31 March 2014

let's talk tanzanian culture - getting engaged.

New to this series? No worries. You can catch up by reading parts one and two of Let's Talk Tanzanian Culture.

Today's topic? Getting engaged in Tanzania. Of course Ashley already wrote a bit on getting married in Tanzania. This post takes a step back and looks at the engagement process in more detail.

It's a trip, so read on below for the deets.

Disclaimer: Like all things Tanzanian, the exact cultural nuances can and will vary by ethnic group. The following information was imparted on us by two of our Kiswahili language teachers, each from a different tribe: Kwaya and Luo.

Why do Tanzanians get married?

For most Tanzanians, the summation of one's life is to marry someone of the opposite sex and procreate. Basically, all Tanzanians expect their children to marry and have children...many children.


Because local tradition dictates that one's worth and honor go hand-in-hand with bearing offspring. To not do so essentially renders you an outcast from family, friends and society at large.

How do Tanzanians get engaged?

To understand this concept, let's take a look at one particular ethnic group: the Kwaya tribe.

Pretend you're a twenty-something Tanzanian dude and you want to get married to a fine young Tanzanian lady. What do you do?

You tell your parents...or your paternal aunt...and they will select the proper suitor for you. Really. Do you have a say in who this young woman turns out to be? Not so much.

Once the girl is picked out, your father will pay a visit to the father of the potential bride. He does so with his customary staff in hand. The time of the visit is carefully chosen: around six o'clock in the morning. Why? So as to intentionally wake him up. Yep, that is just how it is done, so accept it. To compensate for the trouble, your father brought "disturbance money" which ranges from $30 - $50 (equivalency).

During the meeting of the fathers, the two men begin by shooting the breeze. Then, they get down to business.

First, they hash out the price of the engagement. A standard engagement compensation would total around the equivalent of $100. However, this is not paid in cash. Rather, your father has to purchase various items that the father of the potential bride demands: metal pots, fabric, alcohol, etc. A deadline is set for when these items must be handed over, generally about four months out.

American men purchase diamond engagement rings for their bride-to-be. Tanzanian men work with their father to purchase random household items. Go figure.

Second, after the engagement is paid for, you (as the man) must then pay dowry to the father of your future bride. In the past, the dowry would consist of 20+ cows. These days, an average dowry would include four cows, two goats...and alcohol.

Interesting note: one of the reasons that cows are used instead of cash is that they retain their value better than actual currency.

The size of the dowry is determined by (1) the beauty of the potential bride and (2) her level of education. More beauty and more education = bigger dowry.

Once the dowry is paid in full, the couple is then able to solidify their marriage in the eyes of their tradition (tribe) and the Church. Yes, even the Church acknowledges that the dowry must be paid before it can bless the marriage. Why? Because the Church knows it will have an absolute mess on its hands with the local people if it did otherwise.

What happens if you don't get married?

In the Luo tribe, this situation is not so fun. To not marry brings shame to the family. So what happens? Your corpse is buried alone with charcoal (to signify shame) and a chicken (to signify you are a child). No joke.

Final Thoughts

As I said in the upfront, the exact situation will vary a bit across tribes (120-130 of them in Tanzania alone). Nevertheless, I hope you hope you learned something and found it interesting. I sure did.

1 comment:

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