I drafted this post on the subject of Dowry over a month ago, with intention of including it in the “This is…” series. While undertaking the modicum of research I do for these posts, both for my benefit and yours, I found out that dowry was defined as property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage. This distinction was news to me. Having been raised by parents from the Luhya tribe in Western Kenya, I was under the general assumption that dowry signified what I now understand to be bride-price, a set amount paid by the Groom and/or his family to the Brides family to get permission for the subsequent wedding.
This realization led me to plan a multi-part mini series on the subject. What makes certain cultures pay for the groom vs the bride. Why do the terms seem interchangeably in some? How much did my dad pay for my mom? (hah alas I do not expect to get the answer for that last one, as I have perhaps untactfully asked before to no avail, nor do I imagine sharing that information with you if either of them deigned to tell me (not that even either of them knows as will be discussed later))
I have begun researching some ancient books in the Kenya National Archives and will send some questionnaires to acquaintances for more information but for now I’ll intro the series, which may later include a Vlog post or two 😀
You may or may not have heard of Kenyan Lawyer, Felix Kaprono. It is his dream to marry one of Obama’s daughters. In an interview with the Nairobian he stated that he is and is ready to pay 50 cows, 70 sheep and 30 goats as bride price.(story is worth a quick read) As the story is steadily being picked up by various media outlets, the practice of pre-wedding wealth exchange is somewhat in the internet based publics eye. It may or may not be swept away in the multitude of other stories sure to come up before and after the US Presidents’ scheduled visit to Kenya. One thing it does do, is conveniently tie in to the original start of this post, a conversation with a female lawyer in Nairobi.
On this occasion, having made her acquaintance a few years prior, we were out at a frequented nightspot. We sat at a table surrounded by the hum of the crowd under upbeat music as we enjoyed some adult beverages with a few others. As it often does, the subject of relationships came up. Though she was a relatively successful lawyer in her own right she assured me that when it came to matters of the heart, she was a traditional woman and as such more than willing, if not out right planning on it, to stay home and cook, clean, raise kids. This would of course necessitate a traditional man doing his end of the bargain, as provider of resources.
I have been uncomfortable with the practice of bride-price since a young age, and told her as much. In the increasingly unlikely event I do get married, I have no expectations to pay one or receive its compliment. The chances of me being attracted enough to someone that somehow considers the practice to be a valid, are slim to none. Be it for personal reasons or due to some strong feeling of loyalty to their parents and older traditions, a mindset that values this archaic practice would doubtful be one that inhabits a reality tunnel* close enough to mine, for me to entertain coupling them together for any given amount of time.
There is a lot of cray-cray in the last sentence of that paragraph, isn’t there? Prometheus Rising anyone?
It is a purchase
I disagree with it but that does not mean I did not make efforts to understand it. On the contrary my efforts to understand it only reinforced my convictions to have nothing to do with it.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with purchases. We constantly participate in them with various forms of currency. The medium of exchange is varied, but if its between two consenting parties I have no problem with this exchange of time for something one values.
A potential wife would be valued though, correct? I had earlier deduced the origins of the practice to be as follows. In rural areas, and in the past and present, a household or homestead required the labour of all members. If a daughter was married out you would be losing a certain amount of production. You could estimate that the daughter could have planted and picked 40 sacks of beans over the next few years so you include that in the price etc.
In later years I included the general valuation of an egg vs that of sperm. A woman’s reproductive ability is far more valuable than that of a mans. The Golden Uterus vs countless nuts to be found pretty much anywhere, this is a biological reality we must face as a sexually dimorphous species. It makes sense that one would demand some evidence of the ability to garner provisions to support a wife during the taxing and energy sapping process of gestation and subsequent feeding of your future family. This came from my exposure to cultures that were Polygynous in which the male did not have multiple wives unless they could afford it (I will try to find out if there is a correlation between the form of polygamy and which gender is expected to transfer wealth)
I still disagree with the concept but there are a few things I recently learnt before embarking on my current research. These payments may not be expected to be paid off. I may have been mistaken to think part of the price was to make up for parents never seeing their child again in situations where technology and travel were not as convenient to some of us today. I argued that even if that was once the case, in the modern world, the parents of the wife tend to gain a son into their life, not lose a daughter. I sat in on a negotiation for a bride-price where the terms of payment were set in a way which would ensure continued contact between the families for decades.
The timing of the meeting may have been somewhat unusual as it actually occurred years after the marriage in question and after a child had been born out of it, and was between members of 2 different tribes, but through some questions I have no reason to believe that it changed much of what was agreed upon. I also learnt this little tidbit of my tribal history; when it comes to a bride from the Luhya tribe, for the marriage to be truly recognized, a cow must be walked through the gate of the tribal home of the wife and presented to the head of the homestead.
More on this to come.
I still come across a sentiment that African culture has ‘misogynistic’ tendencies and devalues women. The views expressed of purchasing the bride could be considered ‘objectification.’ I do not think this is the case. Most of the world ‘purchases’ grooms. Are they objects? Not due to this. If anyone was actually ‘objectified’ wouldn’t this purchase indicate a devaluation? Again, no. Is an iPhone more valuable than some off brand flip phone? I may disagree with the practice but give even less support to faulty reasoning.
I may come back to some of those issues in later posts, but for now I’ll conclude this introduction. I do not think the coupling of two or more willing adults should require this exchange of wealth. Most people who do it will claim it is worthwhile as it is something ‘we’ve always done’. I will be back with more information about it and let you come to your own conclusions.
- If you are married, how much would you have paid for your spouse? How much do you think you would have been worth? If you have any questions about Dowry and Bride-Price feel free to leave them in the comment section and I may include them in the research.
- Video of the Post : a short animation along with Robert Anton Wilson’s thoughts on the concept of Reality Tunnels. Interesting idea, if you’d like to know more about it and other challenging ideas, consider reading his book Prometheus Rising.