Bride Price: African Tradition Or A Woman’s Demeanor?

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In most African countries Paying bride price is a custom. African countries like Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, among others, take this tradition very seriously. This practice is ancient, but it still is familiar to this day. Sometimes the woman does not have a say in whom to marry. If a young man approaches her parents expressing interest in wanting to marry her and the parents accept the offer, the woman is informed about it to prepare her.

The African Tradition on Bride Price.

Lindiwe sits at her dressing room as she stares at herself. She wonders if she is indeed ready to start this new chapter in her life. In a few days, she will be hosting an engagement party then followed up with a wedding as tradition dictates. However, she pushes these thoughts away and tries to focus on the present. Lindiwe stares at the reflection in the mirror and admires the final look. She had just done a test on the makeup she will wear on the awaited day. She went ahead and put on the new traditional attire that the fiancé had bought her. Lindiwe never imagined this day would come to pass, yet here it is.

Lindiwe, a fourth-year student at the University. Her boyfriend approached her family to ask for her hand in marriage. The two families negotiate the brideprice in her absence. Months later, the suitor sealed off the deal with the agreed cash payment.  Until the brideprice is paid wholly the suitor is not allowed to marry the woman. Lindiwe was not yet ready to settle and be a wife again; however, because the man already made a move, she has no choice but to follow the lead.

The Woman’s Price

Bride price has different names all around Africa in South Africa; for instance, they refer to it as Lobola or Roora. This tradition, however, has many supporters and critics too. Both sides have their reasons, which makes sense too.

This practice has its pluses. During the negotiation, a bond ends up created between two different families. They have extended conversations, dine together, and get to know each side of the different families. Therefore, it marks the coming together of two families. The people who take part in the negotiation become your family and the people you turn to in case of any problems. They also come in when the couple has something to celebrate about like childbirth.

“From that moment onward, they become your forever family” it’s said

Some women say it is fair compensation for what the family invested in her. They feel like the man needs to pay the parents all the money they used to educate, feed, and clothe her. Some men take pride in paying brideprice, saying the effort they put signifies how precious the woman is to him. Adding that those against it are greedy and do not honor tradition.

The ability to pay bride price is equated to a mark of their manhood and ability to provide for the family. Therefore, those who pay it turn out recognized as correctly married by the family. In case of a divorce, the man has a right over the children of that union as he paid brideprice. Therefore, the children belong to the husband’s family.

  Is Brideprice A Woman’s True Price?

Is the brideprice a woman’s true price? Critics say it commoditizes women, binding them to a lifetime commitment without consent. Many women respect this custom but don’t support how women end up blinded sided while critical decisions about their life Are made. Women end up pressurized into choices about their lives to play by the rules. It creates a considerable conflict as she navigates the expectation of society while chasing her personal goals. Others taking the issue to court claiming brideprice objectifies women.

A court in Uganda rejected the appeal to ban the custom but passed that men have no right to ask for a refund in case of divorce. Zimbabwe also passed a law that barred parents from receiving the brideprice of girls under the age of 18. Some saying they dislike that frequently people pay brideprice today in cash rather than cattle.  Cattle are social currency and bear symbolic value in traditional society. However, brideprice has become mainly about extorting money and how much a woman is worth.

“An educated woman, who is a virgin and has skills, has a higher bride price compared to a woman who lacks either one of those qualities. Should it mean some women are of less value than other fellow women?”

Men use these qualities, therefore, to estimate the bride price for the woman. A woman is worth 11 cows or more if she possesses all the above attributes. Eleven cows equate to about $ 8,000, and this they consider a fair price. Should these terms define the true worth of a woman?

The Relation Of Bride Price To Domestic Violence.

Most of the couples resolute to living together sort of a “come we stay” marriage due to their inability to afford brideprice. The ability to pay bride price is equated to a mark of their manhood and ability to provide for the family. Therefore, those who avoid do not get recognition as a proper marriage by the family.

“Payment of bride price affects decision- making power in a relationship. Research suggests that bride price increases the risk of domestic violence in families.” Says Lethabo.

Reports show that men become violent when they have low financial power, and when they can pay the brideprice, they are in a position to shout orders and speak the terms of a relationship.

The questions, however, still remain unanswered. Is paying Brideprice creating more harm than good? Does brideprice leave newlyweds with a financial crisis? Does bride price become a source of wealth for families, and does it hinder the work of women’s rights and empowerment? Finally, could we put a price on a Woman?

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