Commercialising bride price demeans women

By Jolie Lanji Traditional African wedding ceremonies are one of the most beautiful events on the calendar. The jewellery, the bagpipes, the horns, the drums, the delicacies, the traditional brew and of course the beautiful bride & groom! The wedding ceremony is of great importance, because it symbolises the natural continuity of life. The introduction of Western Culture may have rendered a number of wedding practices barbaric such as the father spitting on the bride’s forehead as a blessing, female genital mutilation before marriage and the sacrifices to the ancestors before the ceremony to ensure they gave their blessings. One of the few traditions that have been synchronised with the western culture of marriage ceremonies is the payment of bride price. To begin with it is fundamental to differentiate between bride price and dowry. According to the dictionary, dowry is money, goods or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage while bride price is money and property given to a prospective bride’s family by the prospective groom and his family. Just like in the bible, it is required for a man to complete paying the bride price before he can be allowed to marry the woman. In the story of Jacob and Laban, in Genesis 29:18 “I am willing to serve you seven years for Rachel your younger daughter.” Because of Jacob’s love for Rachel, he offered a high price, which was equivalent to seven years’ wage. Laban accepted the offer proposed by Jacob. Laban was quite devious and tricked Jacob into first marrying his older daughter, Leah. Laban placed high emphasis on material gain and this made his daughters lose respect for him. “Are we not really considered as foreigners to him since he has sold us, so that he keeps eating continually even from the money given for us?” they asked – Genesis 31:15. The character of Laban lives on amongst us today, where bride price has become an extremely lucrative business. Initially, the wide scope of excuses ranges from easing financial crises, to profiting after educating daughters until university level and many more. Just like an auction, the highest bidder wins and most are not willing to settle for less. Lately, a number of men have expressed the inability to meet unreasonable bride price demands. The commercialisation of bride price keeps getting more and more alarming as years go by. Initially, it was the demand for less livestock and more cash. Now the situation has moved to no livestock and more cash and even over the last two years experienced the introduction of legal contracts. The negotiations are often not carried out harmoniously and the height of mistrust led to the involvement of drafting contracts with instalment plans to ensure the young men do not default on payment. “Perhaps it is time Kenyan authorities passed a law declaring payment of bride price optional. Instead of saving for a house, children’s fee or securing the future by investing, our generation is stuck saving up for bride price,” says Sam Mugenyi, whose friend was forced to sign a contract to ensure he paid off the balance of Sh525, 000 Being one of the quickest money-minting strategies, families take their time to carry out background checks, to know the type of family their daughter will be marrying into before they give their price. Scrutiny on the schools the boy attended, family property and the parents occupations are key factors before pitching a price. What is even more surprising is the bride price negotiation consultants hired at a fee to ensure the price is profiting to the family. Conventionally, family members took up this task of negotiations but today; professionals are hired to strike the deal. Those who blatantly refuse to pay end up wifeless and have been the cause of turmoil in a number of happy relationships. Are financial gains this important? “Today’s women have been raised to know their worth. Depending on what that means, to a particular woman, they all understand it to mean do not settle for less than you are worth. Women misunderstand between knowing your worth and being materialistic. Knowing your worth means, avoiding a man who constantly beats you. Knowing your worth is not settling for the highest bidder. Women are today selling themselves as commodities,” Hilda Onyango, a counsellor in Nairobi had to say. Now, the demands for dowry are a two-sided wedge. The family’s who all agree to genuinely duping the groom-to-be into paying millions or the rowdy uncles and aunts who view it as an opportunity to satisfy their personal needs for instance demanding installation of electricity in their homes or asking for farm equipment. Indeed women have the choice to stand firm and denounce some ridiculous demands. In this day and age, it should be unheard of, for women to be sold off as common commodities. Every woman has the power to be in control of her relatives and state that there should be no unreasonable demands whether they remain stubborn or not. Unreasonable demands cannot be justified with the excuse of the bride not having a say. It is rather unfortunate to see women siding with their kin in exploiting and robbing their beloved husband –to-be. “On being offered an instalment plan to pay off the Sh1.5 Million, I took my wife to the side and gave her two options. To either watch me walk out and she would never hear from me again, or she was going to have a word with her relatives,” says Jonathan Ogot. He was then offered to pay half of the original asking price in two instalments. He therefore paid Sh450, 000 on the material day and the remaining Sh300, 000 right before the wedding. The unreasonable bride price makes no sense today, especially with the demanding economy. Why start a marriage with financial problems? A number of men have been forced to take loans in order to pay off the dowry. Quite commendable to note that a number of women’s parents declined bride price payment in form of cash due to the fact that no amount of money, could possibly compensate the worth of their daughter. The significance of bride price is to bring the two families together, a reward for the wife and a gift and token to the family for giving their daughter. Additionally it is a symbol of the union formed by the two families. Indeed, paying bride price is a way of appreciating the bride’s parents for their daughter’s upbringing and education however; the commercialisation of the bride price payment commodifies and devalues women.

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