No matter how nice we try to make it sound, bride price is a price paid to acquire a female human for the purpose of marriage.
– A man pays a price to acquire a wife. You only pay a price to acquire something you want to own.
– As the new owner of that which he has acquired, he decides to change her name to his own name. This indicates his right and stamp of ownership.
– And so, for the rest of his life, he calls the shots. The leadership is autocratic, and he has the first and final say. After all, he payed a price to acquire a wife. And this man will forever feel an entitlement over the product he acquired.
Where I come from, “di-inwenim” is a greeting some women accord their husbands. This literally translates to mean “the husband who owns me” or “my husband my owner”. Yorubas have a version of this too, I hear. The women say “Olowo ori mi” – the owner (buyer or payer) of my head.
As a child, I asked my grandma why it was so. She told me that as soon as a man pays the bride price, the ownership of a bride is transferred from her father to her husband. Thus, a man who has paid the bride price and met all the traditional marriage rites owns the wife.
I don’t know about others, but I personally do have a problem with the word “ownership” in such a context, where the object of the noun is a human being. We have gone passed the era of slave trade and slavery. No human should be bought or acquired by any amount for any reason at all. Not for culture nor traditions, and not for marriage.
So many people argue that the amount that gets charged as bride price is neither sufficient nor high enough for any rational person to hold on to that as a right of ownership over another human. But let me tell you a bit about contract law in lay man’s terms. As long as there’s been an exchange of an agreed price between the offerer and offeree, the price becomes irrelevant. The offeree assumes ownership of the object of trade as soon as a trade deal is done.
Another example is the sale and clearance that goes on in some retail shops. I have paid £20 for a designer handbag originally worth £350 during a Masks and Spencer clearance sale. It does not matter if the original price is £350 or that you paid £350 for yours. If the shop asked me to pay £20, and I paid £20, the bag now belongs to me because there’s been a legitimate offer and acceptance.
Now cry me a river and crucify me! I’m bad-mouthing an age-long sacred tradition which has been passed on to us by our ancestors. Of course, at the mention of culture and tradition, every mouth shall shut up.
Too often, people are very fast to throw in the cards of culture, tradition and religion whenever a status quo is being challenged. But culture should be dynamic, and subject to change with time. Cultural dynamism is a major factor to propelling growth and development in any society. There really should be no room for dogma in the 21st century.
Our ancestors did what worked for them, we do not have to live exactly like them. We have embraced some modern technologies which our ancestors didn’t. That alone proves that the pattern of the existence of humans go through a continuous dynamic process. Centuries to come, there will also be some deviations from the current status quo. This dynamism is a fact we must come to terms with and embrace.
Yes, it is important that we preserve our cultural identities and traditions, but that should only apply to the positive aspects of our cultures. Just the way we did away with the killing of twins, slavery and stoning to death of non-virgin brides and adulterous women, so also we should do away with all negative aspects of our cultures, including the ones that place price tags on humans.
If and when two adults agree to get married, just let them get married! None should have to pay a price to acquire the other human.
Symbolism or not, culture or not, let us call a spade what it is – a spade. Just like calling bride price exactly what it is – a price that is paid to acquire a bride/wife.
I do not know the future but I know one thing for sure: that as long as my brain remains functional, my husband will not have to pay any price in order to “acquire” me as a wife.
**Written by: Nkechi Bianze