From time immemorial, most patriarchal societies demand a stake from a man at the time of marriage. This symbolic wager is called Bride Price. It is – as I have written earlier – the main marital contract recognized by the custom of some African community like the Igbo ethnic group. Till this day, no one has faulted this tradition until the Nigerian Award-winning writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said that the payment of bride price in the modern day is disgusting. And this statement, as expected, has caused a stir in the social media sphere. But most people emotionally missed the ancient wisdom – which most of us should study – provided by Miss Adichie.
CHIMAMANDA’S CONTROVERSIAL STATEMENT ON BRIDE PRICE
”If you go back in history, the idea of marriage is different from what it is today. The idea of bride price was fundamentally the man taking gifts to the wife’s family, but there was also an exchange of gifts. There are things the bride’s family will also give to the grooms family. There was an exchange and it was a bit more fluid. Now, there is a commercialism to the whole Idea that I really find disgusting. I think we really need to rethink the ways that marriages are being done because it is dangerous in so many levels that many men who think that after all, he paid thousands and so she belongs to me and so If I decide that she should stop working, she should stop. I am not a fan of bride price”
– Chimamanda Adichie
MARRIAGE: AFRICAN TRADITION AND THE MODERN DISGUST
In the original tradition of the Igbos, Bride Price is as important as the Dowry. The Bride Price was paid by the groom to the bride’s parent, and the Dowry was the properties brought into the marriage by the bride. This dowry (idu uno) was usually provided by the bride’s parents.
As recorded in CHINUA ACHEBE’s ‘Arrow of Gods’:
When Obika’s bride arrived with her people… she was accompanied by her mother, many girls of her age and her mother’s women friends. Most of the women carried small head-loads of the bride’s dowry – cooking pots, wooden bowls, brooms, mortar, pestle, baskets, ladles, pots of palm oil, e.t.c.
ELECHI AMADI – in his book: The Concubine – had this to say about the ancient marriage tradition:
Ahurole’s bridal train was a train indeed. It carried all that would make the home of a couple comfortable. Even goats, chickens and a she-dog were included.
Hear ye what BUCHI EMECHETA had to say about the original African traditional rites in her classic book – “The Joy of Motherhood”
The people of Ibuza were never to forget the night people of Umu-Iso came for Nnu Ego. HER father excelled himself. He accepted the normal bride price, to show that he gave his blessing to the marriage. But he sent his daughter away with seven hefty men and seven young girls carrying her personal possessions. There were seven goats, baskets and baskets of yams, yards and yards of white man’s cloth… (Even today, if a new bride is too mouthy about her people, she will be effectively challenged: “But are your people more generous than Nwokocha Agadi of Ogboli?”)
If the accounts of authorities like Achebe, Amadi and Emecheta can count as something, we can say that the ancient tradition on marriage was balanced: a man paid the bride price, and a woman brought into the house gifts that made the home of a couple comfortable.
As it was, in the past, people always watched out for the dowry – it was very important. It shows how the bride was valued in her father’s house. However, in the present day, we perceive marriage as a one-way channel with every responsibility resting on the man’s shoulder. We forget that the PRIDE OF A BRIDE IS HER DOWRY.
WHAT WRONG DID CHIMAMANDA SAY?
“There are things the brides family will also give to the grooms family. There was an exchange and it was a bit more fluid. Now, there is a commercialism to the whole Idea that I really find disgusting.”
In this above statement, Chimamanda did not fault our custom, she simply said we should go back to tradition and follow it. She said: “NOW, there is COMMERCIALISM to the whole idea that I really find disgusting.”
To rephrase, I would say: African custom puts it this way:
if you give your daughter’s suitor a big list, make sure you have a big dowry to give to your daughter.
This is our tradition. The commercialism of our tradition should be very disgusting to all of us and we shouldn’t be attacking Chimamanda for reiterating the custom of our fathers.
Ozii Baba Anieto