The payment of bride price is an ancient practice that is very prominent in most African countries. Bride price is as old as time and it will be near impossible to expunge it from the process leading to marriage in most African cultures. It can be described as one of the significant requirement by the family of the bride before being joined in matrimony to the groom. It can be paid either in cash, tangible assets, consumables or sometimes a combination of all. The bride price is symbolic and it proves to the family of the bride that their daughter's spouse or intending spouse holds her in high esteem and acknowledges her worth.
In Africa, different tribe and cultures have different mode and patterns of requesting, collecting and accepting bride price. Yet, it is pertinent to note that individuals and family units are at liberty to follow custom practices or re-evaluate the bride price either upward or downward.
My homeland, Nigeria, is home to over 300 tribes with different cultures and value system. Different tribes have different ways by which they measure what constitute the bride price and several other components that makes up the marriage process. The variance in the price of bride price requested by these tribes has undoubtedly made the marriage process to women from specific tribes more convenient financially while the reverse is the case with women from tribes where bride price are exorbitantly pronounced and quite often, such women are labelled as "expensive merchandise".
The phrase "expensive merchandise" is utterly denigrating, yet it will be fiercely argued, mostly by men who have had to break the bank and sometimes run into bankruptcy after paying the towering bride price slammed on their wife's head. For such men, they never give it a second thought before referring to their spouse as an expensive merchandise in the gathering of other men at local beer parlour.
Needful to say, a woman's value cannot be quantified in monetary form neither can it be paid in whatsoever amount of assets or property. Personally, I deem it unacceptable comparing and reducing a woman's value to that of a merchandise. No matter how high or how low the cost of a woman's bride price is, it will and can never equate a woman's inestimable value in assets or monetary form. It is important to state that the bride price being paid by the man is simply an humble demonstration of the man's appreciation of all inputs of the parent and guardians who raised a fine woman.
According to reports and surveys, women whose husband must have paid extremely high amount as bride price are usually susceptible to abuse as there seem to be a prevalence of physical and emotional abuse in such union and the logical reason for such ill treatment isn't farfetched. Yet, it is imperative to state that there are men who still cherish and adore their spouse regardless of how much they have had to cough out as bride price.
The payment of bride price among most tribes remains one of the most important, if not the most important aspect of the marriage rites and it is never handled with levity. For some other tribes, there has been a u-turn in the acceptance of bride price and this simply means returning the bride price to the groom after the marriage rites. The act of returning the bride price, also known as bride token, is geared towards making a statement to the groom that their precious daughter isn't for sale. Gestures such as this can be attributed to the fear of their daughter suffering unjust maltreatment and being handled like a prized possession instead of being treated with the love and care deserving of her as a wife, friend and companion.
In recent times, several objections have been raised against the payment of bride price and its importance in validating a marriage between couples. Most people who clamour for the scrapping of bride price and this is often supported with the claim that the ancient practice doesn't necessarily improves the bride's value rather it is simply an avenue for the bride's father or family to enrich themselves through exorbitant bride price, particularly as known in the Eastern part of Nigeria. While the clamour for its scrapping will rage on, there are those who still hold firm their believe in the payment of bride price saying it makes a woman walk tall among her peers and will further prevent her from being labelled as a "cheap lady" who was taken as a wife without the man fulfilling the necessary marriage rites.
Regardless of the different opinions and notions about the bride price, the fact remains that it is one of the most important segment of the marriage process in Nigeria. It confers honour and respect to the bride and also improves her value as a woman. The bride price, once received by the bride's family, bestows confidence in the them about the ability of the man to love, care and provide for their daughter adequately. To further buttress the importance of bride price in the Nigerian society, there are lots of cases of couples who have lived together for years and have had children without the man paying the bride price and mostly due to the man's financial inability to pay. Yet, severals of such men still had to go back to the woman's family to pay the bride price and also go through every marriage rites.
In spite of the importance of bride price, it is critical to admonish families who tend to use it as an opportunity to enrich or siphon money from the groom rather than have it done in moderation and utmost understanding of the groom's financial status and ultimately not to the detriment of the couple’s comfort post-marriage ceremonies. The ridiculously high cost of bride price pronounced in some areas, if not checked, will inevitably continue to increase the economic burden of grooms or intending grooms seeking the hands of women from such places.
In conclusion, I believe the bride price cannot commensurate with a bride’s worth which in all ways exceeds the money and assets collected as bride price. Whether it is indeed a true measure of a bride’s worth or a get-rich-quick component of the marriage rites, your opinion about this ancient practice is a matter of perception.