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“My pastor paid ten Naira as bride price for his wife” I overheard this statement while shopping once. The women chatting found the amount ridiculous at the time and so did I. It was just as ridiculous as the pictures of food items, tools and money I had seen on Instagram meant as payment for a woman’s hand in marriage. What irked me about these situations wasn’t the amounts that were paid but the concept of paying for a woman’s commitment as though one was purchasing products. This commodification has evolved so much that there are different prices for different cultures just like you would find different prices for different brands of products.
The concept of bride price can be a beautiful part of the culture. In Islam, a dowry is paid to the bride or her parents and it is an amount she determines herself. Its value is not based on the bride’s education or virginity or the value her uncles and male family members place on her. But whatever token the groom has, which the bride accepts. It’s more like a gift and it is given to prove the groom’s financial capability. It is a promise to her and her family that he would take care of her when they are married. But this gift is sometimes believed to be used as a backup when a bride is divorced because Islamically, divorce is the unilateral power of a man to dissolve his marriage with no say from the woman.
Traditionally, Arewa’s method of payment of bride price varies from tribe to tribe. With hundreds of tribes, Northern Nigeria’s culture is diverse – and so are the cultures of payment of bride price. Most tribes have a list of gift items given to the bride and her family members in some cultures like that of the Tiv, the bride doesn’t get any gifts. Sometimes additional fees are called an attraction fee paid by Egbira. Herds of cattle are the traditional amount paid by a Fulani groom. Bride price for Hausa and Kanuri people follow the module laid down Islamically because the tribes are predominantly Muslim and most of Hausa Culture is now Islamic Culture. One-quarter of a dinar(a gold piece) is paid. Traditional bride price is usually much more expensive than the Islamic dowry and about 80% of it is given to the elders of the bride’s community, extended family members and parents of the bride.
Although the value of the Islamic dowry is not fixed, It is believed that the less amount paid for the dowry the more peaceful and successful the marriage would be. Maliki jurisprudence, followed by West African Muslims, states that the minimum amount of money paid should be one-quarter of a dinar. Other items and even services can be used as a dowry. Payment can also be postponed if the amount agreed at the time of the marriage contract is not available to the groom he can differ the payment. Some jurists state that it can differ till death or divorce while others say 50 years. However, if the dowry is available but not with the groom at the time of the marriage contract, its payment according to Maliki Jurisprudence should only be postponed to 40 days.
In some other communities, it is said that money paid as bride price has to be spent back on the marriage ceremony or the siblings of the bride if any. Others claim a bride price is payment refunds for all the money spent on ‘training’ the bride as she’s now off to be someone else’s property. Sometimes the price of the bride price is agreed upon in the absence of the bride and the process can be likened to the sale of a piece of land. One thing is clear; this is a stressful practice that does not consider the bride or groom in its proceedings.
Today, male relatives and elders in the community who most times have no hand in raising the bride get to enjoy gifts and money billed from the groom. Fees paid have also been used as excuses for husbands to treat their wives poorly especially after paying huge sums – which they believe grants them complete autonomy over their wives. This culture of bride price, although thoughtful at the time of origin, is increasingly losing its place in society. We strive to preserve our culture but what is culture if it doesn’t serve the people who practice it?
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