AFRICA – Does Poverty Stop Here?
Monday, June 4th, 2012
A few years ago my room-mates and I watched a very unflattering foreign documentary supposedly about life in Lagos. It was as typical of most stories about Africa that one finds in mainstream Western news media – a veritable catalogue of woes. The visuals consisted almost exclusively of swampy slums with houses on stilts; there was hardly any information on the less grim aspects of the city. One of the scenes featured an interview with an adult male resident of a Lagos slum, conducted, dramatically, whilst the man excreted in the lagoon. I remember recoiling in vicarious shame at the rebarbative sight – the same way I presume parents must feel when publicly embarrassed by an ill-mannered child. In many ways it was depressing to watch, this depiction of Lagos as the desolate habitation of a forgotten people. I remember the heated arguments that broke out when a room-mate spoke out in defence of the documentary and called it an authentic depiction of the realities of life in Lagos.
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In most cultures today, marriage has bee a big ‘project’, especially when it comes to payment of the bride price. Research shows that, because of the endless demands made on the intending husband, the celebration of traditional marriage ceremonies seems to be on the decline. Such factors have been the cause of low patronage of the traditional marriage institution and a threat to the family system. This has made many parents give out their daughters without sweating the details of traditional obligation, or run the risk of leaving them unmarried.
Gift exchange has been an essential part of marriage rites and ceremonies in Nigeria. It involves the exchange of materials or money from the man’s to the woman’s family, but practices differ among communities. The bride price may be payment in cash, gifts or the rendering of services by the groom and/or his family to the family of the bride. Payment of the bride price is one of the most significant traditional practices in Nigerian traditional marriages. The fulfilment of the bride price confers on the marriage recognition under the customary laws of the relevant communities. Traditionally, bridal gifts were to bring about a bond between the two families. It was emblematic. It was to unite the couple as well as to bring the families together. In the past, it was given freely by the future husband and not demanded by the bride’s family.
But the opposite is what we see and experience in recent times in relation to payment of the bride price. Today, the practice of bride price is aggressively negotiated, thereby reducing ladies to mere commodities for exchange. This has also made families to see their daughters as a source of revenue generation.
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