Much ado about bride price10 min read

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By Ebun Sessou, Naomi Tenebe, Abasifiok Johnson & Okonkwo Chioma

The critical aspect of marital rite is bride price and it is one thing that is widely acceptable to solidify marriage.

According to research, bride price varies from tribe to tribe and it depends on the custom and tradition of each family.

Some people believe that it is a way to safeguard marriage while others believe, it is a way of selling their children especially the girls cheaply.

But, whatever the case maybe. It is expected of both families to take rightful steps and decisions when their children are proposing to marry. Some of the areas examined in the course of this reports include Igbo, Yoruba, Edo and Akwa-Ibom.

Igbo land

Bride price is evidently highest in the Eastern part of Nigeria. The lists of items for traditional marriage are categorized into four sections including the Kindred Daughters (‘Umuada), Kinsmen (Umana), Opening of Gate (Nmepe Uzo) and the General cash gifts. All of these run into hundreds of thousands of naira.

Some people believe that due to the high bride price, some Igbo daughters are more mature than elsewhere.

Speaking with some people on the issue, Mrs Loveth Obi explained how some Igbo bachelors work so hard to be able to pay the brideprice. Even men who are not Igbos suffer because they had to marry the Igbo ladies. This in turn makes inter-marriage in Igboland cumbersome.

“Most bachelors get nervous about what is in the igbo traditional marriage list. Igbo do not do engagement and that is why they do not joke with the traditional marriage. All the lists for the bride price would be brought.

According to her, “the bride price is in four categories, the first one is Gifts for the daughter. In this case, the gifts for the daughters would be shared among all the grown daughters in the bride’s extended family. These include wrappers (George or Abada such as Vlisco Hollandais, ABC, Nigerian Wax), Igbo-style lace blouses, Igbo Ichafu scarfs (assorted styles and colours), shoes and bags (assorted designs and colours), Jewelry (wrist watches, earrings, necklaces and rings in either gold, silver, gold plated/ GL), Toiletries (bath soaps, body creams, washing detergents, perfumes and so on), Beverages, Drinks (malt and soft drinks) and lump sum cash gift.

“Others include, gifts for the kinsmen. This category will be shared amongst the males/ heads of the extended family of the bride to be. They include, kola nuts, palm wine (in gallons),bottles of hot drinks,cartons of assorted drinks (malt, soft drinks and beer) tobacco snuff, cigarettes (rolls), goat, lump sum cash gift. There is the third category which is known as general gifts which is known as ‘to open the door’. In this category, the bride price is negotiable but other items including cartons of star beer, cartons of guinness stout cartons of malt, crates of soft drinks, bottles of hot drinks/ whisky, tubers of yam, bags of rice, bags of salt, onions, palm oil, groundnut oil, kerosene, stock fish, meat, bread, tins of tomatoes, tins of milk, sets of (George or Abada such as Vlisco Hollandais, ABC, Nigerian Wax), Igbo style lace blouses, Igbo Ichafu, scarfs, Wrist watches, gold necklaces, large suitcase, lamp / Lantern, umbrella among others. While the first category of gift is cash gift and it is practically during the bride price ceremony.

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According to her, “ these are symbolic cash gifts. The groom-to-be and his family may negotiate each one of the cash gifts. The cash gifts include money to bring down the pot from the fire, N1000, money to open the wine keg, N1000, money for in-laws, N50,000 (Ogo cherem literally means ‘in-law, wait for me. Money for maternity bill (ego maternity), N1,000, money for the village chief (ego onye eze), N1,500 and lump sum cash (ogwe ego), N5,000

She also said that the bride price is symbolical in any Igbo marriage.

According to her, the bride price varies and it is collected according to each family traditions and customs. “It  differ from state to state, villages to villages and families to families. If the prospective in-law is wealthy, some families might take advantage of it and inflate the bride price. In the past, it used to be expensive but now, it is affordable”, she said.

For Chioma, “bride price removes shame and insult from the woman since she is legally married according to the tradition and gives honor to the woman. But sometimes it also can be a disadvantage to the woman because some men feel they can treat their wives anyhow because they paid for her. There is no binding law of marriage if the bride price is not paid according to the Igbo tradition.

“It makes a woman have full respect in the husband’s house and his family. The woman cannot be driven out of her husband’s house unless the bride price is refunded.

“If there is a problem in the home and the woman is on the receiving end for example an abusive husband, she cannot easily leave the the marriage and remarry until there is a refund of the bride price to her husband, and if he refuses to collect the bride price and the woman on her own decides to leave him for another man, the children she gets in the new marriage belongs to the first husband because the woman is still legally married to him unless he finally accepts the bride price from the woman’s family. That is why it is good for the woman to ensure that her bride price is paid before marrying a man to avoid problems in the future”, she said.

Yoruba land

In Western part of Nigeria, bride price is low. A visit to Igboora in Oyo state, recently revealed that bride price in Yoruba land is very cheap. And it varies from state to state, families to families and villages to villages.

In Ondo state, it is also revealed that cowries are used as bride price in the olden days. But, today, some families collect N25 while some collect the sum of N500 depending on the custom.

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In her response, Mrs Ade said, “when cow is part of the list of the bride price, some in-laws ask for specific gifts/ contributions towards the wedding ceremony to support feeding of guests”.

According to her, “certain items including a cow, a bag of rice, a keg of palm-wine and vegetable oil are added to the bride price. This is because it is important for the groom to share in the catering bill during the wedding ceremony, so that as the groom provides the cow to be used (for meat), the in-laws would provide the remaining food items”.

Asked if some can be alternated for cash, she said, some items can be done in cash, meaning that the groom may be allowed to give cash for an item. In Yoruba land, bride price include Bible, engagement ring, box/ suitcase of clothes,umbrella, yams, palm oil and vegetable oil, honey, kolanut, bitter kola, alligator pepper,sugar cane, maize, fruits, rice, she-goat, traditional cloth, salt, bottled water, wine, soft drinks.

While cash for the traditional rites during the engagement ceremony she said include the bride price, N5,000. Other cash gifts is N10,000. These monies are shared into different categories including, money for children, kinsmen, opening of the groom’s list, mother’s consent, father’s consent, unveiling the bride’s list, traditional MC among others.

In Hausa land

For the Hausas, bride price could be higher, depending on the wealth of the two families. After agreeing on the bride price, the next stage is Sarana which is fixing a date for the wedding ceremony.

The price starts from the minimum amount called “Rubu Dinar” in Hausa, an Arabic phrase translated as “quarter kilogram of gold piece” to the highest amount the man can afford to pay. The preference is for the bride price to be as low as possible because Islamic teaching teaches that less amount paid as bride dowry price produces the most blessed marriage.

In Delta & Edo

In Delta, bride price is also not expensive. And it varies from state to state, families to families and villages to villages. For example, in Abraka (Urhobo) in Delta State, the sum of N120.00 (One Hundred and Twenty Naira) was paid as pride price. While at Ebhosa (Ishan) in Edo, the sum of N60.00 (Sixty Naira) was taken by the father of the bride, as bride price. Other price list include Bible, umbrella, suitcase filled with clothes, bottles of hot drinks, crate of malt drinks, plate of kolanuts, bag of salt, palm oil, jar of palm wine, carton of wine, crates of malt, carton of beer, tubers of yam, N1,500 cash for dowry, N5,000 cash for the bride’s mother, N3,000 cash for the bride’s father, N9,000 cash for the men in bride’s lineage, N6,000 cash for the women bride’s lineage.

According to Mrs Momoh, “There are certain disadvantages that come with bride price. Some families even the groom-to-be feel they own the woman and can do anything they like to the woman because they have paid her bride price already, it make them see the woman as an object of ridicule”, she said

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In Akwa-Ibom

It is not just tradition but natural that a woman’s bride price is paid. That alone makes her respected.

Mrs. Owonieudoh Mfon said, “Before a man gets married to the woman he is expected to pay what is called bride price. There is no specific amount to be paid, it all depends on the family of the lady. Whatever amount the groom is asked to pay that is what he will pay depending on each family.

“Unlike some other states who refund their bride price, ours is not refunded. The bride price once paid is automatically for the family. Whatever happens to it concerns no one including the wife and the family could do whatsoever they please with the money.

“In some other areas in Akwa-Ibom when the bride price is collected it is given to just the first son and the last son no matter how many sons they are .

Vox Pop

Some of the people highlighted some of the issues in bride price.

Evangelist Edward Umunnakwe: “In Igbo land we collect bride price. But any woman whose bride price is not paid is not considered married until it’s paid. This is because bride price is an official recognition that a woman is married in Igbo culture for everyone to attest. The bride price also varies from family to family, some collect bride price as small as N5,000 while some collect as much as N100,000.

Mr Andy Ihewunwa

“Bride price is a sign of seriousness and a cultural tradition, tribes in Igbo land. In Mbaise, Imo state bride price is expensive but in Mbaitoli Ikeduru, Imo state, bride price varies from N100 to N1000 as well as Arondizogu, Imo state bride price is just N25.” The only disadvantage is that once the bride price has been paid, the woman has no right to do anything without the husband’s consent whether he is there or not. The bride price is also used against the husband such that if he is not responsible, the bride’s family returns the bride price.

Mrs Momoh: “In Edo state, we do not place emphasis on bride price. But each family collects bride price according to their custom. The truth is that, the family collect this bride price to refute the fact that they give their daughters away freely. But, the Muslims in Edo state do not collect bride pride. Their belief is that they are not selling their daughters rather they offer them as sadakka to their husbands” “it gives the woman the respect she deserves both by the groom’s family and the society at large.

Evangelist Roseline Christopher: Igbo’s act like the Jews when it comes to the issue of bride price. In Igbo land, the bride price gives the woman the legal right to be called a wife and the price is not fixed but depends on the family of the woman. It is this bride price that is refunded when there is a case of divorce between a couple.