Today, African brides still value the custom that was practiced during the time of the older generation wherein an African bride price was considered to be an indicator of a bride’s fertility, wealth and social position.
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Traditionally, a groom was expected to offer some amount of his personal property and assets, such as cattle, sheep, blankets or cowries, to the bride before a wedding was finalised. Dowry or bride price in Africa was considered to be a symbol of good faith and sincerity which brought the bride’s and grooms’ families great joy. This also marked the beginning of the bridegroom’s responsibility towards his bride.
Exchange of Dowries Marked the End of Courtship and a Signing of Official Marriage Contracts
This exchange of dowries typically took place in the home town of the two families where the bride lived. The African bride price or bride’s dowry usually consisted of a sum of money paid to the bride by her family as a token of good faith on her part. The amount was then divided between the two families who were going to marry.
However, these arrangements were not always smooth sailing. A traditional dowry system was in place that dictated the amount of dowries given to the bride by her families. In some regions or tribes, the bride price in Africa was a great asset but in others, it represented a great financial liability to the bride and her families. If the dowries were not sufficient for the families, they had to consider other means to fulfill their obligations to each other. The concept of the dowry became controversial as the centuries wore on.
The introduction of the slave trade brought a drastic change in the way marriages were arranged and the way they were judged by either the families or the communities where they occurred. Instead of just giving the bride price in Africa as an exchange of wedding vows, the new dowries became far more than a simple expression of good faith.
The Newly Freed Slaves Were Often Sold as Sexual Commodities or Household Slaves
Sexual slavery, also known as concubines, remained a horrific reality until the advent of the Civil War and the US Civil War. But even during the war, when the demand for sexual slaves exceeded the supply of willing European women, African brides were forced to pay the full African bride price for their freedom.
The definition of the African bride price also reflected the social status of the families that funded the marriage. The more affluent families tended to offer more dowries. The less well-off ones, while not necessarily having the dowries to match their wealth, often offered far less than the European bride prices.
A more complex yet attractive option was introduced to the market by the mid 19th century. The Kenyan groom called the bride price in Africa. As a price paid to free herself from a long-standing marital contract, this was an agreement that would legally bind both parties to the union. This bride then negotiates on her own behalf with her family. It is important to note that the price does not include any of the family’s money, which typically forms a large portion of the overall amount paid by an average African bride. A typical price will be paid only for the bride and her dowry.
By Legally Tying Themselves to the Marriage Contract, This Bride Offers Herself up to the Family That She Loves
She relinquishes all her rights and title to them, but is still able to live, leave and enjoy every moment of her new status as wife. Though the bride price Africa has come to be associated with African culture in general, it was originally a reflection of the financial and legal means that a woman’s family would find to sustain her after the union was completed. Even today, many African families still pay for their bride’s dowries-even in the case of a divorce or death. The dowries are then put in a deposit box and shared among the surviving family members until their monetary needs are met.
The Africa bride price is one of the more interesting aspects of traditional African weddings. Unlike other parts of Africa where it is assumed that the bride brings home the wealth of her family, in Kenya the African bride price has a more dual purpose. Not only does she give her family dowries, but also allows the groom to buy gifts for his new bride. Traditionally, these gifts are used to help improve the household of the bride and the family of the groom. However, many modern cultures are beginning to realize the importance of these gifts and using them for social reasons. Traditionally, these are only given to the bride and are not taken off of the wedding tables.