How Christianity has affected Kamba marriage traditions

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How Christianity has affected Kamba marriage traditions

Category: Culture

Subcategory: Dissertation discussion

Level: University

Pages: 11

Words: 3025

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The spread of Christianity has led to assimilation and change of lifestyle of people across the world and especially in Africa where the local people’s traditions have been viewed as being backward and undesirable by the westerners. The Akamba of Kenya is among the African communities that have had to adopt new practices abandoning their own to embrace Christianity. Through Christianity, there has been disruption of local marriage customs and assimilation into European colonial beliefs, full adoption of Christian elements being integrated into local traditions, and the emergence of new cultural phenomena following mix of tradition and Christianity. Pentecostalism and charismatic churches have arisen replacing mainline churches that were more accommodative of ethnic practices. Christian marriages that advocate for love, understanding, and fear of God have come in the place of customary ones that focused on respect and accommodation. New phenomenal practices both positive and negative emerged following the mix of Christianity and traditional historical conventions.

The spread of Christianity across the globe has had major impacts on the lives of those who were assimilated causing a change of lifestyle and customs Africa has not been an exception to the influence with most of what was perceived as ancient or crude practices by the whites being either modified or completely abandoned in the adoption of new ways of life. Among the benefits of Christianity in Africa has been an advancement in education, increased personal responsibility and morality, individual freedom, and most importantly the arrival of the gospel. Despite the benefits, several negative consequences have been pointed out including interference with culture, destruction of clan system popular in most African nations, and identity challenges. Akamba is one of the many tribes found in Kenya who has been affected by the coming of Christianity. The new religion has influenced their traditional culture in several areas such as birth and naming, marriages, and death rituals. Marriage is one of the essential social-cultural aspects for the Akamba people. With the continued spread of Christianity among the locals, the Kamba have ended up adopting some Christian marriage practices into their own. To establish the influence of Christianity on Kamba marriages, three points will be considered in the study including disruption of local marriage customs and assimilation into European colonial beliefs, the emergence of new cultural phenomena following mix of traditional and Christian laws, and full adoption of Christian elements into local traditions.
Disruption of traditional marriage customs
Most of the Kenyan mainline churches have found themselves having to adopt charismatic and Pentecostal ethics to survive the influence of emerging churches (Parsitau, 2007). The Akamba people were very keen on marriages during the pre-colonial times where female members of the community were not allowed to stay for long without getting married or having a partner (Kariuki, 2013). Unlike other Kenyan communities that were strongly against impurity of women before marriage, Kamba traditions contradictorily embraced the practice (Kariuki, 2013). The emergence of Christianity among the Akamba thus meant a change of lifestyle which most would have been less willing to adapt to. Despite the unique practice, marriage is still considered an important and solemn process in the lives of the people. Rituals and sacrifices were common among Akamba marriages. If a couple had difficulty in getting a child, a ritual would be performed to the lady to open up her womb to receive the blessing of procreation. Mainline churches had adopted some of the traditional practices of the people aligning them with Christian religious doctrines.
The emergence of Pentecostal churches, however, seems to threaten traditional beliefs perceiving them as backward and perverse. Being a relatively small community, marriage was aimed at procreation and prevention of extinction as opposed to modern day companionship and support. The culture did not focus so much on attraction and love among marrying couples but more so on agreement and understanding. The Akamba people believed that any two individuals could learn to love each other as they got to know one another better. Respect and obedience were the main requirements for a successful marriage based on the culture. To have a clear understanding of the extent of disruption, it is essential to look at the Christian and Kamba traditional marriages
Traditional Akamba marriages
In the traditional Kamba marriage, a suitor identifies a girl and seeks her hand in marriage from the parents. There is pouring and drinking beer (Nzuki 1). Although the girl is supposed to be taken peacefully from the father’s house, a refusal from the father upon payment of full dowry may mean that the girl can be taken by force by the groom’s side and be marked as such by the mother in law through anointing with oil on the neck. The father of the girl would later be appeased and asked to accept the marriage after the girl’s marking and mating with her future husband (Nzuki 1). Two goats symbolized the existence of an in-law relationship between a girl and boy’s families. The traditions called ‘uthoni’ (Nzuki 3).
Marriages in Ukambani occurred as early as 12 years as and preferably not later than 18 years. The girls were always under pressure to be married by their fellow kinsmen. Divorces among married couples are allowed beocause the wife is idle, lazy, disobedient, and has been habitually unfaithful. The women, on the other hand, could seek a divorce from husbands who constantly beat them, refuse to take care of them when ill, and fail to assist them to look for help in the case of infertility. The Akamba places the sole responsibility of food provision on the woman hence a woman could divorce a man who would not provide her with a larger piece of land for her to till. A woman who was exasperated and tired of her marriage for lack of financial support from the husband could take off and be remarried to another man who was more capable. Women were thus more or less the masters of the homes.
Christian marriages
Christian marriages called for a mutual understanding not only between the marrying couples but also their respective parents. Blessings of the parents are considered very important an absence of which leads to curses and failure of the same. Married couples are thus not allowed to stay together nor conjugate their union before they receive the permission of all parents from both sides. Christian unions are hence built on a foundation of Godliness hence the couples are expected to be presented before the church by a pastor (man of God) who also officially is mandated to join them as husband and wife. According to Cofie et al. (2013), sexual relationships before marriages is highly discouraged in the Pentecostal Christian faith. Christianity is thus more conservative on premarital sex and condones the young people who engage in it (Cofie et al., 2013) Marriage is thus a holy act that should be respected. Consequently, purity is very important in this case. Christian marriages acknowledge men as the heads, a position given to them by God. Wives are expected to be respectful and submissive while the husbands are asked to love their wives. The only ground for divorce is unfaithfulness. Christianity advocates for two people being together until death and no other reason, therefore, should break the union. Provision for the family is the work of man and wife should only act as the helper or support. Traditional churches only allowed marriages between persons of opposite sex that is a man and a woman although the trend seems to be changing with the emergence of 21st-century Pentecostal churches that embrace same-sex marriages as well (Gathogo, 2014).
Having looked at the Kamba tradition and Christian marriage, it is clear that the rise of Christianity creates disorder in the Kamba customs. Early marriages are especially discouraged in Christianity, a practice well too common among the Kamba. Girls do not only marry at an early age but are also encouraged to engage in sexual intercourse before the official formalization of the union (Kariuki, 2013). Men also in some cases have sexual intercourse with their supposed wives before the blessings and go ahead of the girl’s father, a practice that is abominable among Christians. In Christianity, lack of parents’ blessings can prevent a marriage from happening. The issue of leadership is one that also raises contention as Kamba women seem to have more authority over their husbands. Having to adjust to men taking charge may be perceived interference with the people’s customs. Kamba traditions are not so bent on purity and in fact men only divorced women who have been repeatedly unfaithful. In a Christian set up, unfaithful women are considered dirty and having disobeyed not only their husbands but also God. The significant difference s between the Kamba traditions and those of Christianity shows that adoption of Christianity leads to the subsequent killing of the local’s practices (Okesson, 2012). For instance, Kamba tradition has a wide base for divorce while Christianity is only limited to one: unfaithfulness. Persons may thus find it difficult to keep staying in marriages no matter the circumstances which are contrary to their beliefs. Although alcohol remains a debatable topic in Christianity, it is less of an issue and forms part of the formalization of the whole union. Most Kenyan communities allow alcohol during marriage unification.
Christianity and traditional customs mix created new phenomena
The interactions of Christianity and traditional Kamba customs created new phenomenal practices both positive and negative. As mainline churches get overtaken by Pentecostal Christianity, the Kamba people have had to adjust a number of their former practices to fit into the changing times (Gathogo, 2014). Among the positive occurrences include religion used to solve most if not all societal problems, enhanced personal and community values, improved quality of life, and development of a more personalized union. Negative phenomena, on the other hand, include the eroding of traditions and a crisis of change.
Solution to societal problems
The interaction of Christianity and Kamba culture has created an avenue for the Akamba people to solve their various marital issues. Considerations to both sides’ values ensure that the most practical and effective decision is arrived at. Instead of solely relying on elders alone who may have a biased stand, the people can seek religious counsel as well. Married couples have been taught of tolerance while abiding by traditional teachings. A tradeoff between the two practices has led to better ways of approaching challenges. For instance, if a couple is unable to get children, they are encouraged to try other options before considering to dissolve the union.
Enhanced personal and community values
The integration has led to the enhanced value of marriage. Christianity advocacy for companionship and traditional promotion of procreation improves the value which people give marriage. Unlike In the traditional practice where marriage was considered just a mere union, people are now happier and honestly dedicated. The marriage institution among the Kamba people has earned more respect and honor. The people have been made aware of God’s expectations and each one’s role in it. Women and men have come to accept their new responsibilities where the latter is the head and thus led to longer lasting and productive relationships.
Improved quality of life
The mix of values and policies gave rise to a more enhanced life among the people. The main goal of Christianity in Kenya which was to get rid of the inhuman cultural practices (Parsitau, 2007). Traditions such as arranged unions were minimized. The integration is evident in how churches have adopted some traditional dances and music (Miya, 2004). By integrating the practices, the people were able to see the downsides of some of their beliefs and the advantages of change. Fearful and imprisoning taboos have been substituted for stronger moral principles. Purer morality gives individuals the ability to set the direction their lives will take while ensuring they understand the consequences of their actions. With more freedom, the people have led better-improved quality lives.
Enhanced more personalized unions
Contrary to traditional practice when marriage was at times forced or out of the need for upholding culture, marriages in integrated Christianity and cultural customs in the new phenomena promotes unions where the personal will is respected. Those getting into a unification were encouraged to do so under their own accord to avoid separations or divorces. Having children, for instance, should be out of personal conviction and not from the pressure of fulfilling cultural expectations. Marriages hence cease to be a means to an end where commitment is out of terror of being reprimanded by the society. Individuals get into unions with the fear of God and the respect of customs which in turn leads to more successful relationships.
Eroding of culture
While some of the rich Akamba traditions get assimilated into Christianity, some are however extinct. The Akamba people, in turn, began to lose their identity as they moved further away from their origin. Westernization has been heavily felt especially with the emergence of Pentecost and charismatic churches. Communal relationships and oneness that were previously enhanced by marriage have become weaker as people give less regard to community needs and instead focus on personal satisfaction (Parsitau, 2007). Although the elders of the community are still respected and relied on in various scenarios, their roles are slowly being replaced. Breaking the close-knit tie among the people has the negative effect of making the people less receptive of human values.
A crisis of change
Akamba Christian families that have emerged from the integration are faced with the dilemma of upholding their traditional values yet living by the doctrines of the Bible as taught in church. According to Selvam (2004), colonialism, westernization, and urbanization are among the changing phenomena that have pushed African Christian families to a place of confusion. Those in marriages which have challenges such as lack of children may be allowed by the culture to leave the union, but the same is not allowed in the church. Decision making has thus become difficult while some individuals find themselves making the least appropriate decisions.
By looking at the integrated Christianity and traditional marriage, a better comprehension of the incorporation and the effects are gained.
Integrated Christianity and traditional marriage
To accommodate the changing phenomena, marriages among the Kamba has incorporated both traditional and cultural practices. Some of the shared customs include solemnization of the final union before the church as a witness and by a pastor while prior activities such as dowry and introduction follow the traditional process. In the new order, the union does not necessarily have to be accepted by the entire community as long as the two immediate families of the couples are in agreement, therefore, marriages are more personalized in this sense, Although the elders back in the village are involved in the dowry discussions, they, however, do not have the final say on whether the two are compatible or not. Integrated marriage seeks to ensure that the institution is built on a mutual understanding other than a feeling of responsibility. Okesson (2012) observes that modern churches have brought about a new way of looking at marriage where it is not just a lifetime commitment but also a happy and fulfilling one (Beguy et al., 2011). The newly integrated practices have come with better education and enlighten where people are more aware of the issues affecting marriage such as family planning and are thus able to have more control of their lives.
Full adoption of Christian elements into local traditions
As the influence of Christianity continues to spread immensely, the Kamba have found themselves adopting most of the Christian elements in their marriage practices. Among the elements include a focus on holistic human development, improved health through medical advances, and the initiation of high regard for marriage.
Holistic human development
Holistic human development has been the central theme of many Christianity teachings. According to (Okesson, 2012), humanity is considered the essential value in a human beings life. Unions are therefore required to be built on the foundation of humanitarian principles. As opposed to the traditions that did not consider being happy and personally satisfied as one of the requirements of a union, Christianity has brought a more liberalized way of perceiving relationships which are geared towards self-fulfillment and equal contribution. Improvement of life is only achieved when all parties involved put in equal effort. The issue of wives being unsatisfied with their husbands and therefore divorcing them has been eliminated and replaced by tolerance and togetherness. Given the modern times and urbanization, marriage counseling is conducted by the pastor and the parents. There is no longer the need to stay with the elders back in the village for some period say six months to be taught how to be a responsible husband or wife (Kariuki, 2013).
The customary rite of passage for women (cliteridetorny) has been dealt away with the adoption of new Christian practices. People have become more informed about the dangers of such backward practices and their relative diminishing of the value of human life. The custom of giving birth to as many children as possible to protect the clan from extinction has long been replaced with a more enlightened notion of the need to properly care for the children one brings into the world. Polygamy which was very common in Kamba culture was eventually replaced with the requirement of having only one wife. Men have been taught the benefits of having one partner alongside the downsides of multiple ones. The Christian role of a parent is not just to give life to young ones but also to properly care for them providing for their every need. Pentecostal churches coming up have embraced the modern aspect of family that involves prior planning of how many children a couple would have (Cofie et al., 2013). Contraceptives and family planning methods for birth control are among the new concepts that have been adopted by the Kamba people contrary to their traditions.
Health education
The health traditions of the Kamba people have been replaced with modern methods of treatment that are In line with Christianity. It is important to note that there has been a lot of confusion with regards to traditional medication and witchcraft (Namoobe, 1999). Traditional doctors have always been perceived as witches by the western world where Christianity emerged. Christian Kamba people have thus turned away from seeking traditional treatments. It is quite difficult to separate black magic from customary healing as the two are closely linked, for instance, seeking traditional doctors’ assistance in bearing children. Christianity has also brought about the knowledge of God being the essential healer for believers. Given that the administration of customary treatment can be crude and unsafe for the patients, a move towards contemporary methods has contributed to the improvement of life of the Kamba people in general. Other unhealthy traditions that have benefited from Christianity include wife inheritance.
Christianity among the Akamba of Kenya has had a significant effect both positive and negative on their way of life including marriages. Disruption of local marriage customs and assimilation into colonial practices, the emergence of new cultural phenomena due to a mix of traditional and Christianity customs, and adoption of Christian elements into local traditions are the three major areas of influence. Christianity, pre-Christianity, integrated tradition and Christianity, and assimilated marriages all signify the influence that Christianity has had on traditional Akamba marriages.
Beguy D., et al., 2011. Timing and sequencing of events marking the transition to adulthood in two informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. Journal of Urban Health 88(2), pp. 318–340
Gathogo J., 2014. Theo-Political Dominance of Afro-Pentecostalism in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Kenyan Socio-Ecclesial Context. US-China L. Rev. 4 (11), 1499-1524
Kariuki, E. 2013.The Akamba (Kamba) people of Kenya. Retrieved from
Miya, F., 2004. Educational content in the performing arts: tradition and Christianity in Kenya. Cape Town: University of Cape Town
Namoobe, C., 1999. Witchcraft among the Kamba. African Cultures and Religion, 1(3), pp.50-56
Nzuki, J. 2018. The marriage agreement. National Museum of Kenya, Resource Centre. Retrieved from
Okesson, G., 2012. Re-Imaging Modernity: A Contextualized Theological Study of Power and Humanity within Akamba Christianity in Kenya. Eugene: Pickwick Publications
Selvam, S.G., 2004. Marriage and family in African Christianity. Acton Publishers, Nairobi, Kenya.
Parsitau, D., 2007. From the periphery to the center: the Pentecostalisation of mainline Christianity in Kenya. Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Mission Studies, 35(2), pp.

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