Different people and places have different beliefs and practices regarding marriage, especially for a country having over 200 ethnic groups with diverse cultures and traditions. Bride price is a well-known concept in traditional marriage in Africa. The groom’s family’s payment to the bride’s family is part of the marriage proceedings.
In many places where bride price is practiced, it serves as the traditionally legal premise upon which other marriage rites can be performed. That is to say, you can’t continue with specific civil processes such as church marriage unless you’ve paid the bride price; it is the confirmation that the marriage is accepted by both families, and they can proceed with the whole ceremony.
The mode of payment varies with different traditions. For instance, in South-Eastern Nigeria, it may include money and other goods and properties. Sometimes, it is the money that is exclusively regarded as the bride’s price. This payment can be made upfront or spread across an agreed time in installments.
Criticisms Against the Practice of Bride Price
A famous and outspoken feminist, Chimamanda Adichie, has publicly expressed their opinions against bride price, given that it literally can be interpreted as “payment” for a wife rather than a symbolic act.
In her opinion, when such practices take place, she argues that it gives men the misguided assumption that their wives are their “property” instead of their companion. And from her viewpoint, this way of thinking might lead to men maltreating, abusing, and depriving their wives of their rights—something that has been a common practice among some men, especially in the Igbo tribe dominating the Southeastern states Nigeria. The Igbos generally do not consider a couple married if the bride price has not been paid, even if they perform every other rite.
Also, some traditions, mostly in rural areas, require a woman to pay back her bride’s price in full before she can legally divorce her husband. In a case where the woman cannot afford to pay, she may be trapped in her marriage regardless of the potential detriments such as marital rape or domestic violence.
Another issue is some who practice bride price do not believe in “marital rape;” they argue that the husband has the right over his wife even against her consent since he “paid for her.” In some places in Southeastern Nigeria, bride pricing can reach the ₦250,000 range, and that’s not including other expenses. For young men who are not financially stable but want to marry, this can be a significant constraint.
This implies that in some cases, the man cannot fully claim the parentage of any child born with a lady for whom he has not paid the bride’s price. So, if anything happens and the woman decides to part ways, she eventually goes with the man’s children.
Tradition is good in some sense, but what about the ones that cause more harm than good? A tradition that undermines people’s rights or causes harmful gender discrimination? These are questions that always lingers out there when bride price is involved, but for now, tradition is tradition, and that is the condition that many Nigerian’s faces.