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Where goat meat is a symbol of unity

Feasting on cabrito is common in parties, but in the Kikuyu community during certain events such as dowry payment, it takes on a new meaning. It seals a marriage deal with dire consequences should one break the vows

Njange Maina @NjangeWaMaina

Goat meat is a famous delicacy in many homes. No party, anywhere is complete without a goat being slaughtered. Many love it for its soft texture and health properties including ability to control blood pressure, prevent stroke and kidney disease.

In the Kikuyu community, goat meat is not only a gourmet meal, it is a symbol of culture and when it comes to ceremonies such as ruraacio (dowry payment), it takes on a symbolic meaning to the extent that it would be considered taboo if one was not slaughtered. Female goats are shunned and considered “unclean” and, therefore, only a male goat is slaughtered for the ceremony.

“A female goat cannot be used for a ritual, it could be on heat or pregnant, which may lead to defilement of the ceremony,” says a Kikuyu elder, Gitau Ng’ang’a. Ruraacio is not a one-day event as many people think, but a process that is essentially endless. Requirements for any ruraacio process change depending on the clan.

Most of the ceremonies happen at the bride’s home. In the Gikuyu community, clanship is essential in any social gathering as it represents the family and no significant meeting is complete without a goat.

The bride’s father slaughters the goat with the assistance of his sons in the morning of the ceremony. It is a gesture of generosity. As the owners of the ‘property’, it shows that they have offered it in goodwill.

A sharp knife is used to pierce the goat and blood is collected in a half-slit calabash. The knife shouldn’t be placed on the grass, as it would bring bad omen to the rest of the herd. Thenge ya kirige (male goat) is slaughtered in the morning of the ceremony as its fresh blood is used for gukura ritual. Gukura means to extract.

The ritual is performed to release the bride in good will and bless her in the new clan/home. That morning, the bride’s father gathers some men from his clan among them his immediate brothers. He must also have some items used to perform the ritual, including branches of wild tobacco plant Solanum mauritianum locally known as muthakwa.

The plant is the king of Gikuyu’s sacrificial trees and shrubs. According to Ng’ang’a, the muthakwa tree is used because of its tender leaves and its evergreen nature.

The muthakwa tree has broad odourless leaves and is used to perform tens of other rituals, explains elder Mbogo Gataara. Water, limestone powder, locally brewed beer and a slit calabash are the other essentials of the ritual.

When there is no beer, sugar cane juice concentrate is used. In the Gikuyu ways, bottled beer, fruit juice and soft drinks are not used anywhere as elder Ng’ang’a explains. “Sodas and juices are used in today’s ceremonies, which is wrong. Only locally brewed beer should be used, sugarcane juice may also be used,” says Ng’ang’a.

While doing the rituals, the men have to remove caps and force the goat to face Mt Kenya. The mountain is believed to be the holy place for their God. Removal of caps is in respect to their god.

The four men lick little powder from the right thumb and smear some on the navel region. Some beer is sprinkled on the leaves and later on the goat as a blessing. The purpose of the powder ritual is to cleanse the bride and bless her in the new home. After the gukura ritual, the goat is slaughtered and the meat parts are roasted for eating.

The gukura ceremony is better comparable to signing a marriage certificate in a Christian weddings. Different people eat the different meats parts. The left breast meat of the goat is used for completing the gukura ritual.

The breast part, owing to its fatty nature, is used to guard the marriage. While being shared out, the partakers recites: whoever crosses this marriage will be cursed by their breast fat. Elder Ng’ang’a says, the curse is deadly.

In all ceremonies and rituals involving a girl-child, the left parts of a goat meat are used. For a boy-child the right parts are used. The groom shares the meat and the beer with the bride’s parent and leaves the in-laws premises.

In the Gikuyu culture in-laws are not allowed to interact in drunkenness as that could lead to disrespect. The gukura ceremony ends when the in-laws leave the bride’s premises.

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