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High bride price: Threat to marital stability

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MARRIAGE as a union of man and woman is the oldest institution established by God for the purpose of companionship and procreation. For any marriage to be legalised either customarily or religiously, an exchange must take place.

The intending groom must approach the family of the bride with items specified in the list given to him and some cash that would be given to the immediate family of the bride, which is regarded as the bride price as a means of appreciating their labour in training the would-be bride.

   However, bride price and other requirements vary from community to community, family to family, as well as tribe or ethnic groups. Thus, bride price may be defined as payment made in kind, cash or material as demanded by custom of a group by a groom or his family to the family of the bride in order to make the union legitimate. Bride price is used to validate customary marriages.

   In the past, tradition of bride price is believed to be operated to give formal recognition to marriages and protect wives against abuse, stabilise the partnership and to join the two families together. However, these days, the drum beat has changed while the dance steps are no longer the same. In some communities of South-South and South-East Nigeria, the practice appears to have become commercialised and have lost much of its traditional value in many instances. Bride price now appears to be ‘buying of a wife’ as a commodity which results to abuse of the woman if she does not fulfill her value or would she attempt to leave the marriage, the bride price cannot be repaid.

  In some parts of Akwa Ibom State, issues in bride price vary from family to family as each family has its unique way of attending to marital issues. According to Evang. Emem Obong Victor George, one cannot marry the second daughter when the first daughter is not yet married. But if the suitor insists on marrying the second daughter, the kinsmen will impose a high bride price on him that will be meant to discourage him from marrying the second daughter until the first marries.

  In families around Uyo, Eket and environs, commercialisation of bride price is a common practice which results from greed and wickedness. Socio-economic variables such as level of education of the bride, social status of bride’s family, among other things have become deciding factors in determining bride price. In such cases where the bride attains high education or is a working class lady, bride price tends to be escalated. The groom or his family members are expected to pay in these circumstances as high as  N500,000, N200,000, with corresponding items such as chieftaincy cloth, staff, hat and some undisclosed amounts which  would be mentioned by the bird father while some wraps of abada material, under wears, palm oil extracting machine, among other things would go for the mother. But  Godly families who regard their daughters’ happiness and safety more than accruing wealth,  do not place much demand on bride price and corresponding items as some will collect as low as N50,000. This is because they would advise the groom to always fulfil the demands of the kinsmen, as well as the community.

  The resultant effects of these are serious implications on the stability of marriage. There is  risk of girls overstaying in their fathers’ houses without getting properly married until they reach menopause. This can equally cause a girl to start living with a man who has not legally married her in order to remove the reproach of not being married. Other effects include the abuse of the girl’s right, domestic violence, poverty among newly married couples, as well as divorce. Anger, unacceptability of the in-laws are other major effects as the groom may after ‘buying the bride’ as a commodity, no longer permit the in-law’s visit to his house.

  However, in the case of death of a girl who lives with a man without being legally married, the man would be forced to perform the customary rights for the dead woman (that means marrying the corpse). The content of the list would be higher than the formal list and this must be fulfilled before the family of the woman consents to her burial.

  In Imo State, the cost of marriage varies from community to community. But with social and cultural developments, it is high. Mr. Izuchukwu Obi witnessed traditional marriage in Mbaise of Imo State and explained that bride price can be N30,000, N20,000 or more as the case may be but the difficulty is the requirements which the groom is expected to provide to the community and those are the main things people want as the bride price is meant for the family.

  According to him, marriage rights are done in two stages. The first stage is for the community and the bride’s mother. Requirements for the community include one bag of rice, two bags of salt, one big basin with N200,000 inside, eight heads of tobacco and eight bottles of snuff, while that of the mother are; three wraps of abada material, four head ties; two pairs of lady’s slippers shoes, two sets of jewelries, two hand bags with N20,000 inside; two  sets of under wears and bras, one umbrella, one lantern; two cartons of medium sized tin tomatoes, 50 pieces of onions, four long stock fish, 20 litres of groundnut oil; 20 litres of kerosene, 30 cans of corn beef, one dozen of Geisha and N100,000.

  The oldest woman in the kindred will also have her share of N5,000, two cartons of peak milk, five loaves of bread, two pairs of slippers shoes, N2,000 for sweeping of compound, two bottles of pomade cream; two cartons of beer, two cartons of malt and one bottle of perfume or roll on. In the second stage, for the bride’s father, the suitor is required to provide four bottles of hot drink, 15 pieces of kolanut, 16 heads of tobacco, one wrap of George material, four cartons of beer; one carton of malt, two bottles of wine with N50,000 and 16 jars of palm wine. Each stage must be concluded and agreed upon before moving to the next stage.

The implication of this includes poverty after marriage, as well as disunity between the two families and over staying of girls in their fathers’ houses, among other effects.

    In Enugu State, Mrs. Adaobi Nwankwo explained her experience in Awgu LGA when her younger brother wanted to marry a girl he loved. According to her, the list was alarming. But the irony of the whole thing was that almost all the items were meant for the bride and these items included; one set of Ecolac box, 15 wraps of abada material, set of beverages, sets of shoes, slippers, ear rings, perfumes, sets of powder, among many other things. The family of the groom will also provide all the entertainment for the ceremony, including the kola nut with long list of assorted kinds of drinks.

  She condemned the act, saying that families and communities involved in this exorbitant bride price fail to consider that marriage is a relationship meant to unite not only the couple but the entire state, community or tribe involved. They forget that when a man is extorted in the name of coming to marry a wife, it can lead to a situation whereby the husband hurts his wife’s well-being in order to extract a payment from his in-laws where he feels the bride price was overpriced. Also, the abandonment threat is made credible which can result to violence. The bride’s family gives in to violent behavior when the safety of their daughter is no longer guaranteed.

  Thus, “once the man has paid bride price, the woman is reduced to the status of property because the man has paid for her. She not only becomes part of the property but even what she works for becomes part of the husband’s family property because they paid bride price.This affects women’s freedom; thereby affecting the marital stability. It forces a woman to live under an intolerable and hostile family environment which subjects her to servitude and slave- like conditions.

   “It can be linked to domestic violence, owing to women’s fear of returning to their natal home without being able to repay the bride price. Often, the men do feel that the woman has become his property due to heavy bride price paid on her head. Bride price is supposed to be a symbol or a token of appreciation to the family of the girl to be married off (the bride) and not meant to dehumanise women as property to be owned, sold and bought off in order to satisfy men’s selfish desires and egos,” she noted.

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