Corinne A. Kratz

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar


Looking for the Hairless Cow: Arranging Okiek Marriage

For Okiek people living the forested highlands of Narok District in Kenya, a wedding celebrates not only the union of bride and groom, but the culmination of complex marriage arrangements that sometimes span years. These inter-generational meetings, discussions, and negotiations between and within families are characterized by “artful argument and powerful performance,” often including emotional events and family intrigues such as elopements thwarted, husbands refused, and long-standing rifts resolved.

In Looking for the Hairless Cow: Arranging Okiek Marriage, Corinne Kratz will analyze the rich, textured discourse and performance of these marriage arrangements, and then embed them in social history. “The title uses an Okiek metaphor comparing brides (‘hairless cows’) to bride wealth cattle that cement family unions,” Kratz explains.

Her overall approach considers the multiple media of communication, the way events unfold, and the pauses, interruptions, and side comments often left out of analyses. “This study explores not only why people argue about marriage arrangement, but how they do so, in a politically charged setting.” Kratz is quick to note that these meetings are as often playful as tense, with not a little honey-wine and maize beer consumed.

During nearly 30 years of research with Okiek, Kratz witnessed the movement from hunting/gathering to farming and herding, saw changes in land tenure and demography, and observed the introduction of schools, roads, and shops. “Major life transitions like marriage provide critical moments where these changes are recognized, debated, and lived, as people negotiate divergent interests, uncertainties, and evolving situations,” Kratz observes. In discussions that reflect even national discourses and changes, the complex Okiek marriage arrangement protocol provides a microcosm of these broad evolving interconnections—as well as changing notions of personhood and identity—and how they affect individual lives.

“When combined with my earlier book on Okiek initiation (Affecting Performance: Meaning, Movement, and Experience in Okiek Women’s Initiation, Smithsonian Institution Press), this book will create an unprecedented body of work that documents a cohort of young women over two decades of pivotal life changes and profound socio-historical shifts. Further, it will analyze the ways Okiek produce and understand these changes in relation to wider social and historical processes.”

Affiliation at time of award:
Co-director, Center for the Study of Public Scholarship, and Professor of Anthropology and African Studies, Emory University

Follow us: