My Cows – My Brother’s Bride’s Price

A Typical  Bride in Nigeria
A Nigerian Bride

Namazzi was born into a family who made their living running a farm. She came from a small community where everyone knew one another. People meddled in Other family’s business. So often gossips about what goes on within a family spread easily. Girls were expected to be virgins or else no one would marry such a girl. Sometimes a girl gets pregnant and her family is made to feel the sting. The mother of such a girl is blamed and becomes the laughing stock of the community. Some men end up disowning such a daughter and her mother. If the pregnant girl is lucky, the family of the man who got her pregnant comes to pay her bride price and take her hands in marriage.

Everyone is afraid of being at the receiving end of the treatment meted out to the family of a pregnant girl, hence, families marry off their girls as early as possible. The problem with this is that, the bride price is overwhelming for men. Girls were means of bringing wealth to the family they belonged to; an enviable investment. It takes a lot of sweat and struggle to get the required bride price. A man was expected to present 20 Cows. Only capable men could marry because they have to work really hard.

Namazzi , now 16yrs old, was already been prepared for marriage. Her older brother Mukasa had begun to taunt her. Mukasa was in the forefront of championing her betrothal to any man who could pay the bride price. It was his bridge to the girl he had dreamed of marrying… Namazzi was his only hope of paying the bride price. Many older brothers are anxious to get their sister’s married off in the community. He simply keeps the cows and use them to pay up his bride’s price. Namazzi ’s family did manage to get a cattle rarer, Akelo to marry their daughter. When the cows arrived their compound they were all excited, even Namazzi . She had been told that she had just made her family proud and would be respected by everyone in the community. As soon as Namazzi left another wedding bells was ringing. Finally Mukasa got the cows he needed to marry his bride.

In the first few months of marriage, Namazzi added some flesh as is expected of every new wife. She had gotten pregnant and that was a good sign. Her husband Akelo was happy. At the end of nine moons she was delivered of her first son. It was celebrated and she was rewarded for been fruitful. As soon as her son was weaned Namazzi became pregnant again.  She prayed that this time it would be a girl because her husband wanted a daughter…remember, they need to earn cows as bride price on the daughter to be able to pay for their son’s bride’s price. A girl must be born who would bring good wealth to the family. But Namazzi gave birth to another boy (more cows to pay) and another until she had four boys. By then her husband had begun to make her pay the price of not giving birth to a girl. He had thought that if she had just given birth to a girl, he could in turn collect a bride price on her; a payment for the price he had to pay in marrying his wife. Boys only meant losing the already merger resources. If only Namazzi had given him 3 daughters and one boy, Akelo calculated the number of cows he would have been a proud owner of. Namazzi became a property to be treated anyhow the owner chooses.

So is the practice of paying a bride price a good or bad thing? I believe it is a good practice from my African perspective. It is intended to make a girl precious not cheap and also a  sign of respect for her family. When a man pays your bride price as a woman, you make your family proud, your in-laws respect you and remembers this when conflicts arise in the future. In my tribe when the couple do have certain issues in the future that threatens the stability of such a home, families can intervene because they believed they were a part of the process at the beginning. But what is meant to be a family loving transaction sometimes becomes shackles in the hand of the new bride.

Bride Price is a practice amongst many culture and more pronounced in Africa. What is regarded as a bride price differs from culture to culture or tribe to tribe. It is a token that seals the deal of a marriage between the couple’s families. In Africa, a man who does not pay the bride price of a girl before marrying her is seen as a “thief”. He has stolen the daughter of a house. In Nigeria, the Igbo traditional bride price is something a would be groom must seriously plan for. Not paying a woman’s bride can sometimes  mean that all the children of that union belongs to the wife’s family. Interestingly in some other culture like India, a woman is the one who pays the bride price making the man a “dangling Apple” to be grabbed by the one who can pay. This had resulted in modern trends of a higher dowry demand by the grooms family. A trend which has led to family violence. The challenge of over bloated bride price leave many men and women with no other choice than to remain unmarried. There are instances where because a man had been made to pay a huge bride price, he claims ownership of his wife that is a property he had paid for. What this means is that he could do anything and treat her as he pleases, because he had “bought” her. Some women are maltreated badly because of this, and many suffer in silence. It should however not become a sale of one’s daughter regardless of who is paying(man or woman). When the bride price/dowry costs a fortune the bride’s family might have just sold their precious daughter like a Ram tied with a rope to be sold in the market. We all know that such a Ram is going to be slaughtered and fed to the owner. In order words a woman/man’s family demand to seal a marriage can sometimes lay an uncomfortable/thorny bed for that marriage.

 By Adebisi Adetunji


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