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Bride price, also known as bride wealth, is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom. (Compare dowry, which is paid to the groom, or used by the bride to help establish the new household, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage.) In the anthropological literature, bride price has often been explained in market terms, as payment made in exchange for the bride's family's loss of her labor and fertility within her kin group. The agreed bride price is generally intended to reflect the perceived value of the girl or young woman.

The same culture may simultaneously practice both dowry and bride price. Many cultures practiced bride price prior to existing records.

Contents

History of the tradition

The Code of Hammurabi mentions bride price in various laws as an established custom. It is not the payment of the bride price that is prescribed, but the regulation of various aspects:

  • a man who paid the bride price but looked for another bride would not get a refund, but he would if the father of the bride refused the match.
  • if a wife died without sons, her father was entitled to the return of her dowry, minus the value of the bride price.

The Hebrew Bible mention the practice of paying a bride price to the father of a minor girl. The practice of the bride price is referred to in the Bible, in the Old Testament. Exodus 22:16-17 says:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.

Deuteronomy 22:28-29 similarly states:

If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay the girl's father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the girl, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

In the Jewish tradition, the rabbis in ancient times insisted on the marriage couple's entering into a marriage contract, called a ketubah. The ketubah provided for an amount to be paid by the husband in the event of a divorce or by his estate in the event of his death. This amount was a replacement of the biblical dower or bride price, which was payable at the time of the marriage by the groom.

This innovation came about because the bride price created a major social problem: many young prospective husbands could not raise the amount at the time when they would normally be expected to marry. So, to enable these young men to marry, the rabbis, in effect, delayed the time that the amount would be payable, when they would be more likely to have the sum. It may also be noted that both the dower and the ketubah amounts served the same purpose: the protection for the wife should her support (either by death or divorce) cease. The only difference between the two systems was the timing of the payment.

The bride price may be seen as related to present-day customs of maintenance for the wife in the event of the breakup of marriage, and family maintenance in the event of the husband not providing adequately for the wife in his will. Another function performed by the amount was to provide a disincentive for the husband to divorce his wife: he would need to have a certain amount to be able to pay to the wife.

The Greeks practiced bride price in ancient times. In the Odyssey, Telemachus complained of the suitors wooing his mother Penelope:

They are too craven to go to the house of her father Icarius, that he may himself set the bride-price for his daughter, and bestow her on whom he will, even on him who finds favour in his sight.

The custom lasted into classical times, by which time it had become a token sum of less value than the bride's dowry.

The practice of bride price also existed in India. It became considered a social evil because of the implications of selling a woman. There was a social and political movement in the early 20th century to end the practice and it was largely successful. The practice of requiring a bride price from the groom has been making a comeback in recent years due to an increasing shortage of women.[citation needed]

Morning gifts, which might be arranged by the bride's father rather than the bride, are given to the bride herself. The name derives from the Germanic tribal custom of giving them the morning after the wedding night. The woman might have control of this morning gift during the lifetime of her husband, but is entitled to it when widowed. If the amount of her inheritance is settled by law rather than agreement, it may be called dower. Depending on legal systems and the exact arrangement, she may not be entitled to dispose of it after her death, and may lose the property if she remarries. Morning gifts were preserved for many centuries in morganatic marriage, a union where the wife's inferior social status was held to prohibit her children from inheriting a noble's titles or estates. In this case, the morning gift would support the wife and children. Another legal provision for widowhood was jointure, in which property, often land, would be held in joint tenancy, so that it would automatically go to the widow on her husband's death.

The tradition today

Under Islamic marriage laws, mahr is paid (or promised to be paid in case of divorce) by the groom to the bride (as opposed to the bride's father). It is mandatory.

The tradition of giving bride price is still practiced in many Asian countries. The amount changing hands may range from a token to continue the traditional ritual, to many thousands of US dollars in some Thai marriages.

Thailand

A traditional, formal presentation of the bride price at a Thai engagement ceremony.

In Thailand, bride price (locally known as sin sot and often erroneously referred to by the English term "dowry") is common in both Thai-Thai and Thai-foreign marriages. The bride price may range from nothing, if the woman is divorced, has a child fathered by another man, or is widely known to have had premarital relations with many men; to ten million Thai baht (US$330,000) or more for a woman of high social standing, a beauty queen, or a highly educated woman. The bride price in Thailand is paid at the engagement ceremony, and consists of three elements: cash, Thai (96.5% pure) gold, and the more recent Western tradition of a diamond ring. The most commonly stated rationale for the bride price in Thailand is that it allows the groom to demonstrate that he has enough financial resources to support the bride (and possibly her family) after the wedding. In many cases, especially when the amount is large, the parents of a Thai bride will return all or part of the bride price to the couple in the form of a wedding gift following the engagement ceremony.

China

In traditional Chinese culture, an auspicious date is selected to Ti Qin (literally meaning "propose marriage"), where both families will meet to discuss the amount of the bride price demanded, among other things. A couple of weeks before the actual wedding, the ritual of Guo Da Li (literally meaning "performing the rites") takes place (on an auspicious date of course). The groom and a matchmaker will visit the bride's family bearing gifts like wedding cakes, sweetmeats and jewelry, as well as the bride price. On the actual wedding day, the bride's family will return a portion of the bride price (sometimes in the form of dowry) as a goodwill gesture.

Changing patterns in the betrothal and marriage process in modern China can be represented as the following stages[1]:

  1. Ti qin, "making an offer of marriage";
  2. He tian ming, "divination";
  3. Jian mian, "looking in the face", i.e. meeting;
  4. Ding hun, "being betrothed";
  5. Yao ri zi, "asking the wifegivers the date of the wedding"; and
  6. Jie xin ren, "transferring the bride".

Africa

In parts of Africa, a traditional marriage ceremony depends on payment of a bride price to be valid. The amount can vary from a token to a great sum. Lobola is a similar tradition in southern Africa. The MIFUMI Project in Africa [2] held a referendum in Tororo, Uganda in 2001 on whether a bride price should be a non-refundable gift. In 2004 it held an international conference on the bride price in Kampala, Uganda. It also issued a preamble position in 2008.[3] In 2007 MIFUMI took the Uganda Government to the Constitutional Court wishing the court to rule that the practice of Bride Price is un-constitutional. The case was heard in September 2009 and judgement is pending. To change customary law in Uganda, however, is more difficult. It is guarded by a patriarcal society and those that could change it have no interest in doing so. Next to constitutional changes, changes in customary law are necessary to abolish the practice.[4]

Central Asia

In many parts of Central Asia, bride price is still expected and mandatory. Various names for it in Central Asia include Kazakh: қалыңмал (IPA: [qaləɴmal]), Kyrgyz: калың (IPA: [qɑlɯ́ŋ]), Uzbek: qalin (IPA: [qalɨn]), and Russian: калым (IPA: [kˠalˠim]). The price may range from a small sum of money or a single piece of livestock to what amounts to a herd of livestock, depending on local traditions and the expectations and agreements of the families involved.

Elsewhere

The bride price practice contrasts sharply with the poorly understood nuptial arrangement known as brideservice. This is practiced among other regions of the world, including the Native Amazonian peoples, such as the Urarina of Peru.

Criticisms

The bride pride is the gift in the transaction that has the purpose to maintain the continuity of the two groups' social relationship by compensating the loss of one object (daughter) by another object (money). The bride price can be seen as a a social custom that permits the sale and purchase of girls and women; women are assimilated to merchandise that men can exchange with other merchandise such as money or women.

In some cases impoverished or selfish parents use the bride price custom to sell their daughters to the highest bidder. The incentive of money can lead to the bride price custom being exploited by some parents. Another problem that has been linked with the bride price custom is marriage by abduction (see the long article on bride kidnapping). Men who cannot afford to pay the normal bride price may abduct and rape teenage girls in an attempt to force their parents to agree to the marriage and to a reduction in the bride price.[5]

The tradition in fiction

  • A famous Telugu play Kanyasulkam (Bride Price) satirised the practice and the brahminical notions that kept it alive. Though the practice no longer exists in India, the play, and the movie based on it, are still extremely popular in Andhra Pradesh.
  • A popular Mormon film, Johnny Lingo, used the device of a bride price of a shocking amount in one of its most pivotal scenes.
  • Buchi Emecheta wrote a novel named The Bride Price.

References

Further reading








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