I was recently engaged in a conversation with my colleagues on the topic of bride price. I actually find myself engaged in this conversation more times than I care to. The issue of bride price, along with its exorbitant demands, is not just a Ugandan thing or an Acholi thing, but it is widespread throughout the Continent.
What exactly is the purpose of bride price? This question for me is the “Hold your chin and reflect” type of question. The notion of bride price has no meaning to the younger generation, for reasons that we can all see, but have failed to acknowledge.
Our cultures have completely changed. We have dropped many of our traditions and have adopted everything western. We have adopted what we call the ‘white’ weddings, which are normally extravagant and leave couples in debt.
And this is where the logic fails me.
The white man has one wedding only, gets gifts from friends and family and starts a home with his wife.
The African man, on the other hand, because he is born in the 21st Century, has to shoulder the burden of two marriage ceremonies: one in which he has to present goods or cash worth a lifetime’s savings to the girl’s family, and the other for which he has to fully finance.
No wonder many African couples are cohabiting and many women are saddened, living with men that have not “married” them. I spent my whole life blaming (African) men for picking girls unconventionally from their parent’s homes and starting families that have neither godly nor parental blessing. I long since dropped the blame, as I came to understand the burden that marrying a wife presents to an African man.
For some it is an impossible thought. For others, it is a plan kept for the future when the tides have settled.
But talking to African women from diverse cultures, there is no woman who would not want be married; however humble the celebration is. I once witnessed a very ugly scene where a man came to a woman’s home for the traditional marriage and he was denied his bride simply because he had failed to bring all the bride price requested by the girl’s family. That in the 21st Century, is bizarre. It is almost next to what I could call an abomination. In the past families had herds of cattle, stretches of land. Bride price was the pride of the man’s family because it showed the strength of the family and the ability to take care of his wife.
In our present age, cattle is present but not in every household. Men don’t herd cows and watch them grow and produce three calves a year as they harvest the food they need from the garden. The man today has an 8 to 5 job, sometimes barely earning enough to take him through the month, let alone the needs around him. In our present age, the father’s obligations are beyond teaching a man how to hunt and farm. They include seeing him through expensive education and paying huge taxes.
In the past, a man’s show of love and support for his wife was the vastness of his possession and his ability to go out and reap as the woman tended to the family. Now, there is a whole different way of doing things. Women go out to gather food too. And a woman’s needs are beyond just physical show of strength, power and wealth. The woman today needs more than the “bride price” proud man of the yesteryear’s. The way homes are run presently is drastically different than past.
In the past, bride price was a show of pride for the man’s family. Now, it seems like an income generating source for the woman’s family. When the western’s wedding came, it was laid on the man’s shoulder, so there is no more capability he is showing by getting into debt to pay bride price to please a girl’s family. There are families and men who can afford that. But what of those who suffer from the burden that comes with uniting a woman and a man?
The question that I ask, and everyone else does is this; “Does the woman stop being a member of her family when she is married to a man who has paid a huge sum to get her?” or “What if the money lavished on bride price was given to the couple to start up a decent home?”. I need answers to my questions.
Maybe the older generation should educate us more on why they hold on to a tradition that has shown to be so burdensome in today’s world?