Arts and CultureLifestyle

A legacy of shared cultures

If you live in Nairobi, chances are very high that you are agonizing over when to make that cash contribution towards your friend’s ‘ruracio’, and most likely a colleague in your workplace has also hinted at inviting you for a similar funds drive later this year.

Save for a few occasions, the social practice of Kenyans, especially from urban centers pulling together to help one of their own raise bride price is easily passed as ‘ruracio’, and with this, the proper reference for the exercise by people from different communities gets overshadowed by the Kikuyu word.

“When people are going for dowry, everybody has begun talking of ‘ruracio’ as if the other people do not have a word. Some friends of mine and I have just said we will either call it ‘uthoni’ or it is ‘ngasya’. Even if it is a Kikuyu marrying our daughter it will be ‘ruracio’ to them and ‘ngasya’ to us,” says Professor Angelina Nduku, a language and linguistics lecturer at the United States International University (USIU)-Africa.

Among the Kikuyu community, ‘ruracio’ simply refers to the negotiation and the payment of a dowry or bride price when a man seeks to marry their daughter.

In traditional Kikuyu culture, the groom’s family is usually expected to underwrite the costs of the ‘ruracio’ ceremony. Upon receipt and consideration of the dowry presented from the suitor’s side, the bride’s family then decides whether to accept or reject the proposal for marriage. Once the proposal gets the green light from elders in the bride’s family, the couple is considered engaged and it is all systems go for the wedding ceremony to go on.

The growing prominence of ‘ruracio’, as well as a host of other aspects of hitherto traditional cultural practices by some communities over others, is indicative of an increasingly watered-down version of the appreciation of the culture that today’s generation is getting accustomed to.

Read also: Sex of markets and the birth of Swahili

From popular urban dishes such as nyama choma and kachumbari to the mode of dressing to modern building designs that are heavily borrowed from the West as well as music, a new ‘Kenyan social culture’ is taking hold, replacing long-held traditional lifestyles.

In all cultures of the world, there are things that keep changing from dressing codes to building designs, US-based historian Prof Jeremiah Kitunda says.

When Muthusi in sun-baked Matuu town, off Garissa Road in Machakos County is munching nyama choma with kachumbari and pilipili kwa umbali and maybe, downing the delicacy with locally brewed Tusker beer, he is essentially engaging in Kenyan culture, language and linguistics scholar Prof Kithaka wa Mberia says.

“The way an average young lady on the streets of Nairobi is dressed is exactly the way a young lady is dressed in Barcelona or Jerusalem today, and that is international culture,” Kithaka adds.

Today, a Kikuyu is growing up in Nairobi with say a Luo and Giriama as their next-door neighbours and one easily ends up simply picking bits and pieces of each other’s culture. At times, they just go for the pieces that are glorious and fun to have and unfortunately they end up having no considerable grounding in anything, Prof Nduku notes.

Anyone who thinks they can do away with culture is simply lost, says Prof David Mailu, adding that ignoring one’s culture, while hoping to take up other people’s culture and become comfortable with it is very strange.

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