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Bride Price in the Babon and Nyindrou Societies

Updated on June 19, 2013
Bride price is an exchange designed to create a bond between the families.
Bride price is an exchange designed to create a bond between the families. | Source

Introduction

This hub is a continuation of my series in the Babon and Nyindrou societies of in the West Coast of Manus, Papua New Guinea (PNG). This time we focus on the practice of bride price.

The definition of bride price

According to Wikipedia:

Bride price…is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom.

Unfortunately, the definition conjures and image of a kind of trade with the female as being the main commodity. This was never the case with the Babon and Nyindrou societies and I believe the rest of Melanesia.

According to the Babon /Nyindrou societies, pride price was a ‘token of appreciation to the parents and the family of the bride for their upbringing.’ However, this payment is not done immediately. Instead, it will be after a few years before the groom decides to finally say thank you to the bride’s family. But there are certain circumstances that allow a bride’s family to request a payment like the impending death of a parent.

The value of a bride

The bride price not paid until after a few years. This is because the groom’s family will have to ‘asses’ the bride before they decide on how much she is worth. As I mentioned in my previous hub, the brides are valued against certain criteria. If they meet the requirements and the family is happy then a larger value is placed on her. However, if she fails the she will probably find her bride price a bit lower.

When the groom decides to pay bride price, he will call his relatives (immediate and extended) and hold a feast. The families then come and contribute anything of value they wish to give. Traditionally, this would be food, shell money, traditional baskets, livestock etc. The shell monetary has now been replaced with the national currency. However, the traditional currency will still be accepted.

The groom never sets an amount nor will the bride’s family demand. Instead, each extended family member gives according to how much they believe the bride is worth. Once all the gifts are collected, the groom then presents it to the bride’s family. However, the bride’s family was not the only ones at the receiving end.

Source

An exchange that bonds the families

While, the groom’s family presented gifts, money and items of value, the bride’s family had to, in return, give food (cooked and raw). It would be an exchange rather than a simple payment. This practice was to ensure equality and appease everyone. It was also an act that strengthened the family ties between the bride and grooms family.

The bride price (‘molak’ in the local dialect) was a celebration. There would be feasting, dancing and singing by both parties. While, the bride’s family would gleam at the value of their daughter, the groom’s family would often boast about how much they have given. It’s a practice that has pushed the bride price amounts very high and probably distorted its true meaning.

Today bride price has been perverted and distorted.
Today bride price has been perverted and distorted. | Source

Perversion and distortion

Man has the uncanny ability to take something good and transform it into something negative. Many expatriates who have married Manus women will probably tell you about the demands of bride price. Unfortunately, that is not the traditional way, and has been perverted into commercialization.

Many parents and relatives today use the practice of bride price as a means of making a quick buck. They often make exorbitant demands and pressure the groom to pay. It is unfortunate that this of often done to people who do not know or understand the customs.

The predecessor to bride price

Although bride price is paid years later, the groom’s family must give gifts to the bride when she first comes to live with the groom’s family. It is a welcoming sign and is often done with baskets and bilums which are significant in the local custom.

Traditionally baskets and bilums are used to carry food and hence the basket symbolizes a good harvest and plenty of food. Other items are usually given as well like clay pots etc. these items would now be used by the new wife in her normal duties and she would not have to ask or borrow from neighbors as this would embarrass her husband’s family.

Gifts and baskets were given as a welcome gift to the bride.
Gifts and baskets were given as a welcome gift to the bride. | Source

Conclusion

The most important factor to consider is that bride price was not a trade but an exchange as a means of creating a bond between the two families.

As I conclude, I will also end my topic on the Babon and Nyindrou series and I will focus solely on the Babon aspect. However, I would like you to note that the practices by my ancestors were not as primitive as the western world and media would like to believe. In fact, they possessed a great deal of knowledge about nature and their natural environment. Unfortunately, much of this knowledge is slowly drowning in a wave external influences.

With that I would like to thank you for reading my hub and if you want to know more about a certain aspect of my ancestors life then feel free to contact me.

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