According to Ethnologue, there are approximately 3,960,000 Kamba speakers, with the number increasing. They live in Kenya, and are concentrated in the Machakos and Kitui districts of the Eastern Province and the Kwale district of the Coast Province.
The Kamba speak the Kamba language (also known as Kekamba and Kikamba) as a mother tongue. It belongs to the Bantu branch of the Niger-Congo language family.
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As a matter of fact, the rituals have been viciously preserved throughout generations, and still remain a significant identity and cultural value revered by everyone in the community, their social class notwithstanding. For instance, before a marriage ceremony is conducted, the groom (with his kin) must throw an important party popularly referred to as Ntheo. Ntheo is actually the minimum requirement that demonstrates the bride officially belongs to the man she is engaged to.
In case the couples are in a ‘come-we-stay’ arrangement, meaning there was no advance ceremony before they began living as husband and wife, the entire marriage is deemed null and void under the Kamba customary law.
As a result, the woman in the marriage is considered an illegitimate wife and the man illegitimate husband. If, and God forbid, a woman whose husband is yet to throw the ntheo party to her (bride’s) kin dies, she cannot be buried by her husband no matter how long she had stayed with him. And if the husband finds it important to bury the remains of his wife at his home, he has to carry out the ntheo ceremony before the burial.
What it involves
So what does ntheo entail? An ordinary ntheo ceremony must involve at least three goats, one of which must be a he-goat that is un-castrated. However, you may have more than three goats but the rule is that the number of the animals to be presented to the bride’s family for the purpose of ntheo must add up to an odd number. This means the goats may be five, seven, nine and so on but not four or six!
During this ceremony, only a handful close relatives of both sides of families are involved. The he-goat is then slaughtered by the groom, or alternatively a brother to the groom. ?It is believed that as soon as blood of the he-goat spills on the ground, the bride becomes ‘officially owned’ by the groom that very moment.
But it does not end there. A piece of soft meat popularly known as kikonde, extracted from the slaughtered goat is given to both the bride and groom, who must eat at least a piece each as ‘an oath’ that they will keep the covenant of their marriage.
In case ntheo ceremony is carried out before a marriage ceremony like it is the case in most Christian marriages, the bride is deemed to already ‘lawfully’ belong to her fiancée under Kamba customary law. And even if there is no church ceremony the two are deemed married.
Once food is served to those present at the ceremony, women and children are issued with soft drinks while men who are considered mature are served with Kaluvu, the Kamba traditional beer. It is important to note it is the groom’s responsibility to ensure both types of drinks are made available in acceptable quality and quantity.
Once the ntheo ceremony is done, the process of ‘buying a wife’ begins there and then. The bride’s kin are to present the numerous items the bride’s family will require as dowry.
However, these items may be paid through installments that are usually negotiated at friendly basis by the two sides of the families. Dowry is what is popularly referred to as ngasya. Coming on the top of the list of items for ngasya are 48 goats, which must eventually be delivered to the bride’s family.
This means, for instance, if the groom used three goats for the ntheo ceremony, he is left with an outstanding balance of 45 goats.
Another interesting item that features prominently in the list of dowry items is a big goat called ndua itaa brought to the bride’s parents. This one is supposed to signify that the bed that belonged to the bride while at her parents’ home has now been bought by the groom’s family.
To crown the marriage, the groom is also expected to throw yet another mega party to the in-laws, and this time the entire village is invited to feast. A huge, castrated bull is slaughtered and friends and neighbours are invited for a ceremony dubbed ilute. During this ceremony, the bride is showered with gifts by members of her kin and friends alike, which she may take to her matrimonial home.
But what if the worst happens and the groom intends to divorce his wife? The groom will have to incur another cost again! Under Kamba tradition, the groom (together with his parents) must take two goats — one male another female called mbui sya maleo (goats of divorce) to the bride’s family. The groom’s family may opt to claim all what they incurred in dowry payments after ‘deporting’ the bride to her parents’ home, or just forget about it altogether!