We embark on a 13 hours journey to North Horr from Nairobi, a 726 km journey to the North of Kenya. My guide for this tour; wangechi is at hand to mentally prepare me for an epic Northern Kenya experience. Our journey is fun, full of travel stories and before we know it we are at our final destination. We arrive late evening having travelled many hours to our destination.
North Horr is located in Marsabit Country, a 5 hours journey that has one experience first-hand how life is in the North through the towns of Maikona, Kalacha and finally North Horr. The topography all rusted, raw and yet beautiful that entails volcanic rocks, the Chalbi desert, water oasis where camels and goats, as well as humans, get their water from. One is in awe as the topography unfolds.
We arrive late evening having missed several wedding rituals. All we got to experience was the actual wedding day. We are told this has been a 12 months courtship for the couple and a four-day affair that culminates to the wedding and a further four days for the bride and the groom to stay indoors. Where traditional rituals will be performed finalizing the end of the wedding ceremony and marking the beginning of the couple living together. (Marriage).
Our host Sarah of Chalbi Desert Extreme is at hand to ensure we are well taken care of and hands us over to one of the elderly uncles who will explain everything we need to know about the Gabbra people and their traditional wedding ceremonies ritual and significance. Weddings take place twice a year in April and September, after the sighting of the moon.
The Wedding Day
Like all other weddings across Kenya, the wedding day is packed with activities. The bride is downed with make-up, henna art as well as her bridesmaids. Before she can wear her wedding gown ready for the church ceremony she has to herd her father’s camel’s back home one last time. This means that she is finally leaving her parents’ home. Meanwhile, the groom’s family is getting ready to bring in the dowry of three camels, a moila camel packed with gifts. There are also gifts to the bride’s family that include milk, tobacco and coffee beans. Women are at hand to receive the gifts. There is also a bull that will be slaughtered, for the wedding feast.
Prayers are chanted by the communities’ religious elders and the bull is finally slaughtered at the bride’s mother entrance to her house.
This means that they –the bride and the groom family are now in-laws. Meanwhile, the bride is getting ready to go church as they are Christians (Catholics) a short distance from their home. The ceremony takes about 2 hours and we are back for the rest of the traditional ceremonies lined up for the festivity.
We return back home ready for the remaining day’s events. Like all other reception ceremonies in Kenya, food is at the centre of the ceremony. Food and refreshments are served.
Dance and jubilation fill in the homestead. Being the wedding season there are several weddings across the area. Jubilations can be heard from several homesteads; the atmosphere seems to birthed tunes of dance, music, celebration and happiness.
The Shaving of the Groom: The groom is clean shaved meaning he is born again into family life/ marriage life. The shaving means that he is no longer a bachelor. He is there dressed in Gabrra traditional attire that includes a while shuka, a white turban and is handed a walking stick.
He then leaves the homestead to pick a special tree that will be part of his new bride’s house. While all this is going on, the bride is having a good time and partying, characterized by dance and receiving gifts from her guest.
On another side of the homestead, women are busy demolishing the mother’s Manyatta /house. Half the materials will be used to build her daughters new house. A mock is done, and the mock house is built for the bride.
The returning of the groom marks the beginning of building the mock house for the newlyweds. He picks and marks the circumference and the position of the new house and draws a semi-circle. Women follow suits by placing the building materials while adding more as gifts. A cleansing ceremony is done using camel milk. The groom’s father pours camel milk from the outside while the mother pours milk from the inside. This ceremony is accompanied by reciting of prayers and blessings to the newlyweds by the elders. Brothers and in-laws also pour milk from the outside and inside of the semi-circle.
The groom now sits outside of his now to be home, and a fire is kindled using a special tree picked along the river banks. A sign that the groom and bride have lit their first fire that should be a lasting one. A section of the women some carrying babies as a sign to appease the Gods for fertility to the newlyweds, start building the newlyweds house while the others go to rebuild the mothers’ house as they had already demolished it. This activity goes on till way past sunset into the night.
The rest of the wedding guests are having a good time with dance and a live band. As night falls, dance, jubilations, and lots of partying take place at nightfall. There is plenty of food and drink that include local delicacies, drinks, as well as alcohol.
The groom is now also having a good time with his peers who chant the night through as he awaits his bride to be brought to him at the early morning hours of the following day. He must not fall asleep, and he must not go into the newly built house until his in-laws hand over to him his new wife.
The bride, on the other hand, spends her last moments with her mother and aunties who are advising her of what it takes to a wife. This is the most emotional time for the bride’s family, the separation of a daughter is heavy to the home. At 4 am the bride is escorted by women to her newly built home. On arrival, a milk container is placed at the entrance of the newlyweds’ home and the groom jumps over the milk with the wife the following suit. We are told they have to stay here for 4 days after which they can now get out which means that their marriage has finally begun.
Northern Kenya is one of the most magical but largely unexplored areas of Kenya. A cultural tour will have you indulge mingle and learn about the several pastoralist communities that live here all with diverse cultures.