pay bridewealth later. If a girl becomes pregnant more than once, women in the girl's natal family may conspire to marry her off. These are also spoken of in the idiom of abduction, since the father must be (or pretend to be) oblivious to such arrangements.

It is expected that all Samburu will marry, though exceptions occur. Girls whose mothers are poorly regarded, or girls from unpropitious families may have difficulty marrying. If they remain too long without marrying, they may be initiated anyway, and even allowed to have children. Very poor men, or men with physical or mental handicaps, may have difficulty getting married, but usually will eventually. Since Samburu men may marry many wives, widowers typically remarry. Widows may not remarry, and they have no incentive to do so. Widows enjoy greater sovereignty, taking lovers of their choosing while continuing to bear children in their husband's name.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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