Toni F. Borge
DOWRY/ BRIDE PRICE
I made up my mind sometime in 2005 that my current girlfriend was the right person for me. I was going to walk her down the aisle and say “I do”. But alas, before I could get her parents’ consent to do so, there were some preliminary rituals that had to be observed. I knew that was going to come since it is the norm in most African communities: the process of bride price/ dowry payment. I had no idea of how to go about it or what it entailed. I had to seek to be walked through the stages.
Strictly speaking “dowry” refers to a payment of cash or gifts from the bride’s family to the groom’s family upon marriage or as part of a marriage process. On the other hand “bride price” is the payment of cash or gifts from the groom’s family to the bride’s family upon marriage or as part of a marriage process. In Africa however dowry is used to invariably refer to the bride price.
Historically, bride price took the form of labor provided by the suitor for the parents of his wife to be. “Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, "I'll work for you for seven years if you'll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.". Genesis 29:18. With the advent of modern cash economy, bride price took the predominant form of money payment. Progressively payment in other forms of property and livestock is becoming rare among some communities.
There are no rules governing the quantity of bride price. In most cases it is an outcome of an elaborate ceremony and negotiation process between the two families informed by customary traditions. In some cases the groom’s economics status and/or social position may influence the price determination. In other cases the girl’s family merely asks the suitor to pay what he considers fit and proper for a wife.
Among some pastoralist and nomadic communities one family may betroth another by offering livestock and property for their prospective...