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BRIDE PRICE – CUSTOM OR CRIME?

Today is my colleague’s traditional wedding.

Two days ago, he handed a list of items demanded of him to effect the marriage. I could feel the exasperation in his voice when he said, “Bros, you don see am na. See wetin dey want make I pay.”

Among the numerous items listed, most of which give life to the pervading cultural idea that ours is a nation of inebriates and alcohol worshippers, one particular segment of the list stood out.

“Mkpo Ufok Ette.”

Father’s request.

Skipping past the cartons of beer and assorted spirits, the outlandish traditional regalia and the food items, I couldn’t help but notice that he was asked to pay N400, 000 to the father.

Four hundred thousand naira.

To the father of the bride.

To marry his daughter.

In addition to other items for the mom, the rest of the family and the community.

Total bill summed up to about N900, 000.

I was stunned.

I asked him how he expected to pay that much from his meager salary. He told me he was going to the girl’s compound with his family to bargain.

To bargain.

For a wife.

I’ve never understood the idea of paying the family of a woman to get married to her. Many sympathizers of tradition are quick to call it symbolic.

Symbolic of what exactly?

How do we not see that the bride price is (at least as portrayed and actively proselytized down here in Southern Nigeria) a get-rich-quick scheme enjoyed mostly by the bride’s people? How do we not see that the bride becomes commodity the minute she finds a man to marry?

Yet, the bride is not the victim of this bride price culture, most of the time.

The groom is.

He’s asked to pay through his nose to marry someone who wouldn’t mind marrying him for free.

He pays bride price. He pays for the wedding. He pays for the reception. He creates marriage committees and tasks friends with funding his wedding…

… And then spends the next two years recuperating and recouping.

Yet, men are the ones fighting to sustain it. It is perplexing.

In a country where prepubescent girls are married off for material and immaterial gains; where men mouth off inanities that reek of ownership mentality — “after all, I paid for her head…” — it beats me that needless obfuscation is needed to portray the bride price culture as anything more than an obscene culture of bridal acquisition.

It’s even more annoying when people talk about “African culture”, then proceed to describe African culture from the myopia and prism that is the only culture they have ever known: theirs. As if their culture is representative of the reality that is heterogeneous Africa.

Today is my colleague’s traditional wedding. Today we will join him in celebrating the acquisition of a wife.

Written by Godswill Vesta

About shakespeareanwalter

Walt Shakes(@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter.

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3 comments

  1. My thoughts exactly. The bride price in my wife’s place is a token but fulfilling that ‘list’ is something else especially if you don’t go with elders good at bargaining (yes, they haggle over the list ?) and if your prospective father-in-law is dead and/or is perceived as troublemaker in other people’s marriage haggling.

    Things are changing though, albeit at snail’s pace. This anachronistic law belong in the dustbin of history. We all have our roles to play in doing this.

  2. And the girlfriend too kept quiet? Mscheeew. Love is truly blind as for some people, na at this very moment dem go walk out of the relationship as that family certainly doesn’t mean one well at all.

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