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Weddings and circumcisions in Kanga, 1965-2002

Weddings have both Islamic and customary elements. The actual ceremony is a contract between the father or guardian of the bride and the groom or his representative, and is conducted by am Islamic official called a kadhi. It is usually held at the house of the bride’s family and only lasts for a few minutes. However the customary aspects last for several days and include women getting together to pound the rice which will be cooked, slaughtering an animal (cow or goat) and cooking the food on the day. Men eat in lines at the front of the bride’s house and women in the courtyard. The bride’s trousseau (sanduku), the gift of the groom, is brought by his female relatives and taken away by those of the bride, who also carry the household goods given her by her parents. Women also sing and dance, and in the 1960s, both sexes would dance together, but this does not happen now because of stricter adherence to Islam, as can also be seen by comparing the dress worn by both women and men in the 1960s and the 2002. Both women and men who have joking relationships (utani) – that is cross-cousins, grandparents and grandchildren, and members of certain ethnic groups – exchange dues (ugongo) in the form of small amounts of money.

All boys are circumcised at any time from the age of one up to puberty. Ceremonies for boys used to involve mainly customary elements – circumcision by a ritual expert (‘simba’ – ‘lion’) and seclusion in a special hut (jando) for several weeks, during which time the boys would be taught about life and sex through songs and riddles. The ‘coming out’ would involve feasting and dancing, and sometimes the recitation of a maulid (poem about the birth of the Prophet Mohammed). Increasingly, boys are circumcised in hospital with little traditional observance, partly because of the expense of the old kind of ceremonies and partly because such customs have been discouraged by the new Islam.

1960s: Weddings

1976: Circumcision ceremony

1985: Circumcision ceremony

2002: Wedding