The origin of the bride price custom cannot be established, even though some writers say it’s been in existence since the beginning of the institution of marriage.
In Genesis 34:12, Shechem, son of Hamor the Hevite, said to Jacob, son of Isaac, father of Dinah: “however great you make the bride-price and payment, I will give it; only let me have the girl [Dinah] for my wife.” An allusion that proves the bride price custom to be an age-old custom.
Bride price is the amount of money and/or property paid by the groom through his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom. The payment is made during a series of meetings or negotiations between the woman’s Umunna -kinsmen- and the prospective groom’s family. In Igboland, we call this the Igba Nkwu and Ime ego ceremonies.
The bride price is usually not intended to reflect the worth of the woman, although, a ‘healthy’ bride price is expected of a groom if the bride is college-educated or sexually inexperienced.
In the olden days, bride price was seen as monetary compensation for the bride’s family’s loss of her labour. If the family lineage of the bride is touted as pure or royal, or if the bride’s mother bore many sons, the bride price will hike. In the event of a divorce owing to the bad behaviour or inability of the woman to bear children, the bride’s family is expected to return the bride price. This is because grooms see the bride price as unofficial payment for new families. The brides in other words are nothing more than brood mares and homemakers the grooms paid to possess, and not their equal.
Still, our society maintains that the bride price custom is not an economic sale.
Arguments have been raging for many years now, in various African, Asian and European countries, on the relevance of bride price, with both sides (for and against) to the arguments seemingly not winning.
In 2007, the MIFUMI Project, a not-for-profit organisation based in Uganda, sued the Uganda Government, and prayed the Constitutional Court to rule the practice of bride price as unconstitutional. The matter is still for determination in the Appeal court.
Earlier in 2004, the MIFUMI Project held an international conference on the effects of the bride price custom on women, in Kampala, Uganda. The conference drew many human rights activists from across Africa: Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, Senegal and South Africa. Men and women who sought an end to the archaic and degrading custom.
Sadly, many people abound who don’t want the customs abolished, especially the inhabitants of the rural areas who still cling to the custom because it reminds them of times gone by.
However, bride price is not a token as society likes to think, but an economic burden on young men who wish to get married but cannot afford the long list of items required of him as bride price.
In Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Abia states of Nigeria, the cost of marrying a young woman often runs into hundreds of thousands of naira, depending on the understanding of the bride’s family. Grooms are mandated to provide the bride’s family (Umunna and Umuada) with (upwards of): forty tubers of yam; a carton of detergent; cartons of bathing soaps; tins milk; packets of sugar; containers of powder; cups of pomade; a tray of stock fish; twenty-four loaves of bread; two bottles of whiskey; ten rolls of tissue; and numerous other items.
A list which is atrocious and bordering on extortionate. The logic proffered by supporters of the custom is that the bride price is a test of a man’s ability to provide for his bride. A logic that is flawed and should be derided for lack of philosophical reasoning.
Times have changed. Women are now income-earners, very capable of feeding and taking care of themselves and their loved ones. In fact, many women who are called supporters (of their husbands) are the ones feeding and providing for their men and loved ones.
So, ladies, it is not enough to scream gender equality at the society if such finance-draining, degrading practices like the bride price custom are done in our names and on our behalves.
It is not enough to scream foul when a man takes his wife as nothing more than a chattel, bought and paid for; one that is disposal if found un-fruitful.
It is not enough to shout injustice when a man claims sole custody of the children borne him by his wife, in the event of a divorce, simply because he paid their mother’s bride price.
It is not enough to say gender inequality is prevalent in Nigeria, if we continue to okay the belittling practice of bride prices being collected in our names.
Ladies, it is about time we deride the bride price custom as irrelevant, discriminating and unconstitutional.
Let’s join our voices in decreeing the bride price custom as a demeaning, objectifying and belittling mockery of womanhood.
First published on YNaija on 19/02/2014.