Okiek - Marriage and Family

Marriage. Until the late 1980s, Kaplelach and Kipchornwonek Okiek lineages arranged most marriages. Young men usually married while in their twenties, whereas young women married at about sixteen, soon after initiation to womanhood. Arrangements were made through a series of four or more visits from the groom's family to the bride's. Discussion during later visits centered on bride-wealth property, which today averages six or seven cows (or their equivalent). In the past, engagements could begin when the couple were still young children, but such early engagements became rare after the 1970s. Between formai meetings, the groom was expected to visit, bring small gifts, and help his future affines in various ways. Alternatives to arranged marriage were also possible through various kinds of elopement, although these attempts to circumvent family plans were not always successful. Marriages are usually patrilocal.

With the multiple demographic and economic changes related to land sales, increasing education, and economic diversification, far more young Okiek have been eloping, refusing arranged marriages, or delaying marriage since about the mid-1980s. These shifts have also contributed to an increase in plural marriage, relatively rare among Okiek in the past. The pattern of plural marriage has also changed: it is now possible for young men to an extent never before feasible. Many plural marriages in this new trend are between Okiek men and women from other, settler ethnic groups.

Domestic Unit. Husband, wife, and their children form the core of a typical Okiek household, but other relatives (e.g., an aged parent of the husband or children of the couple's siblings) might also be part of it on a permanent or temporary basis. If a man has more than one wife, each woman has her own house. Parents do not sleep in the same house with adolescent children of the opposite sex. A separate sleeping house might be built for an adolescent son or adolescent children might sleep in another house with friends.

Inheritance. Land, hives, livestock, and other property are inherited patrilineally. In some cases, daughters might receive an animal or some other particular item. A man's widow does not inherit his property, but should be cared for by his siblings after his death if her sons are still young. Some contemporary Okiek argue that daughters should have inheritance rights as well, a national issue that the Kenyan parliament is also considering.

Socialization. Okiek mark the growth and maturation of children through a series of life-cycle ceremonies (see "Ceremonies"). These are the same for boys and girls until initiation into adulthood, which occurs at 14 to 16 years of age. There are important gender differences, however, in the way that children are socialized, ranging from the games they play to the tasks they are given. These correspond to and help to teach them the work they will do as adult men and women; they also teach children that men and women have different rights, responsibilities, and abilities.

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