As time goes by, it appears that the bride price keeps getting higher and higher. It is not surprising to see or hear men protest these exorbitant prices.
In order to rectify this issue, there are two questions we all need to ask; what exactly is covered by the bride price, and why does it exist in the first place?
The traditional meaning of bride price
There was a time when the bride price used to mean a token of appreciation that a man showed to the family of the woman he wanted to marry. It was a way of telling the future in-laws, “Thank you for raising a brilliant daughter worthy of being my wife and future mother to my children. Thank you for doing a fine job”.
The bride price also symbolises respect to the woman’s parents, and to the tradition that binds Africans at large. In the far past, the bride price used to be paid in form of cows, goats, sheep, or anything of equivalent value. These days, most parents prefer to be paid in monetary form.
For many communities, the bride price is so important that it’s regarded as a form of traditional contract binding a couple in marriage. Unfortunately, over the years, it has come to mean a lot of other things to the parties involved. And some of these meanings could not be any further away from tradition, and the truth.
The new meanings of bride price
1. A payment for replacement of lost labour
Some parents think of the bride price as a form of payment a man has to make for taking away the source of labour they had in their daughter. Daughters, in Kenya and in African in general are considered the backbone of a home. They’re responsible for taking care of the home and everyone in it. Therefore, any man that seeks to take away such a daughter ought to pay the parents compensation for taking away such a useful member of the family.
2. A return in financial investments
These financial investments include general upbringing – physical, emotional, mental, as well as spiritual growth. It also includes the level of education that the woman received under the parents care. For instance, it is expected that the bride price for a woman with a doctorate or masters degree to be higher than that of one with an Undergraduate degree.
3. A calculation of a woman’s virtue
Following the recent surge in bride prices set by Kenyan parents, Kenyan men devised a formula they wish can be used to calculate how much bride price they should be charged. In summary, the formula correlates the amount of bride price to the number of men a woman has had sex with. This is what the formula looks like:
4. A payment for a commodity
Some men consider the bride price as money paid to buy a woman, consequently thinking that it allows them to treat and use the woman in whatever way. In most cases, it becomes a form of entitlement for men to do with their wives as they please.
5. A woman’s worth
For some, the assumption is that the bride price equals the woman’s worth as a wife. The lower the price, the less attractive she is as a potential wife. Parents with no interest in financial gain will opt to ask for a lower bride price, not because she isn’t worth but simply because they wish for the groom not to think that he bought their daughter.
What bride price should be about
The bride price should not be so high that it gets mistaken for a woman’s value in money, cows, goats, or anything equivalent. It should also not be so low that the worth of a woman as a potential bride is questioned.
The idea that parents should charge a groom for raising their child and sending her to school should neither be encouraged nor entertained. It is their duty to provide all these things for their daughter. They shouldn’t expect anyone to pay them back for something that is both morally and legally expected of them to do for their children.
It should be a parent’s pride that someone has found their daughter worthy to be a wife and mother to his children, regardless of whether the man in question is worthy of their daughter’s hand in marriage. It is a sign that they raised her well. But it is not an excuse to demand compensation for it. Contrary to popular belief, daughters are not a financial investment for their parents. They are not commodities that are manufactured, pruned and later sold at a high price.
The bride price, like it was traditionally intended, is a token of appreciation that a groom pays to his future in-laws. It is not a refund for everything it cost to raise and educate the bride. The bride price traditionally cements the marriage between the two people in-love and turns the two families into one. Even though culture evolves with the time, tradition shouldn’t.
There’s a dire need for parents to stop commercialising the bride price. They should instead, treat it the way it was originally intended.