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Bride price and Dowry: Bride Price culture and how to calculate your Bride Price

Updated on September 30, 2014

Indian wedding ceremony

Indian wedding ceremony
Indian wedding ceremony | Source

What constitutes a bride price?

Bride price can be collected in cash or produce, some common items are.

1 cash sums

2 livestock like goats, sheep, cattle in the north, turkey and chickens

3 consumables like bag of rice, beans, salt

4 native provisions like palm wine, kola nut, cowries

5 beverages like drinks, juice, canned items

6 luxuries such as gold, silver sometimes even diamond

7 Household items like soap, detergents, and toiletries.

About wedding and marriage

On her wedding day or just before marriage certain provisions must be observed according to the religion, tradition and ethnic requirement which borders on bride price. Bride price can be linked to bride wealth which is a symbolic amount or bride token that signifies the readiness of the groom or bride to certain responsibilities of marriage.

The bride price can be given in items, goods, property, cash sums and consumables as customs and traditions demand. Bride price is not restricted to the groom paying a price to the bride’s family but in some other cultures the reverse is the case were the bride’s family pays a dowry to the groom and his kin.

We should not confuse bride pride with the payment of a dowry which is more of an inheritance, wealth transfer or will of parental property in wealth (cash) or items after the marriage. Dowries generally has the purpose of keeping a wealthy sibling in the manner she’s used to after his or her union, lets just say giving a helping hand.

Most dowry transfers remain with the recipient of the dowry irrespective of marital obligations and could be transferred to the children. Many regions still practice arranged marriage sometimes without the bride even knowing the groom, in such situations a dowry is paid to the bride’s parents in property, goods, cash or items before the contractual marriage.

Such practices are still common in North Africa, East Africa, some parts of West Africa, and Asia whereby the groom pays a dowry in cash or property for his bride. Sometimes there is only a dowry stipulation while other cultures have both bride price and dowry used during engagement and marriage.

Bride price images

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Large tubers of yam, assorted items constitute bride priceExpensive jewelry is paid as bride priceHerds of cattle can be used as bride priceWild pigs are taken as dowryCash is part of bride price
Large tubers of yam, assorted items constitute bride price
Large tubers of yam, assorted items constitute bride price
Expensive jewelry is paid as bride price
Expensive jewelry is paid as bride price
Herds of cattle can be used as bride price
Herds of cattle can be used as bride price
Wild pigs are taken as dowry
Wild pigs are taken as dowry
Cash is part of bride price
Cash is part of bride price

Countries where bride price is practiced

Bride price is common in many countries and has been part of marriage condition for hundreds of years, although it is fast fading out some countries take this ancient practice very seriously. Bride price culture can be found in China which could range from a few dollars to several thousand dollars depending on the two families agreement. Others are West Africa especially Nigeria, Thailand, Central African Republic, Afghanistan, South Africa, Uganda and Central Asia.

Bride price words
Bride price words | Source

Bride price in New Guinea

Why pay a bride price

Bride price is meant to be a payment or financial investment in the bride, it also show readiness for marriage, seriousness and financial capability on the part of the groom. Bride price and dowry also depicts loss in labor, maintenance of bride and a way of providing financial support or a hedge fund in lieu of separation, death or divorce.

The disparity in abundance of women in relation to men sometimes brings about the dowry system especially when the earning potential of the women in a particular region is low. We can trace the advent of pride price to the need for labor especially in farming communities, each member of the family in bygone days worked in the farm.

So when a man wants to marry from that agrarian family to make up for the short fall in labor power a bride price is requested from the bride’s family. So a bride price can be said to be the payment given by the prospective groom to the bride’s family for the loss in labor.

The payment of bride price only indicates betrothal and shows intent to marriage, once the bride price is paid the woman although not yet legal married to the man is bound by the contract to eventually become his wife.

About bride price

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What is acceptable as a bride price?

Bride price varies from each country that still practices this tradition and what can be acceptable as bride price also differs. In Africa countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Senegal bride price might be offered in cash sums including things like cowries, brass and gold. Other items could be consumables produce like rice, beans, yam tubers and livestock.

Shell polished dishes on special strings is used in the Solomon Islands while kegs of palm wine is an important feature in Eastern Nigeria. Other household goods like detergents, toiletries, expensive materials, wristwatches and bangles might be a stipulated part of the bride price.

Although dowry and bride price can be seen under customary laws they are a bit different in application. Dowry can be spread over a period or as a lump sum which usually carries strict compliance while bride price can be negotiated between the two families.

Dowry is an agreement between the bride’s family and the groom which could be consummated immediately or after several years especially if the girl is still young. While bride price does not necessarily have to include cash payment and could be in consumables, goods and items.

So bride price does not have any specific uniformity in different regions it may be very low, very high, could be given in consumables or cultural items. Negotiation is the only uniformity in bride price across countries although other elements may be involved

Wedding vows
Wedding vows

Customary bride price in some regions

Customary gifts or payment might have strict rules of compliance and might not exceed certain amounts sometimes as little as $100USD. It might also attract incidental costs and payments and doesn’t stipulate that bride price must be completely paid before the marriage. In most cases the father has the legal right to receive the bride price but if deceases the family head should carry out this responsibility.

Other civilized and advanced societies the bride price is non existence or might have been waiver-ed so long as certain traditions are observed. Many societies marriage is not only a contractual agreement between two families but the extended family and sometimes the community.

Bride price and dowry

Bride price
Dowry
price calculator
no bride price
cash
apperance
symbolic
jewelry
academic achievement
consumables
utensils
pedegree
cowries
furniture
homemaker
other ethnic provisions
property
age
cash
livestock
wealth

Dowry in India

The dowry system in Indian involves both cash and gift presented to the groom’s family, the gift items vary according to the pedigree of the bride’s family and financial standing. Important families giving out their daughters offer high value gifts ranging from diamond, lots of gold and silver, expensive furniture, electrical items, lots of utensils and expensive material.

Although the dowry system is prohibited by civil law in 1961 it still persists in certain areas of India, for the bride’s family it has dire financial implications because of the expenditure and hosting of wedding guest which could run for several weeks.

The grooms family although collect the dowry, they are entitled to pay bride price to the brides family. Sex selection, feticide, class system disparity in women and men ratio all have negative influence on the dowry culture in India.

Eastern Nigeria

In the eastern region of Nigeria some communities have very high bride price which could range between $5000 USD to $10,000 USD or more. Due to this high bride price many eligible bachelors have to make enough money to meet up with the traditional requirement, thereby marrying latter than usual like in their late thirties or forties. In the eastern part the higher the academic qualification and beauty of the woman the higher the bride price and dowry.

Not all eastern states have high bride price despite customary laws that place such sums below $100USD. Onitsha which has Onitsha north and south is in Anambra state they are Igbo and it’s a commercial hub having the famous Onitsha market.

Although the state has a proliferation of many ethnic tribes the indigenes hold dear their culture and traditions, pertaining to bride price they collect only a symbolic sum of less than$1USD but are more likely to marry only from same tribe due to strong family bonds.

The Yoruba in the west also have bride price stipulations that are usually collected in produce like yam tubers, salt, and bag of rice, material, livestock and small cash sums. In the Sahara region apart from cattle which is given as a bride price or dowry the physical stamina of the groom is also tested like having the groom endure lashes of cane on the back while dancing.

Bride price Consequences of child marriage

Bride price calculator

How to calculate a bride price

Although bride price and dowry differs from country to country there are certain factors that can easily be associated with the cost of bride price. Some of the major factors that have direct impute on price are.

1 Academic qualifications: The more educated she is the more money her parents and relations would add to the sum, for instance a high school graduate attracts less than a bachelor’s degree holder while a masters or PHD attracts a higher premium.

2 Age of the woman::The age of the woman is very important in Arab and Asia countries the younger the more expensive, because the prospective husband is paying a dowry/bride price based on the girls purity. The age also counts when the woman in question is between twenty and thirty, she’s believed to be in a prime child baring age and attracts a higher dowry.

3 Status is important in determining bride price especially if parameters like the woman being a divorcee, has a child or children or is above thirty six. All these calculations play a part in determining the pride price in some countries. Having been married with children lowers the bride price considerably.

4 Pedigree: coming form an influential or affluent family could attract a high bride price and dowry; sometimes this is deliberate in order to ascertain the financial capability of the proposed groom and also to keep the woman in a wealthy status she’s already used to.

5 A homemaker: This criterion sometimes is difficult to determine and is left to the discretion of the parents to the true worth of their daughter. Other factors that might favor the groom is if he comes from the same ethnic tribe, or has parents known to the grooms family and if the brides father wishes to waiver the bride price.

6 Physical appearance: The lady’s physical appearance might have some impact on the financial implications like skin tone, beauty, health and stature.

Conclusion

Although dowry and bride price are not technically the same they have the same function that is to show betrothal and intent to marriage. The dowry system can be very tasking and can cause great financial burden to the family subjected to this traditional practice, on the other hand bride price in most places is merely symbolic.

The debate on the legitimacy of bride price and dowry system is ongoing but tradition is strong and religious practice even stronger which means the practice would be around for a very long time.

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