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Drawing on the work of Ester Boserup, Goody notes that in the sparsely populated regions where shifting cultivation takes place in Africa, most of the work is done by women. This favored polygamous marriages in which men sought to monopolize the production of women "who are valued both as workers and as child bearers."

 Western civilization has very little knowledge of the Bride Price practice so it is important to know that while details change as western culture impacts tribal peoples, the practice itself is still widely accepted.  The primary purpose of a Bride Price (Lobola) is to build relations between the respective families as marriage is seen as more than a union between two individuals.

The price paid for a bride will vary, being determined partly by her value to her family, either in tending and hoeing their own fields, or because of a level of education that enables her to contribute financially to her parents. The Bride Price ‘currency’ is traditionally estimated in cows. In Africa the cow is generally considered to be a unit of value, regardless of the condition of the cow. Having 5 thin scrawny cows, is worth more than owning 3 well fed strong cows! With the Urbanization of many ethnic groups, it is now becoming common to estimate the value of the prospective bride in cows, and then use the average market value, the groom pays in cash or by credit card. This would be the culmination of a long and involved series of meetings with the family.

It becomes necessary to differentiate between Bride Price and Dowry to help keep the waters from being muddied in this discussion.

Bride Price is primarily a transaction between the parents of a girl and the prospective husband. It occurs in the context of an arranged marriage, where usually the girl has little or no say in the matter. The man is required to pay an agreed on price, normally before the marriage, to the parents of the girl.

Dowry is the custom of the parents of the bride settling an amount upon the couple at the marriage; usually an estate, or fixed property that is controlled by the bride. The husband gets to benefit from this but cannot take ownership or possession. This dowry is practiced in mostly European societies. This fund ensures her support (or endowment) in widowhood and eventually goes to provide for her sons and daughters.

Wikipedia points out in the opening paragraph that “The same culture may simultaneously practice both dowry and bride price”.  These marriage payments come in various forms and sizes but can be classified into two broad categories: transfers from the family of the bride to that of the groom, broadly termed as “dowry,” or from the groom’s side to the bride’s parents, broadly termed as a “bride price.”

Bride Price is still widely practiced in Africa, many Asian countries and in some of the Pacific Islands, notably Melanesia. Interestingly Urban Iran has a statistical record of 99% paying a Bride price between  1971-1991.

The ancient Code of Hammurabi mentions regulations of various aspects to administer a Bride Price, and the Hebrew book of Exodus chapter 22:16-17 and 22:28-29 discuss the payment of a Bride Price to the father in the event of a girl taken forcibly by a man. So the custom of payment of a Bride Price to marry a girl is firmly embedded in the historical record, with varying stipulations based on the manner in which the girl was obtained by the man.

For 121 Connectors a practical understanding of the underlying issues is important to successful counseling given when questions are asked by the female about leaving her spouse, or returning to her own parents. Christian counsel needs to be given in context with the cultural practices. We need to read carefully the questions asked, and in return ask more questions before we give counsel. Paul writes much about marriage relations in First Corinthians chapter 7, and should be well studied by all 121Connectors.

If physical abuse of the bride occurs, she is entitled to the protection of her family, but they may be reluctant to allow the girl to return home, as the husband will usually demand the return of the ‘Lobola’,  that is the Bride Price. In Africa, if the girl runs away, she has few options left besides prostitution.

In African tribal culture the women are expected to work the fields, doing the manual agricultural sowing, cultivating and reaping of the crops. The larger the acreage that the man has, the more wives he needs to tend his fields. The men tend the animals, usually cattle.

Younger Wives: There is normally the ‘First Wife’ and then additional wives who are under the direction and control of the first wife. The younger wives are given the harder work, and frequently abused by the 'First Wife', and there have been many cases of jealousy between the wives, especially when the husband favors one above the others; leading to tensions and occasional fights.

HIV AIDS and Polygny.
Polygyny (from neo-Greek πολυγυνία from πολύ poly "many", and γυνή gyne "woman or wife")[1] is a form of plural marriage in which a man is allowed more than one wife (i.e. it is a more narrow form of polygamy, and distinguished from other forms of polygamy such as polyandry).[2] In modern countries that permit polygamy, polygyny is typically the only form permitted.

There are two contending opinions in Africa on the value of Polygny. The one party believes that with the wives all being married to the same man, they have protection against the spread of HIV/AIDS. The opposite view is that the wives are more at risk, as this is a STD; if any one of the family gets it, then it will kill off the whole family.

Jim Cole-Rous 2013 extracted references on Polygny – Bride Price customs and issues.

Further reading:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lobolo
A missionary relates Bride Price from his own viewpoint; this story helps westerners understand more of the ceremony. Click this link to read: http://jvonkuhn.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/labola-bride-price-in-south-africa/

 

End Notes:

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Goody, Jack (1976). Production and Reproduction: A Comparative Study of the Domestic Domain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 32-3.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bride_price overview of the general subject.
Goody, Jack (1976). Production and Reproduction: A Comparative Study of the Domestic Domain. Cambridge:   Cambridge University Press. p.6.
http://econ.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2013/05/pdf_paper_siwan-anderson-economics-dowry-brideprice.pdf
Prevalence of Bride Price in Contemporary societies. Habibi (1997)