As tradition evolves, change and some practices vanish from our social landscape. A practice that is seemingly holding on at tether hooks is bride price, commonly known as bogadi. To date bride price remains at the centre of human rights discussions on its relevance or lack of. Once revered as a gesture of appreciation and a way of uniting families through marriage, bride price has now been reflected as a money making venture. However, the labourious exercise of negotiating remains an unshakable fixation on African marriages.
In Northern Africa, in countries like Algeria, Libya and Morocco, bride price is still highly respected. Girls largely have no say in the chosen groom, who is often a cousin. Laws in those countries limit minimum age of marriage to 16. Virgins are known to “fetch a handsome amount” for obvious well-documented reasons. Kagiso Onkokame argues that times have changed and so should the price of cows for wives. “Back in the day men paid a bride price knowing that they would get a woman who had not been tampered with, and was domesticated, fertile and would give you children. I think bride price should be, bogadi for a virgin, and nothing for a spoilt woman,” he says.
Tshenolo Madibe argues that there’s no such thing as a “spoilt woman”, bemoaning some men’s reluctance to follow cultural procedures to take in a wife. “As long as woman leaves her home or that of her family to live with that man, a bride price should be paid. After all, she assumes his family name and becomes the matriarch who will bear him an heir. She also ensures that he is clean and happy, and comes home to a habitable home and warm meal,” she says. She however hastens to add that (vat en sit) cohabitation is one of the main reasons that some men stall marriage. “Why should he marry when he gets everything?” she asks with a sarcastic laugh. (Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?)
A study by Tanzania Media Women Association carried out in 2006 concluded that bride price contributed to sexual abuse and battering among women and denied them the right to own property. In Botswana, marriage (customary) is often in community of property. The woman has to consult her husband to even take out a loan or a specific amount of money from joint accounts, which can be a tall order for financially independent women. Even then, the independent women who shy away from the strict expectation traditional duties still want their family to receive bogadi, to prove that they have been spoken for. Take for example, Naledi Masima, who although is a 21st century independent woman, insisted her partner pay a bride price when he expressed in marriage three years ago. “My parents struggled and scrapped to make me who I am.
I think that’s how women can gauge a man’s seriousness. If a man wants to be with you, he will do whatever it takes to keep you. My husband wasn’t working a good job but he paid bogadi in full,” she says. Although she isn’t enticed by the trappings of whirlwind marriage like wearing a fancy expensive ring and expecting perfection, she insists that bride price amplifies the marital process. “I made it clear to my husband and his family that I wasn’t being bought, but rather, their money was a token of appreciation to be getting another daughter in their family, sealing my husband’s connection to my family as a son-in-law,” she explains.
Cold feet aside, it appears that its money that seems tight. Thabiso Motswetla insists that although it’s widely speculated that local men don’t marry because they are lax towards the marital institution, finances are a huge issue. “I am a young man earning less than P15 000. I have to pay for rent, groceries and petrol, service loans, and give family members money. And you tell me to pay P2500 times eight, plus pay for a tent as well as clothes for a wedding to celebrate a marriage I’m not even sure will work?” he asks with an exasperated look. He admits that although he would like to experience marriage, he cannot afford the whole shebang that preludes this “till death do us part” event.
Whether it’s a ploy to instant wealth attainment or hamper to women’s progress, it’s evident that bride price continues to form an integral part of the African tradition and cultural fibre. At the end of the day, personal choice surpasses the threads of culture.