IN DEFENCE OF HIGH BRIDE PRICE IN MBAISE
Tradition and culture stand as the offshoots of history. On the other hand they serve as the smoke that indicates the existence of fine. And that fire is history. The writer agrees with Mary Peltibone people saying, “Culture is what your butcher would have if he were a surgeon”.
We usually observe many of those things we mistake for tradition and culture, in a twisted form, especially when we what a lot of villages, in their want of culture, manufacture one thing or the other and give it a name. I can understand what they ancient writer had in mind while advising us “we are part of the universal minds, and as such, owe it to ourselves to seek and know the facts facing our being”. If our existence here and in this part of the world has an origin, we must grip what they left for us and defend them. So, the dormancy of history can, and it does cause the seeming absence of culture and tradition. Let us consider it in light of the Mbasie traditional culture and the extent it has been upheld, forgot, ignored or modernized.
Bride price could also mean spousal reciprocity. It involves a man’s giving of his wealth to the family of a girl whom he desires to marry. Although this practice is found among many customs of the world (with some variations), its meaning in the African content has been misunderstood and thus misinterpreted by many European writers. Worse still, some prospective husbands and potentials father-in-law, have also misconstrued the whole idea of bride price. Also there has been some confusion among African (and for that matter Igbo) writers on the best English word to express the money, token or commodity that a man gives before obtaining a wife. Some writers used “bride wealth”, others used the word ‘dowry’ instead of bride price. For the former group, term bride price is inappropriate since it would imply that women are sold. But many Igbos look at the term bride wealth, but never of ill-gotten price.
The above is an index to the complex native of bride price which I do not guarantee I can resolve in this article. I however invite the reader to come with me in this reassessment of the issue in Mbaise and its defense by some prolific Mbaise writers. Perhaps by the time we are through, some more light may be thrown on the issue of the so called “high” bride price in Mbaise.
WHY PAY FOR WOMAN AT ALL?
Among the Igbos, the girl’s consent alone does not suffice for a marriage to be contracted. The bride price cannot be left out. During marriage negotiations the girl having consented, her father (or an elderly and close kinsman or even younger kin with delegated powers) begins a short preamble to speak, touching on the girl’s personal qualities (like beauty of body, good moral standing) and achievements of his daughter, particularly if she has attained a high level of education. He makes it clear that there is no adequate compensation that could match with the person of his daughter, but in so far as it is in accordance with the custom, he has to fix something considerate.
It is usual for the girl’s relation’s to fix three amounts –one unrealistic, the other tentative, and the third the last below which negotiation may not succeed. There is the reverse in the boy’s camp, they start from a price well below the mark, and by gradual ascent, the two camps strike a tangent and the bride price is then fixed.
Cases abound, where would-be marriages were nupped in the bud because of too high bride prices. There was a case where a father was in vain, argued to reduce the price on his ageing daughter. The boy’s delegation then asked to be allowed the time to consult those at home. For those experienced in marital procedure this is a beautiful traditional way of ending whole issue finally.
The amount of bride price varies from place to place. In some cases there are some variations even within the same locality. This is understandable because all girls haven'’ equal endorments, like nobility of family, beauty of the body, academic excellence and the like. Many writers have dealt exhaustively on bride price but none succeeded in fixing a price that is greeted with universal acceptance. Many uphold and are satisfied with the brie prices forced fixed sometime ago by the then Eastern regional government of Nigeria in 1956 in her legislation-Limitation of dowry law section 3,5 and 6 which spells out in its fourth paragraph that:
“Any person who asks, receives, or obtains, or agrees or attempts to receive or obtain for himself or any other person any dowry in excess of the maximum prescribed in section 3, (thirty pounds approx) and anyone who gives, or pays or promises or offers to give or apy anyperson dowry in excess of the maximum prescribed in section3, shall be guilty of an offence, the fine of which will not exceed hundred pounds, or term of imprisonment of six months”.
This law enacted had no “Bride Price Control Board” and hence was open to all sorts of a buses. Besides, the government has no daughter to offer in marriages and since the parents felt that they instruction, or any other form of participation in the promulgation of that law, they considered it not binding.
Even then, some parents charged and received more than two hundred pounds (N400.00) for their daughters who stepped at elementary six, even in the very face of the law. Hence the conclusion one could make on the amount of bride price is that it all depends on those who have girls to give in marriage. It is now a common practice among some ‘enlightened’ parents to ask the suitor to offer anything he liked. Some put it more subtly, “Just give me something with which I shall attend your wedding; feed the people according to our custom, and take your wife”. This seems more considerate. I agree. But in reality, such suitors more often than not, had to offer more than those who has fixed prices.
It is not surprising that many writers have waged relentless wars against bride price in Mbaise (due to ignorance). Commenting on this Dr.E.C Agulanna in the Magazine, Mbaiseness of Mbaise, writes:
“We have been accused of ‘selling’ our daughters in marriage because of the so-called ‘high bride price’. To begin with, this is another case of giving a dog a bad name in order to hang it. Fortunately, “bad name” has not scared away suitors. It has rather attracted them. Therefore, there is something in or about the bride price”.
My answer in this regard is that nothing good comes easy assuming that our bride price is high. We live in a world of relativity where everything is relative to another. Research has shown that our bride prices are not the highest in Igbo land. Secondly, nobody is forced to complete any payment before taking away any girl.
In fact, the so-called high bride price is an attempt by Mbaise people to reflect the quality of their daughters and the high investment on them. To reinforce this argument, Dioka (1994:17) argued thus:
“The relevant point is the high investment in women education in Mbaise. Generally Mbaise people are known for investing in education and their women are not exempted. Unlike many parts of the country where women are scarcely educated, the Mbaise woman is given the same opportunity as the man. That is why many of them are in different professions and those who could not go to the university are trained as teachers and nurses”.
…only an insignificant minority fail to go to school because of poverty as poor parents are prepared to sell their lands or go into debt for the education of their daughters.
My interest in Dioka’s assertions is the revelation of another aspect of our MBAISENESS. That is, Mbaise people give equal opportunity to their sons and daughters without discrimination unlike in many other places where the sons are given preferential educational treatment. Again Mbaiseness guarantees that her daughters who cannot make it to the university are adequate training in other areas of human endeavor such as Nursing and teaching.
Another remarkable aspect of our Mbaiseness is that parents are always prepared to sell their lands or mortgage them or in fact go into debt for the education of their daughters. A laborer is worthy of his pay and therefore even if the bride prices are high, Mbaise parents deserve them. Therefore “whatever a prospective husband pays is only a token of the investment made on his prospective wife” according to Dioka.
Let us again assume that the prospective husband pays a high bride price. He is again compensated by another configuration of our Mbaiseness while believes in and practices the equipping of our daughters to start a new home. Hence beds, mattresses, cookers, mortars and pestles, baskets, brooms, cocoyams etc. are given by parents to their daughters.
Mbaiseness strongly believes in the stability of marriage. To her, divorce is an anathema which should not be imagined. To an Mbaise woman, marriage is a life long affair. She stays in marriage no matter how brutalized she is, so as to train her children. She believes that her children will compensate her for whatever maltreatment or deprivations she suffers in the hands of her husband. Another aspect of our Mbaiseness that makes for stable marriages is that our culture does not encourage people to marry a woman that has once been married and divorced. Such a woman is looked upon as a problem.
It is pertinent to mention that among some of our neighbours who see nothing good in us, marriage divorcing and re-marrying are normal processes. To us, it is an anathema. For the benefit of our distractors on high bride price and marriage in Mbaise let me emphatically say that Mbaise is one of the few areas in the world that believes in and experiences very stable marriages.
In our Igbo society, the essence of marriage is children which are highly valued. The Mbaise woman is reputed to be highly fertile and by implication prolific. I am sure that suitors are always prepared to pay any bridal price for fertile women. A philosopher by name Simonides postulated; “a man can never possess anything better than a good woman or anything worse than a bad woman”. Mbaiseness believes in producing and having good women.