Das Recht Der Dschagga


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The marriage negotiations, including the transfer of the bride wealth (ngosa, collectively, wuko) from the groom’s people to those of the bride, may be divided into sixteen stages:

1. The beer of deliberation. Several kegs of beer are taken to the home of the girl’s parents and the suitability of the marriage is discussed. There may have been, for example, a lawsuit between grandfathers of the two families in which one of them lost cattle, and a gift of reconciliation is necessary.

2. The brother beer. This is a similar gathering in honor of the brothers of the girl, and to Secure their approval. Otherwise if the girl came to grief the brothers would say, "Father alone gave you in marriage, he can help you alone." On this occasion if there is anything to be said against the suitor the girl’s mother says it. She gives him as bad a character as possible, repeating all the reports she has heard of his evil ways, and when challenged to confirm her accusations she produces a spy who has had the man under observation. He takes from his clothing a bundle of small sticks, unties it, and says, "This stick I broke off when he beat his father at such and such a time and place, and the man who separated them was so and so," and for every stick he names the incident, time and place, and the person intervening. If negotiations are not interrupted at this point the bride brews at her own expense a vessel of beer and bears it to the house of the groom’s father. He conceals himself, according to custom, but through intermediaries they exchange greetings. The beer is called "beer for enlisting the father-in-law," and contains a word, "isusa," customarily used when a humble person seeks the favor of a powerful one by a small gift.

3. Honoring the mother-in-law. Gifts, including a bracelet and chain for the bride and a slaughtered animal, are taken to the house of the bride by the sister and mngari (brother or cousin) of the groom. They attempt to place the ornaments on the bride but she resists and it is necessary to throw her down and bind them on her by force, while she weeps. The sister of the groom trills the words, "Today I bound my cow," signifying that the bride is bound to the house of the groom and will become the "cattle of the family" (source of income). The mother and father of the bride remind her that she has herself consented and encouraged them to drink the beer of the man. The mother then feeds the sister and the mngari, smears them with butter, and later sends tokens to the brothers of her husband announcing the engagement.

4. The dracaena beer. A special brew, ceremonially prepared in large quantities, carried by young men to the house of the bride and poured into great vats. Each vat bears the name of a person or group of persons related to the bride. The Bantu term for "virgin" is "unimpaired," and if the groom’s people have learned that the bride is "impaired" these vessels of beer will lack a hand’s breadth of being full—a delicate intimation that they know the worth of the girl.

5. The bundled ox. This is primarily a religious ceremony. An ox is slaughtered and half of it carried in bundles to the bride’s family, where it is offered to the spiritual ancestors. There are reciprocal vows that the bride will practice no magic in her new home and that none will be used against her. During these vows food is offered and taken and soothsayers are present to interpret omens. Strictly speaking, the marriage would be abandoned if the omens were unfavorable, but the soothsayer will probably find a way out. He will say, for example, that a discontented ancestor who was never married is opposing the union, and to conciliate him a small effigy of a bride is made from a banana blossom, a tiny marriage chamber constructed in the grove, and he is symbolically married to her.

At one point an uncle of the girl, urged by her father, gives her a parting blessing: "Go, my child, make a good adjustment, love your husband, don’t put us in peril of returning the bride wealth. We brought you into the world and now you are grown up. You have been a comfort to us beyond the trouble in rearing you. As we nurtured you so you are now in a position to requite us. When you go to your husband win a place for yourself so that you may repay us and bring us packages" (means of subsistence).

The mngari of the groom is a permanent intermediary between the families. To him the bride says: "You, mngari, have come to take me from my father. You are urging me toward my period of readjustment. I know you are going to take me soon. I give you this food. I swear a blood bond and may it devour me if I am false. If I come to you and your brother is bad, turn your eyes on me. If he beats me, I will come to you. But if you do not protect me I will go, and return to my father. In your house and in your sib I will die and decay. So treat me as your sib sister. But if you cannot and do not control your brother when he mistreats me I now absolve myself from the curse of the violation of the blood bond, if you force me to break it." [There is here an implicit threat that she will use witchcraft against his family if she is mistreated.]

6. The kisangu beer. This is a large contribution of beer of a special brew, and is in the nature of an urgency gift. The mngari pleads that the marriage shall be consummated shortly. The ceremonies take a more decided religious direction. Female as well as male ancestors are supplicated, and the women of the bride’s sib are prominent in the ceremonies.

7. The beer of complaint about hunger and cold. This symbolizes the desirability of an early marriage and the helplessness of a man without a wife. The gift is also called "the beer of cutting out" because the feet of the bride are placed on a hide and the soles of the sandals she is to wear on her departure are cut out. The sole for the right foot is cut with supplications to the paternal ancestors and the one for the left with supplications to the maternal.

8. The beer for raising questions. The practices of the sibs do not correspond completely, and at this meeting there is a discussion and settlement of the precise formalities of the bride instruction, the marriage ceremony, etc. This has importance because two sibs are involved and it is thought that the ancestors on one side or the other might be offended by an irregularity, and the marriage would be unfruitful or unfortunate.

9. The dracaena kid. So called because a kid ornamented with dracaena leaves is brought to the home of the bride. The ceremony is elaborate, with many speeches. The bride makes a conventional and seemingly bitter resistance. She says: "You are selling me like a foundling, as if I had not been born among you. I am to be sent among strangers and my brother you are keeping at home. You are treating me like a goat’s afterbirth which is hung on a bush, and my brother like a calf’s afterbirth which is dried and kept in the house." Her parents point out that this has always been done, that the man must remain and fortify and continue the sib, that the woman needs the protection of a man, etc. To the groom’s mngari the father says: "I am lending you my heifer to take care of, not selling her. Don’t imagine I am turning her over to you like a foundling." Finally the bride is carried to the home of the groom on the back of the groom’s mngari and during the journey her feet must not touch the ground. This is not, however, the completion of the marriage. The bride is instructed in matters of marriage and at the same time fattened, with a view to bearing and nourishing children. During this period the groom shares the marriage instruction, but his mngari sleeps with him and guards him from contact with the bride. The bride is in the position of a boarding-school girl who visits her family at intervals. The instruction is on marital duties, legal rights, and magical practices.

10. A gift of seven vats of beer to "clear the minds" of the bride’s relatives and incline them to sympathize with the bride teaching, which has a magical character and would not be effective if the parents cherished hard feelings. Following this visit the parents of the bride are courteously requested to take her back for a brief time in order that she may have final instruction from a "wise woman" of her own sib.

11. Accompanying the girl are gifts meaning "union" or "increase," symbolizing the incorporation of the bride in a new group. On her return to the home of her mother-in-law, accompanied by a group of relatives, the groom suddenly appears and snatches a bundle of beans which her mother has laid on her shoulder. Her companions were expecting this, and attempt to beat the groom, who is protected by his companions. At the door of his home the "wise woman" of the bride’s house takes the bundle from him, saying, "You took the burden from your wife’s shoulders just as she took the load of firewood from your shoulders yesterday," meaning that they should "bear one another’s burdens." In the house, when all are assembled, the groom grasps the arm of the bride with both hands and says, "Let us cultivate [the soil] for your father and mine." This is applauded, and the bride grasps his upper arm. On the next day, or the day after, according to the condition of ripeness of the beer, there is a festival called "the joining in wedlock" at which only members of the groom’s sib are present. Toward evening the mngari of the groom reminds him that he now has a household of his own and must not run around and lead a loose life as heretofore, and the bridal pair are conducted to their new home and deposited ceremoniously on sheepskins.

12. Delivery of goats to the father of the bride as previously agreed.

13. The grandmother’s goat. Delivered to the grandmother of the bride after the birth of the second or third child. This belongs to a class of gifts solicited by presenting a smaller one. It is called "cooking up" or "cultivating" a gift. The grandmother brings a vessel of beer and the mngari gives her a goat.

14. Immediately after the grandmother has secured a goat the mngari of the bride "cooks up" a gift in the same way and is also given a goat. At about this point of time, however, the bride has found a "place" among her new people and begins to be treated as one of them by her own people in economic matters and she also makes economic claims on them. She receives a portion of all the animals sent alive to her people when they are slaughtered, and similar portions from their offspring. If she commits any offense against the peace or honor of her husband’s house she may claim one of these animals to make atonement.

15. A heifer is delivered alive to the father or brother of the bride when the first-born child is seven or eight years old, provided there are additional siblings. This gift is also "cooked up" or "cultivated" by a gift of beer to the groom’s family. The transfer of the heifer to the bride’s family is symbolical. The mngari of the bride, who had previously handed her over to the mngari of the groom, now receives the heifer, to be transferred to her people. It is the replacement of one "heifer" by another. There is solicitude that the heifer shall be of good character and antecedents. The mngari of the bride and her brother examine it and assure themselves that it is of good heredity and not acquired through war, a lawsuit, or fraud. A goat called the "separation goat," is given in addition to the heifer, signifying the termination of the wuko gifts.

The mngari of the groom grasps the banana-fiber halter of the animal and addresses the mngari of the bride: "Take your heifer, which ends the wuko. You gave me a young cow which needed care and rearing. I have tended it and brought it up, and it has become human. It has become a source, provided by my protectors [ancestors]. Now I am giving you my heifer, to be cared for and developed until it becomes a mother. It will become a source, uniting you with your sister’s child and providing milk and a bull calf and a cow calf, so that you may terminate the wuko of your son. If the cow brings you blessings and you nevertheless withhold the entrails [portion of the flesh] from me it will lead to bitterness and resentment, which will destroy the cow. I am ending my wuko in peace and I give the heifer with spittle [blessing]. So you do for me what is proper. I asked you for a heifer with a black head, and I found it a source of children. I am giving you a heifer with a white head, and may you find in it a source of milk and calves. And if I have a male child and you have a female one, the source was with you, but I will return it to me [by marriage]. I have engendered children like bees. The bees leave the hive and fly as far as Useri and Aruscha but they return to the old hive where they tasted the first honey."

The mngari of the bride makes an appropriate reply, but at this point the bride may intervene to hinder the removal of the heifer. She faces her brother and says: "Be off with you! I left you the cattle and the banana grove of our father. You gave me a stick to go elsewhere and now you are taking gifts for me. Be off with you!" Her brother breaks a twig and hands it to her as promise that he will sacrifice a goat for her, and she is pacified. But if her relatives have neglected her in the meantime she has the right to detain the heifer until the matter has been discussed and she has been satisfied. They dare not remove the heifer so long as she opposes it.

16. The heifer of the bride’s maternal uncle. After the brother has claimed a heifer the mother’s brother of the bride makes a claim, which is also "cultivated." This claim is received very affectionately by the bride because the maternal uncle [as a more intimate father-surrogate and a kind of male mother] has been constant in his devotion to the girl and in his mediation with the ancestral spirits on her behalf. They say, "Health comes from the mother’s brother." He is given a she-goat, with the anticipation that when this produces kids he is to receive a heifer. The bride hopes that the goat will prosper and bear soon, so that he may have the heifer during her lifetime. "The dry grass is licked by the fire," she says, meaning that life is transitory and that after her death his claim might be disregarded. This final affectionate gesture marks the definite termination of the wuko contributions.1

1Gutmann, B.n/an/an/an/an/a, , 86–126 (C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung. By permission. Summarized).


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Chicago: "Das Recht Der Dschagga," Das Recht Der Dschagga in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed December 5, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SVAI5XGVLIPPR6D.

MLA: . "Das Recht Der Dschagga." Das Recht Der Dschagga, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 5 Dec. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SVAI5XGVLIPPR6D.

Harvard: , 'Das Recht Der Dschagga' in Das Recht Der Dschagga. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 5 December 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=SVAI5XGVLIPPR6D.