SHOULD WE DO AWAY WITH THE BRIDE PRICE?
Monday, June 4th, 2012
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.
In Yoruba customary law, bride price is known as idana. In patrilineal societies, it is the father who has the right to collect the bride price, and in his absence, the right is transferred to the eldest male in his immediate family. With this requirement, one wonders the role of the mother of the bride regarding bride price. In a situation where the parents of the bride are no longer cohabiting, does this mean that it is only the father that would be entitled to the gains from the bride price that is paid? This requirement of the father being the one to collect the bride price is faulty, as in most cases, mothers are shut out of the sharing of the bride price.
In Igbo culture, the significance and unavoidable payment of bride price, which is usually considerably high, has resulted in late marriages among men. This is because the bride price is high, and these men wait until they have enough money to cope with the burden of paying the bride price. One begins to question the essence of marriage. Save for companionship, the importance of marriage is to raise children who will take care of their parents when they grow old and are too weak to work. It is unfair to see parents working at an old age in order to cater for their children just because a high bride price was demanded, which eventually led to late marriage.
Recently, a friend of mine expressed her anger and frustration to me. She is of marriageable age, but unmarried. She had brought home six different suitors but her parents’ greed had caused her delay in getting married. Each time a suitor called, they insisted on a very high bride price, and when these suitors were unable to pay, the relationship would be brought to an inevitable end.
Some people have argued in favour of a high bride price, their argument being that the intending husband still does not pay as much as it took the family to bring up the lady he wants to have as his wife. A further argument is that if men were allowed to marry ladies cheaply, they would not respect them. It is this argument that must have informed my neighbour’s opinion when he said ‘’give your daughter through the backdoor and see how she will be treated’,’ but this is not true as there are instances where men did not pay a high bride price but still respect their wives. Some others have argued that the bride price brings about respect for women and helps people to see women as valuable members of the society.
It is my opinion that we should do away with the requirement of the payment of bride price. This is because the practice reduces women to objects of sale whose value is equivalent to money or material items. Many young girls leave school and are forced into marriage in order to offset the debts owed by their fathers. This in turn may lead to low self esteem. Bride price has lost its value, as it is now an avenue for parents to amass wealth for themselves at the expense of their daughters. Also, many men see themselves as better than women because they paid a very high bride price, thus, women are unable and not allowed to make meaningful contributions in the home. The men usually see themselves as having absolute rights over the women. Violence is resorted to when men perceive that their authority is undermined in the home. When women are victims of violence in the home and want to leave, they are forced to stay back because of fear of the husband asking their parents to return the bride price which he paid to them.
The bride price is not and can never be an emblem of love and affection for a woman. If a man truly loves a woman, why should he go through the hassle of having to pay bride price? Bride price reduces a woman to a property to be sold by her father to another man, with the aim of having children and doing house chores.
I believe, without conceding, that even if we have to continue with the tradition of bride price, moderation and reasonableness should be key. We must put in place some form of control and regulation of the payment of bride price. Parents must not demand unreasonable payments from prospective husbands. Laws may be enacted for the regulation of the payment of bride price and stiff punishments placed on offenders. There must also be some form of public enlightenment on the adverse effects of payment of high bride price. The use of traditional and religious leaders may be employed to propagate the need for a reduction in bride price.
In essence, bride price should be kept for what it really is, am emblem of a union between two families and a gesture of appreciation, honesty and sincerity. It should not be seen as a means for parents to amass wealth.
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