I used to think my folks were the modern kind but their immediate transformation to traditional parents the minute I told them I was getting married made me question this.
Let me give you some background.
This year alone, I know seven people who are getting married. Two have already said their ‘I dos’, so five more to go. All of them have either gone through or are going through the traditional processes beforehand.
Across the board, you will hear that it is not cheap and that it is an absolute must if you want a blissful marriage after. We are all Christians by the way and do ‘not conform to the patterns of this world but are transformed by the renewal of the mind.’ How ironical.
No matter what community you come from, there must be a bride price equivalent. The parents will meet for introductions. And shortly after, the bride price negotiations will begin.
Potential problems for the couple apart from outrageous demands are always the relatives who show up out of the woodwork ready to make things difficult.
During the sit downs one thing may have been agreed upon only for an uncle or aunty to say or do something that was not discussed prior.
For the groom, finding a spokesman who will articulate his wishes through proverbs and anecdotes that will warm the hearts of the bride’s side can be a major headache. You know things are going well when you hear laughter…at least I think so.
At face value it may seem like a front to extort the poor groom. The amount of money asked for plus the items requested is enough to give one a headache.
Traditionally though this was not the case and in fact a son declaring he was ready to marry was the impetus needed for the community to rally together to make it possible for their son to get settled. Whatever was requested was meant to be a joint effort.
Dowry serves to fulfill justice and legality in the eyes of the families involved. The community was also meant to offer moral support because it can be a very demanding affair.
Dowry shows honour to the family of the bride while the groom demonstrates that he can provide for his wife and ultimately for the new family the union will create.
But why cows and goats? Is my worth reduced to mere animals?
We know that in the Indian community it is the bride’s family that is meant to pay the bride price. Absurd, right? But when you look at the reasons why it really isn’t. One of the basic functions of dowry was to serve as a form of protection for the wife against ill treatment by her husband.
Dowry used in this way was actually a conditional gift to the husband that had to be restored to the wife or her family if the husband divorced his wife or committed some grave offense against her.
After reading around the issue of dowry in different cultures, I gained a new appreciation of the process and its significance.
I decided to let down my guard and comply. This is even more of a big deal because I am the first daughter, so it’s the first wedding.
It only happens once and might be the first step before we get children to get our families to begin to gel. Also if you are not keen on a white wedding then you might be happy to know that the Marriage Act 2014 recognises customary marriage.
So get your kitenge ready, the cows are coming home.