Kenya. Pökot, the Parpara Ceremony

The Pökot are a Nilotic people. They live in Western Kenya, in the districts of West Pökot and Baringo, and in Uganda, in the Karamoja region. We look at the Parpara ceremony, a rite that any Pökot woman must do before delivering her first child.

This ceremony must be done together with the woman’s husband. Even if she is not yet married, the father of the child has to appear for the celebration of this ceremony. It is a long rite that lasts the whole night. Usually it is performed around the seventh month of her pregnancy. The presence of the father of the child is very important in this ceremony, since the child to be born is going to belong to his family. Parpara is done only once for each woman. The only exception happens if that woman does not manage to give birth to a live child. In this case it would mean that the first Parpara was not done properly, thus it has to be repeated.


This ceremony tries to eliminate all the sins that the forefathers of the child’s father committed. They need to be cleansed so that the woman may have a successful delivery.
The people involved in this rite are: the wife, the husband, the father and mother of the husband, the close relatives of both sides, and two young children, a boy and a girl, who act as types of godparents of the child still in the womb.
Some days before the fixed date for the Parpara the husband brews more than six gourds of beer. Once the beer is ready the relatives of the woman and the parents of the husband are invited to the homestead. The family of the husband must welcome the relatives of the wife with a couple of gourds of beer. After a few drinks the father of the husband, that is the future grandfather, starts a song to welcome the guests. When it gets dark the guests are led into the fold of goats which is inside the house where the Parpara will take place.


The master of the rite is the grandfather of the husband, or the father of the husband, if the first has already passed away; he is called porporin. As soon as the relatives of the wife are out of the fold, the porporin gives a big container of honey plus a small one to the small boy who helps in the ceremony.
The presence of the boy and girl is very important; they foretell the successful birth of the young mother to be, who is glad for her pregnancy but nervous. The first birth of a Pökot woman is always difficult and painful because the circumcision performed on the young girl has caused a scar that now needs to break open again.
After that the small child can go to sleep till early morning. Meanwhile the adults continue dancing and singing inside the hut.

Dancing and drinking the whole night

When the time arrives, the Porporin starts the rite by taking a dish made out of wood and putting some dirt from an ant-hill, roots from a fig tree and pieces of bark from another tree inside it. Then the old man starts to mix all those ingredients, and makes a sludge substance.  As the old man’s hands move slowly and with pomp, the others respond to his song. Every now and then he stops and takes a sip of beer, and then continues for a long time. The singing continues for a long time because the old man mentions many of the known sins and mistakes committed by their forefathers that need to be cleansed, so that their sins do not affect the childbirth.After that the old man takes a brand from the fire and puts it into the wooden dish. He takes a drink, takes a breath, during which people can talk about any thing else, and after a while starts again with the same ritual.


The young couple do not need to be there yet, though the husband could be around. People continue dancing and drinking the whole night through. At dawn all the people who are in the homestead, relatives and guests, come close to the hut where the parpara has been celebrated. Now the couple are told to seat themselves at the narrow entrance of the hut. The two small children, the boy and the girl, are brought and are sat at their sides: the boy on the right, the girl on the left. The husband is completely naked, and his wife sits on his left hand and she is covered with a wrap of animal skin. The porporin starts again to mix the sludge substance and sings. Once that is finished the mothers of the couple go outside the hut and remain standing in front of the entrance. The porporin takes a small container with honey, and two small gourds of milk, one from a cow that has delivered recently and the other from a goat. He gets a piece of a branch from a palm tree, and smears the mouths of the husband and wife, first with milk then with honey. But they cannot lick it. Both milk and honey are symbols of prosperity and a sweet future. Some of the milk and honey is also poured on their heads. The remaining milk and honey is given to the two small children seated on their side to drink and lick.


Once they have finished that ceremony all sing together. While all the people present sing they go around the couple and the two children sat in front of the door of the hut. After the song all go out of the hut, and now the couple and the two children must sit in front of the door, on the outside. They are sat on a white goat skin; their legs must be close together, one next to the other. It is about the time when the sun comes out, and since most of the Pökot houses face east, the sun should light on them. Then the porporin takes the basin full of mud, and spits into it. Soon after, all the people present, both men and women, spit into it as well. The spitting, done in a special way, is a sign of blessing.
Everybody is blessing those to be parents, everyone is with them. The old man continues with the ceremony, quietly he smears the husband, and then the wife with that mud. He smears the two children a little as well. After that the porporin washes the bodies of the couple with milk and pours a bit of honey on them, as signs of cleansing and sweet future blessings.
Once the ceremony at the entrance of the hut is over, all the people present go in procession to the kraal, at whose entrance there are two twigs. The master of the procession removes them, and all go into the kraal. They go around it three times, following their right hand and continue singing as they go.
At the end the porporin calls the young couple to come to the middle of the kraal, and blesses them. The whole ceremony of the Parpara now ends. The child delivery will be without any problems. But if there are, perhaps it will be necessary to repeat the parpara again. (T.H.)




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