Bride price (which many of us confuse with dowry, I included until recently) can be defined in two ways: To the modern, patriarchy frowning women, it is some negligible and ignoble token in the form of money and cattle that is given to the bride’s people, in exchange for the woman’s sexual and reproductive powers and which thence subjects them to a general life of subservience and surrender to the man and his lineage
To the menfolk, it is a treacherous device meant to separate them from a chunk of their wealth where they have to pay for an alleged help and partner who comes with nothing but nagging, curtail his freedom, infringe in his privacy, heap on his responsibilities and grow fat after three years and resign him to bland s3x after the first baby. I mean, you “exchange” say Sh800,000 for someone’s daughter and what do you get in return? Attitude, demands, a quarrelsome soul who barks more incessantly than a Chihuahua and who will drive you to an early entombment.
From whichever angle you look at it, the laborious exercise of negotiating that remains an unshakable fixation in African marriages are simply haggling and bargaining as if buying a goat or a cow in the market. Be it is it may, it remains at the center of discussions on its relevance or lack of.
Once revered as a gesture of appreciation and a way of uniting families through marriage, bride price has now been mirrored as a money making venture. By and by, it has eschewed the glue that made it a sense of accountability into a marriage, giving both families a stake in it.
Modernization has deprived the old customary practice of its genuineness. The huge amounts of money parents ask for these days play a role in the domestic abuses that visit our marital homes. Parents are using this as an opportunity to get rich and make up for money that they couldn’t make elsewhere, some retirement package of sorts.
Now the ceremony has turned to be quite a spectacle. The demands are often preposterous as they are numerous. “Our daughter is university material so we need our money back.”
Commercialization of bride-wealth started with the introduction of the cash economy. Bridewealth is paid to individuals in cash, as opposed to livestock. Cash is a symbol of sale, so you can publish a thesis justifying this nonsense but empirically, bride price in the modern context just puts up women for sale.
And with the biting economic times, a lot of young couples prefer come-we-stay marriages because many young men cannot afford the hefty bride-wealth, so they neither inform their parents nor have their marriages blessed in churches. Many marriages also begin on a shaky financial foundation because the couple might be forced to take a loan to pay bride price. Thus, even as they begin their married lives they are servicing the loan. In many instances, the girls have to help the men by contributing to funds for the bride price, and hence the practice has lost its original meaning.
I am not a proponent of bride price. In my ignorance which I choose to wallow in, particularly in this given subject, when you “pay” for something, you literally start “owning” that thing. I cannot be equated with a few heads of domesticated beasts and clearly, I cannot be owned even if you tried. Two, I am not a perfect human being. You might not get what you bargained and paid for and so I do not want you feeling cheated. I do not want a conversation, two years into the marriage of, “oh I paid one million only for you to talk back at me (of course I talk back, I am innately Iconoclastic) or woman, give me more kids, forget becoming a Professor.”
What you see is what you get.
Come to think of it, where are the equality bleating feminists on this? Men have not refused for you to pay dowry (paid to man’s family) as a show of appreciation, yes? Who appreciates the man’s family and clan for educating him, raising him up to be a man one who embraces values and virtues and for not having a throng of baby mamas and for plucking you amongst your mates and bestowing the honor of being called someone’s wife and of course for locating your G-spot?
Guys, is this bride price you are taking loans to pay through your noses these days, worth the trouble given what you get in return?
A young man earning less than 50k with bills to pay for rent, groceries, service loans, and black tax (money one gives to family members), you tell this bloke to pay sh500,000 for a wedding to celebrate a marriage which he is not even sure will work?
Why must there be all this shebang that preludes what everyone terms as a ‘prison?’ Men who can’t pay the expected dowry price or who are unable to make additional payments in the future are often subjected to harassment and abuse from wives or in-laws.
My rants aside, whether it’s a ploy for instant wealth attainment or to hamper man’s progress, it’s evident that bride price continues to be an integral part of the Kenyan tradition and cultural fiber.
At the end of the day, personal choice should suffice. Do you.
DISCLAIMER: VIEWS EXPRESSED IN THIS ARTICLE ARE THE WRITER’S. THEY DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT VIEWS OF VIUSASA.