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.) 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.
In 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 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.
An evolutionary psychology explanation for dowry and bride price is that bride price is common in polygynous societies which have a relative scarcity of available women. In monogamous societies where women have little personal wealth dowry is instead common since there is a relative scarcity of wealthy men who can choose from many potential women when marrying.
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.
- 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.
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.
Some of the marriage settlements mentioned in the Iliad and Odyssey suggest that bride-price was a custom of Homeric society. The language used for various marriage transactions, however, may blur distinctions between bride-price and dowry, and a third practice called "indirect dowry," whereby the groom hands over property to the bride which is then used to establish the new household. "Homeric society" is a fictional construct involving legendary figures and deities, though drawing on the historical customs of various times and places in the Greek world. At the time when the Homeric epics were composed, "primitive" practices such as bride-price and polygamy were no longer part of Greek society; mentions of them preserve, if they have a historical basis at all, customs dating from the Age of Migrations (ca. 1200–1000 BC) and the two centuries following.
In the Iliad, Agamemnon promises Achilles that he can take a bride without paying the bride-price (Greek hednon), instead receiving a dowry (pherne). In the Odyssey, the least arguable references to bride-price are in the marriage settlements for Ctimene, the sister of Odysseus; Pero, the daughter of Neleus, who demanded cattle for her; and the goddess Aphrodite herself, whose husband Hephaestus threatens to make her father Zeus return the bride-price given for her, because she was adulterous. It is possible that the Homeric "bride-price" is part of a reciprocal exchange of gifts between the prospective husband and the bride's father, but while gift exchange is a fundamental practice of aristocratic friendship and hospitality, it occurs rarely, if at all, in connection with marriage arrangements.
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.
Islamic law commands a groom to give the bride a gift called a Mahr prior to the consummation of the marriage. A mahr differs from the standard meaning of bride-price in that it is not to the family of the bride, but to the wife to keep for herself. In the Qur'an, it is mentioned in chapter 4, An-Nisa, verse 4 as follows:
And give to the women (whom you marry) their Mahr (obligatory bridal money given by the husband to his wife at the time of marriage) with a good heart; but if they, of their own good pleasure, remit any part of it to you, take it and enjoy it without fear of any harm (as Allah has made it lawful).Islamic law considers it haraam for a husband, the groom's family or the bride's family to take the mahr of the bride without her willful decision. However, in many parts of the Muslim world, this aspect of Islamic law is overlooked in favor of practices that more closely align with pre-Islamic or extra-Islamic cultural norms.
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
The tradition of giving bride price is still practiced in many Asian countries and parts of Africa. The amount changing hands may range from a token to continue the traditional ritual, to many thousands of US dollars in some Thai marriages.
In Thailand, bride price (Thai: สินสอด, pronounced [sĭn sòt] 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 men; to millions of Thai baht (US$30,000) 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.
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). 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:
- Ti qin, "making an offer of marriage";
- He tian ming, "divination";
- Jian mian, "looking in the face", i.e. meeting;
- Ding hun, "being betrothed";
- Yao ri zi, "asking the wifegivers the date of the wedding"; and
- Jie xin ren, "transferring the bride".
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 or Lobolo is a similar tradition in some cultures in Southern Africa. In the east African country of Uganda, the MIFUMI Project 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 brought together activists from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa to discuss the effect that payment of bride price has on women. Delegates also talked about ways of eliminating this practice in Africa and elsewhere. It also issued a preamble position in 2008. 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 on bride price in Uganda, however, is difficult as it is guarded by society with some women, especially in the rural areas still approving its relevance. Customary law is also considered more than just bride price but other rituals and ceremonies that enrich Ugandan cultures.Next to constitutional changes, changes in customary law are necessary to abolish the practice.
In many parts of Central Asia, bride price is still expected and mandatory. Various names for it in Central Asia include Kazakh: қалыңмал [qaləɴmal], Kyrgyz: калың [qɑlɯ́ŋ], Uzbek: qalin [qalɨn], and Russian: калым [kɐˈlɨm]. It is also common in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. 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.
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.
- The plot of "A Home for the Highland Cattle", a short story by Doris Lessing hinges on whether a painting of cattle can be accepted in place of actual cattle for "lobola", bride price in a southern African setting.
- Johnson M. Mbugua, a Kenyan writer, wrote a novel titled Mumbi's Brideprice (1971).
- Buchi Emecheta, the Nigerian writer, wrote a novel titled The Bride Price (1976).
- ^ The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology, Edited by Robin Dunbar and Louise Barret, Oxford University Press, 2007, Chapter 26 The evolutionary ecology of family size.
- ^ A.M. Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece (Cornell University Press, 2006), p. 177.
- ^ Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece, p. 180.
- ^ Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece, p. 185.
- ^ Iliad 9.146; Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece, p. 179.
- ^ Odyssey 15.367.
- ^ Odyssey 11.287–297 and 15.231–238. The two versions vary, but the bride-price demanded takes the form of a mythological test, labor, or ordeal; William G. Thalman, The Swineherd and the Bow: Representations of Class in the Odyssey (Cornell University Press, 1998), p. 157f.
- ^ Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece, p. 178.
- ^ Snodgrass, Archaeology and the Emergence of Greece, pp. 178–177.
- ^ Han, Min, "Social Change and Continuity in a Village in Northern Anhui, China: A Response to Revolution and Reform", Senri Ethnological Studies 58, Osaka, Japan: National Museum of Ethnology, December 20, 2001.
- ^ The MIFUMI Project
- ^ "MIFUMI Preamble on Bride Price for Tororo Ordinance 2008"
- ^ Development and Cooperation, Vol.36, 2009, No.11
- ^ Ramet, Sabrina P. (1993). Religious policy in the Soviet Union. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. pp. 220.
- ^ Rakhimdinova, Aijan. "Kyrgyz Bride Price Controversy.". IWPR Issue 17, 22 Dec 05. IWPR. http://iwpr.net/report-news/kyrgyz-bride-price-controversy. Retrieved 25 September 2011.
- Hirsch, Jennifer S., Wardlow, Holly, Modern loves: the anthropology of romantic courtship & companionate marriage, Macmillan, 2006. ISBN 0472099590. Cf. Chapter 1 "Love and Jewelry", on the bride price.