A few years back, I was privy to a traditional wedding ceremony where the groom and bride families came together and the groom paid the bride price. This is considered symbolic, and marks the union of the two families.
Before the arrival of Europeans and their church (white wedding), the bride price was the way to go, to get married. This is a practice as old as the world. It is a custom widely practiced across Africa. It plays a very important role in our traditions and cultures. It marks the coming together of two families. I loved the comment one of my friends made: “I found giving bride price to my wife’s family an enriching experience. Going to work and saving money gave me a sense of how precious she was to me. The contention I often hear against bride price often cite the greedy few who have spoken the loudest. There are millions who still respect the practice.” Yes… many still respect and value the practice.
It is a cultural practice which makes for stronger family relationships, and do help with arranging conflicts when they arise in marriage.
The bride price also known as bride token, is an amount of money or property which is paid by a groom and his family to the family of the bride. In many parts of Africa, the bride price confirms the validity of a traditional marriage and conditions the permission to marry in church or in a civil ceremony. Its power supersedes all other sorts of marriages. The marriage is considered invalid if the bride price has not been paid, and this actually affects the marriage, and the offspring from that couple as it is then considered that the groom and his family have despised and dishonored the bride’s family. The children from that union do not belong to the husband’s family, but rather to the woman’s, as he never paid the bride price, and thus has no right over them.
Last year, a friend of mine returned the bride price which had been paid for his sister’s hand to the groom’s family, as he (the groom) had dishonored the wife, almost beaten her to death, and cheated. In this instance, this was to mark a divorce. Now what will happen if the woman wanted the divorce and could not afford to reimburse the bride price? What if rupture was the only way out of this marriage, what should she do? Divorce is still highly frowned upon in African societies, and the stigma of it affects the woman deeply.
Although the bride price is a symbolic token, it has been described in many African countries as a license to own a family or to purchase a wife from a family often leading the man to receiving the “permission” to exercise economic control over his wife. It has also been criticized for being an “enrichment scheme” for the bride’s family. There are two serious questions that have arisen with the evolution of the bride price: has it truly become a source of income for families and does it have a negative impact on women?Does the practice of the bride price hinder the work of women’s rights and empowerment activists? Does the bride price create more bad than good by leaving newlywed couples with unfortunate financial problems which strip them of the joys of being newly married? Has the bride price truly become a source of enrichment for families and demeaning to women?
This is a tradition truly African which should be upheld… and it varies from country to country, and maybe should be checked to avoid excesses from the bride’s families… and to stop the groom’s families from depriving the bride of her rights once in the marriage.
Below are comments by African BBC correspondents about Bride Price practices across Africa. For the full article, check Bride price practices in Africa:
Pumza Fihlani, South Africa:
A bride price here is known as “lobola“, where the groom’s family presents either money or cows or both to the bride’s family as a gesture of his willingness to marry her.
The payment of lobola is a sign of the man’s commitment to take care of his wife and is seen as a symbolic act and a necessary part of upholding culture, rather than a purchase.
Kim Chakanetsa, Zimbabwe:
The term “lobola” is also used in southern Zimbabwe, but in Shona communities it is known as “roora” and while the tradition is to give cattle, this is now often replaced by cash – the amount is subject to negotiation.
There are several stages to the tradition and it is seen as a way of thanking the bride’s family for bringing her up, but there is no sense that the bride is being bought.
Abdourahmane Dia, Senegal:
The payment of bride price is customary in Senegal but largely symbolic.
A small amount of money and a kola nut is given to the bride’s family at the mosque, after that the sum handed over can be anywhere from less than $100 to tens of thousands.
Angela Ngendo, Kenya:
The Kenyan constitution outlaws the obligation to pay a bride price but it is widely understood that it will be paid.
Pastoral communities insist that it is paid in cattle and it has been cited as a cause of cattle rustling, whereas families in other communities will accept cash.
There is a sense that a transaction has taken place over the bride.
Leone Ouedraogo, Burkina Faso:
The bride price is commonly paid in Burkinabe culture and is largely a symbolic act.
There is no set amount and a little money is given, but it is mainly in goods such as Kola nuts, drinks, cigarettes – and some ethnic groups may give a goat.
However, a bride’s family is not normally too demanding.
Aichatou Moussa, Niger:
In Niger, there is an official maximum rate for a bride price of 50,000 CFA francs ($83, £54) but many pay much more than this.
The price is agreed between the families, but it is seen as a symbolic act rather than about buying the wife as Nigeriens say not matter how much is paid you cannot buy a human being.