Photo/FILE There is no legal requirement that a couple has to exchange rings for their marriage to be valid, but the centuries old tradition continues to be observed as part of modern wedding rituals.
It is one of the focal pints of a modern day wedding ceremony; a circular piece of shiny metal that is one of the most enduring symbols of marriage.
Regarded as more than just an ornament, it marks the joining of two individuals into a married couple.
And as December, one of the traditional wedding months in Kenya, draws near, many engaged couples are working on the finer details of their wedding ceremonies.
Among the items being readied are the must-have wedding bands to be exchanged during the ceremony.
There are designs to be chosen and fittings to be done to ensure the ring, usually golden, glides on smoothly as the lovebirds declare: With this ring I thee wed.
There is no legal requirement that a couple has to exchange rings for their marriage to be valid, but the centuries old tradition continues to be observed as part of modern wedding rituals.
But is the ring still a significant symbol of marriage? Or is it just a meaningless but costly symbol that can be done away with?
Rose, who has been married for four years now, hardly ever notices the ring on her finger, except when admiring the look of it against a freshly done manicure.
But she would not give it up, even though it does not work quite as well as it used to, to get people to accord her the respect due to married women.
“The ring is such an integral part of me that it fades into my finger and becomes one with it. The only time I had to remove it was when I was pregnant two years ago and my swollen fingers made it uncomfortable to wear,” she says.
Single ladies also support the continuation of the tradition. Eleanor, a 25-year-old single nurse believes that wedding bands still have a place in society.
“How else can you identify and distinguish between the married and the unmarried if you take away the rings?” she poses.
But apart from identifying marital status, the ring seems to have lost its other “abilities”. Like how it used to stir respect for the boundaries of married people.
Women say that the ring that once earned them total respect as married women is no longer taken with the same solemnity of the past.
It used to be that a ring on the fourth finger of the left hand was a glaring sign that the wearer was unavailable.
It screamed at would-be suitors: I’m off the market – find someone else! But that effect seems to have waned off greatly.
Nancy, who will be celebrating her one-year wedding anniversary in four months, says that not every man respects the boundary created by her wedding ring.
“Some men will back off when you show them your ring and tell them you are serious about your vows. But others are not put off and keep pushing you to go out with them,” she says.
Nancy, a resident of Thome in Nairobi, believes that such men are just testing the limits to see whether a woman respects the values that the ring stands for.
As such, she always stands her ground against advances, saying that it is the only way she can maintain their respect – by respecting her own marriage.
Men too find that wearing a ring comes with its own challenges. David a 30-year-old who has been married for five years, no longer wears his wedding band because it draws flirty women.
“Nowadays, wearing a ring does little to deter women from pursuing you. In fact, when they see it, they intensify their flirting.
They assume you are a keeper, since you have already been tested by another woman,” he explains.
But despite the diminishing respect for the boundaries set by the ring, those who sport it still believe in wearing it and will not give up their expensive wedding bands.
On average, couples spend upwards of Sh5,000 per ring to seal the deal and prove their commitment.
And those who have walked the path to a jeweller’s shop say that the price is well worth it. The rings are an investment in their devotion towards their unions.
Ring of hypocrisy
Janet, 28, who has been a wife for slightly over a year now, says that as a sign of eternal love and dedication, a good ring, though expensive, is worth the price:
“If one can spend Sh100,000 on a home theatre system, he should be willing to spend as much or more on a ring that serves as a constant reminder of the vow to stay true to one’s spouse.”
However, despite spending tens of thousands on the small ornamental symbol, the intangible values attached to it are not always honoured.
It becomes a ring of hypocrisy rather than one of sincere love. The sparkling gold or platinum symbol does not seem to keep the wearers from seeking love outside their marital boundaries.
Even so, 34-year-old Halima Ali, still wants a ring when she gets married. Currently, she sports a golden ring on her middle left finger, which at first glance could pass for an engagement ring. But it is not.
“It is an over 30-year-old heirloom that was given to me by my mother when I was a teenager,” she explains.
Her mother got it from her own mother and Halima will hopefully pass it on to her daughter. But first she has to get married. And a wedding ceremony without a ring is unimaginable.
Show of respect
“A ring is a very important symbol. It sends an unmistakable message about your marital status and earns you respect.
“People take you more seriously when they notice a wedding band on your finger. Their behaviour and speech is less flirty and they focus on the task at hand,” she says.
It is that respect that keeps Halima supportive of the ring, even though she agrees that not everyone will respect a woman just because she wears one.
The general agreement is that the ring still has its place, but it is not an assurance that the wearer values what it stands for.
Pastor “JJ” Gitahi, a relationship counsellor and radio show host, says that wearing a ring is not a guarantee that one will respect marriage.
“Rings are just a formality in many unions as they seem to have no meaning. It is not the ring that matters, but rather the respect you have for your spouse and your union. You do not need a ring; what you need is to stand by your vows.”