In his recent world tour President Russell Nelson visited Kenya and spoke about a specific cultural custom in Kenya, the bridewealth or bride price. President Nelson called it ‘dowry’, which is technically incorrect, but that is not the issue I want to raise here. Bridewealth consists of the valuables that are transferred from the family of the groom the father of the bride, as a compensation for the loss of a woman. Dowry are the valuables a bride takes with her into her married state, often part of her inheritance, to be used by her and/or her husband. African marriages, throughout, are bridewealth marriages: one ‘pays’ for a bride.
While lauding the Africans for their family orientation, Nelson denounced the custom of bridewealth, arguing that it does not square with the practice of the gospel; in fact Dallin Oaks had done so before him in a talk about gospel culture. One major reason for raising the issue of bridewealth payments, is that it puts a heavy burden on the young men who need many years to get all the cows and money needed for such a transaction, before they can settle down with a family. That not only tends to postpone their marriage, but also precludes them from going on a mission, and one can understand why both church leaders frowned on the custom. So the advice to the Kenyan members was not to follow the custom and marry without bridewealth payments. In this blog I want to argue that the blanket condemnation of the custom is based on lack of understanding of the African situation, and suggest a more productive approach bridewealth.
For most North Atlantic countries, American as well as European, the critique on bridewealth sounds reasonable: Why should one have to pay for a bride? In fact, we come from societies in which in the past dowries have been much more important: brides brought money into the marriage, especially when coming from wealthy families; this enabled the husband to keep his wife in the lifestyle she was accustomed to. In our days these dowries have disappeared – with the ‘trousseau’ as a cultural survival of this arrangement – but the reasoning is still with us, and is antithetical to the notion of bridewealth. Indeed, we do not pay for a wife. (As an aside, we do pay to get rid of a wife, though, an arrangement called alimony.) So there is a cultural gap between ‘us’ and Africa, and we need to take a closer look at the institution of bridewealth, before passing judgment. For outsiders all foreign customs are weird.
In practice, bridewealth requirements do tend to make boys marry later and girls marry younger, that is correct. However, most bridewealth comes from the boys’ family, his parents, uncles, aunts, thus from the family at large. The amount various between the various ethnic groups in Africa, ranging from a token bridewealth to herds of cattle. The Dogon I study in Mali demand that the groom works for some time on his father-in-law’s fields; helped by his age-mates the young man clears the fields, and prepares them for sowing before the rains come. In all a light bride service, as we call this (as another aside: compare this with Jacob’s travail for Laban when he wanted the marry Rachel). But among many East-African cattle raisers, like in Kenya, bridewealth can be substantial, in cattle, money or both, and the sheer amount might postpone marriages, or, stated differently, increase the age difference between groom and bride.
What is the cultural rationale of the bridewealth. Definitely not one of simply ‘buying a bride’. If anything, the value transferred before marriage is an expression of the importance of the woman. In three ways. The first is fertility: children are very welcome in African cultures, a pro-natality that permeates the continent. Second, the labor by the woman is highly valued, both domestic and in the fields, as well as her earning capacity in trade. The third way evidently is the husbands exclusive right on sex. The first reason is crucial. Women are the source of life and that does not come free. People matter, and children are an asset. My Cameroon assistant told me that he highly respected his mother-in-law since she had given him the most valuable gift possible, a wife, and one cannot repay life. Even the bridewealth he had paid, was never really enough. A good wife is the best investment any man can ever make.
African marriage is a family matter, and binds two families in a lasting relationship, that anthropologists call affinity. Families are of supreme importance in Africa, and the bridewealth payment cements this relationship. Also, it serves as a tool against easy divorce. When a married daughter leaves her husband, her father will have to refund the bridewealth, something few brides’ fathers look forward to. Both bride and groom stand in some debt to their families, linked as they are to the larger whole by a series of mutual obligations. Family members can rely upon each other, since they have invested in each other’s relationships.
There is a lot more that can be said about family-cum-bridewealth, precisely because it is a pivotal institute in the fabric of African society, and anthropologists have studied it in depth; I myself have done so in Cameroon. But this much is abundantly clear: it is an expression of the value of a woman, of the value of life, of the desirability of children, of the importance of the family and its values, of the permanent character of families, of the centrality of marriage. How much closer to the gospel can a cultural institution come? This is pure gospel, albeit the African way. Of course, in some groups the cost is so high to preclude young men from marrying at a convenient age, since rich old men then dominate the marriage market. And some youngsters do not have family to support them, and have a hard time gathering the bridewealth. But usually there are loopholes around these problems.
Thus, a simple denouement of the custom of bridewealth, is – to say the least – ‘culturally uninformed’. Bridewealth is the LDS marriage ideology given African form. Opting out of the custom, as the Kenyan saints were advised to do, is hardly a possibility. They may refuse to pay, but who will then give them their daughter in marriage? Any man who would acquiesce to do so, will be unable to help his sons get enough for his own bridewealth, a terrible risk. The only option might be to marry a girl with an LDS father. That means that renouncing the bridewealth would mean a totally endogamous situation, marrying only ‘on the inside’. Now endogamy is not alien to the Church, but it would lead to a complete isolation of the local Saints from Kenyan society at large, which is a bad idea. Those ‘cheap’ marriages will not be taken seriously, the members would lose any respectability and so would the Church. One simply cannot go, as a minute minority, against the dominant strain of society without severe costs. Unless one aims at being a sect or cult, exactly the image we are eschewing.
But my main point is that there is preciously little reason to be so negative about bridewealth in the first place. The institution is embedded in the heart of the African culture, closely tied in with family values, the value of life and of children, all embodied in the supreme value of women. One cannot separate these items from each other; lauding the Africans for their family orientation while condemning the bridewealth is nonsensical.
In a worldwide church we cannot and should not judge other cultures by our own cultural standards. Our North-Atlantic way of organizing ourselves around the gospel is not the only way, neither in the Domestic Church, nor in the International one. We need multiculturality in a world church, and the wider the good news is spread, the more we should be in for some surprises.
Now, what could be a solution of the issues that Nelson and Oaks addressed? After all, the custom is not without its problems. The first would be to keep the bridewealth within bounds. All African countries strive prevent excessively high bridewealth payments, and the Kenyan LDS church should support those. Furthermore, wards and branches can serve as crowd funding organizations for those boys without the backing of a family. Then the mission. Let us be clear: most African boys going on a mission are not able to pay for their own mission anyway, and that will not change quickly. That is why the Church has a mission fund in the first place, and no better continent to use that fund than Africa. But also here the ‘larger families’, the branches and wards, can butt in, proud as they are to have a missionary in the field.
So, instead of a blanket condemnation of bridewealth, let us realize that since Africans are joining the church, we have to cherish the family orientation that they so amply demonstrate, and thus have to work towards adapting the bridewealth requirement, that belongs to the very same family orientation. It can be done, but only if we respect other cultures and try to understand them.
Thank you for the background and insights.
Would be interested in the African Mormon, and African feminist views on the issue
You overlook the reason for the opposition most often voiced in the LDS context (which goes a lot farther back that this spring’s visit to Kenya): Because the money usually cannot be paid by a young man — even with the help of the extended family that you seem to think is so easy to come by — couples often live together without marriage for years before they can marry legally or be sealed in the temple. This undercuts the very family stability that you say the dowry champions. Accepting such arrangements would destroy any pretense of the necessity for chastity or the Church’s ability to teach it to younger people who are not yet intending to marry. These are factors critical to the stability of the Church as well as the spiritual welfare of individual families. You’ll pardon me, I’m sure, if I’m not persuaded that you know better than a generation of prophets and apostles.
This sounds more like a defense of slavery than an attempt to help us understand other cultures.
The father has to pay back the bridewealth if the woman wants to leave? Sounds like a situation ripe for abuse. A man can hold his wife hostage because she does want to make the rest of her family destitute.
This entire custom does not respect the autonomy of women at all. Women are just property, even if they are “highly valued” property.
I’m sorry Walter, I typically enjoy your articles, but this one made me sick to my stomach throughout. You argue for positive effects of this custom, but I feel like those positive effects pale in comparison to the negative ones.
“[c]ouples often live together without marriage for years before they can marry legally or be sealed in the temple.” This is certainly true in contemporary American culture without any bride price or bridewealth. It would not surprise me if it were also true in the African context, but the African context is completely new to me. It would be interesting to see posts or responses including the LDS and sociological background of Ardis’ comment as well as any data on the problem of abuse in the context of African marriages subject to the bridewealth traditions. Is such sociological analysis of those matters available somewhere?.
Thank you for the post, Walter. It’s a complicated situation for sure and I appreciate you working through some of the less-obvious implications. You present an opposing view while acknowledging, at brief, some of the difficulties of the current practice.
Apropos, I remember when, on a mission in the Ivory Coast, the church decided that couples who were not legally married, but ‘only traditionally’ so could no longer be baptized. There was immediate uproar among the members that it would not work and was an affront to their system. Despite the fact that the government did not recognize those marriages, the church, in fact, back-tracked a few months later and said that people in such marriages could again be baptized. They read a situation, make a judgement call, and were wrong.
To wit, I would argue against Ardis’ claim that ‘a generation of prophets and apostles’ know more about the nuances of the practice. Nowhere in their job description (being called by God) is there anything about understanding nuances of culture. Often, even, the scriptures continue to remind us that they often have little education. This does not devalue their calling as prophets. But it also doesn’t mean every comment from them is ‘better’ informed than those on the ground, even if those boots are periphery.
Thank you, also, JR, for your comment. On point and something to consider in this context.
I may have missed this, but is that system similar to the 8 cow wife system in Johnny Lingo? And if so, do you think the Church will openly discourage people from showing it or sharing the story in church settings?
I agree with Ardis concerning the now prevalent practice of living together while waiting for marriage. The children born before the couple has been sealed, then need sealed to their parents, where if the families are married in the temple at the start, those children would be born in the covenant. Being a convert, I can bear witness from my own life experience that being born in the covenant is no small matter.
Cultural practices are not sacrosanct. They are literally the “traditions of men”, & can be modified, when there are good reasons. When I converted, I gave up the cultural expectation of having a large church wedding ( which my mother wanted), having my father walk me down the aisle ( something to which I had looked forward), and as a result of my choosing to be married in the temple, rather than sealed a year later, my parents chose not to attend my reception. It was difficult being completely without support from my family on my wedding day, but I would not trade my Sealing in the temple, & our children being born in the covenant, to do it any other way.
My first reaction when I heard this advice given from the prophet, was that it would cut down on interfaith marriages in Africa rather quickly. Perhaps that is one of the reasons, but I trust that the Lord knows what He is doing. Just because we do not understand, or see from the vantage point of the Lord, is not a good reason to dismiss the counsel of his prophet. Following the prophet has seldom been a popular thing to do, & I do not foresee that changing in the foreseeable future. Those with faith will follow; those without will not. Thus it has always been, regardless of geographic location on this earth.
Former African missionary. Bride price or Labola on my mission was and is an evil practice that prevents men and women that love each other from marrying until they can come up with huge amounts of money. President Nelson is correct in condemning it.
Same thoughts as a lot of commenters above. I served in West Africa, what I saw was the tradition was very much about the money, and so the reality was that people lived in essentially common law marriages because they could not afford otherwise. They could not be baptized without a legal or traditional marriage (and could not be sealed without a legal marriage), so I would encourage that if traditional marriage was not within the reasonable means of the couple, we would help them get legally married, which would allow them to be married like they truly wished to be, and also allow them to get baptized and/or sealed.
I remember in one of my areas we organized a mass-marriage ceremony for 15+ couples. It was a great occasion, and I witnessed the blessing it was to so many of them.
I’m for respecting family and custom within reason, but if the means are simply not there, marriage and baptism and sealing should not be about money. Some traditions of men should be broken when it means being able to do the right thing before God, something I think Jesus taught over and over. I also agree that Pres Nelson is on the right side here.
I think people are missing the crux of this post. From the OP: “In this blog I want to argue that the blanket condemnation of the custom is based on lack of understanding of the African situation, and suggest a more productive approach bridewealth” and “Thus, a simple denouement of the custom of bridewealth, is – to say the least – ‘culturally uninformed’. ”
This post is arguing that the issue is complex and that more understanding would help to actually address the concerns.
Of course, many comments then respond with their own blanket statements rejecting such an appeal. It’s no wonder why we are in this situation and why the Church has often found itself later ‘adding in’ nuance to the pronouncements on complex topics (particularly regarding cultural situations: gender identities, for example) as collective understanding increases.
So nice that all these former missionaries have such deep insight into African culture. (As if there was such a thing as a single African culture.) From my years of observation, that puts them well outside the normal missionary experience. Can any of you, without restoring to Google, accurately report on the current legal status of bride price in the country and region where you served?
The other day someone from Africa commented at length on a Mormon Newsroom post on Facebook, describing his concerns with the guidance on bride price. I could only skim what he said and meant to read his comments after the weekend, but they have disappeared, so I am glad to see this discussion. My conclusion is that telling people to stop paying bride price would be similar to telling Americans to stop getting marriage licenses. Marriage licenses are an entrenched system and doing without would mean giving up all the attendant American social meaning and benefits, including tax and inheritance benefits. Not a small thing.
People who are at the forefront of great social changes tend to pay a high personal cost, and I would hope that such counsel is given only after serious and educated understanding of the cost it may entail, and practical advice for those seeking to leave the system.
However, my reservations about this post are that Walter may be addressing the system as it existed several decades ago (I cannot tell one way or the other) since he does not mention how often young people now cohabit rather than marry — a point mentioned in the discussion, and which certainly plays into the counsel. He also does not mention the connection between bride price and polygyny, or that by limiting divorce, the practice may support the long-term abuse of women. Furthermore, it only takes a second on Google to turn up many academic articles that link bride price and female genital mutilation.
I’d second the structural issues people have brought up. In particular Ardis’ point about the structural consequences of being poor and not being able to afford a bridewealth. I tend to come from the view where everything is a series of tradeoffs and the good choice is the one that has more good than bad in consequences. In this case we’re contrasting the social stigma of breaking tradition with the effects on fornication, marriage, going on missions and so forth. Being largely ignorant of the area it’s impossible for me to make a decision. But I’d think the stigma costs would have to be pretty high to counteract the pretty clear costs.
Brian, I understand what the OP presented, but I disagree with the importance placed on being “culturally informed”. The OP has the right to present the view he has, but I also have the right to reject that view, which I have. Both you & he have the right to hold whatever opinion you do about my views, but that does not make your views “correct”. I believe that the Lord has called a prophet for the benefit of His people on earth, & that we ignore the counsel of that prophet at our own peril, as did the majority of the people in the days of Noah.
Brian, in the United States we used to have a custom where a man could give a large sum of money to another man in order to purchase the exclusive right to demand unpaid servitude from a 3rd human being. Let’s call that sum of money a “slavewealth” if you will.
Was getting rid of slavery easy or painless? No. We had to fight a war over it, and in many ways the effects of slavery are still impacting the descendants of those subjected to it. Is it a complex social issue with no easy answers on how to resolve? Yes.
That doesn’t mean that denouncing slavery as wrong and immoral is not the right thing to do.
Bridewealth as described in this article means that the father owns the daughter and through the exchange of the bridewealth that ownership is transferred to the husband. Walter has an entire paragraph explaining the cultural meaning of the bridewealth. He says the bridewealth is given in exchange for three things: fertility, labor, and exclusive rights to sex. No consideration is given to the thoughts, feelings, or rights of the woman in this scenario. No consideration is given for the right of the woman to refuse. What Walter is describing is slavery.
Now maybe it’s more complex than that. It probably is. But if Walter was trying to help give more cultural awareness towards this practice he has failed in spectacular fashion. It’s trying to put a bow on slavery by saying that it is part of the foundations of the culture and so should be respected. This essay echoes many of the same arguments that were made in defense of slavery of Africans centuries ago. Those arguments were wrong then, and Walter’s arguments here are wrong now.
I’m not sure why everyone is addressing me. I’m not defending brideprice.
@Need citation. Not sure anybody made the claim that there is a single African culture? Working with many people in this situation, and having organized marriages in response to this very issue, working through family issues/implications, etc., I think does give me some insight worth sharing here, take it for what it’s worth I suppose. Traditional marriage was not recognized by the gov’t in Ghana (where I was primarily). I don’t recall it being different in the Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Sierra Leonne, or Liberia either.
@Brian. I agree blanket condemnation is an oversimplified approach, but it certainly de-incentivized marriage for the average couple from what I saw, and so it’s hard for me to imagine where this custom should outweigh getting married, baptized, sealed, if there simply is not enough money to go around. Legal marriage for these couples did not preclude them from ‘eventually’ getting traditionally married, which really was the situation they were already in living together, and sometimes already with children.
Brian, I addressed my comment to you because you said we were missing the crux of the post. My post in response was to demonstrate that I didn’t miss the crux of the post but instead disagreed with it outright.
@Steve LHJ and @Jared vdH
Thank you for elaborating. I don’t think Walter is suggesting that the custom should outweigh getting married, though I may be mistaken. I think he’s arguing for a more effective approach to dealing with the concerns of brideprice. Like you both, I don’t think the negatives outweigh the positives either. But I also think if we really want to help the situation, understanding the culture and then addressing the concern in the language of that culture is a smart move. It seems Jared disagrees with this. Some people are more aggressive in their views and more black/white in their thinking that myself. Hopefully it balances out. In the end, we are probably more on the same page than not.
I live part-time in East Africa, and I’m not a big fan of either Presidents Nelson or Oaks. But on this issue, I agree with both. Some cultural traditions need to be broken. For example, as previously mentioned, female circumcision. Certainly, cannibalism is another. I agree with many of commenters: bridewealth is not healthy.
Having said that, I agree with the OP. The Church needs to be more culturally sensitive. Our church service could use more African culture: drums and other local instruments, better hymns, more native dress, etc.
A year or two ago, I received an email from a branch president requesting more net so he could marry. He eventually didn’t marry, he couldn’t come up with the money. He is a wonderful man. Is this really a tradition we want to continue?
Ultimately, it’s up to African LDS saints where the direction of tradition should go, not western LDS saints. In the U.S., at least, we still have a fair share of tradition still entangled with the LDS gospel and church.
Walter, I look at this OP and your previous OP “Where’s the wedding,” and sense a theme going: social expectation surrounding marriage.
It seems LDS members, irregardless of cultural background, have personal choices to make about marriage involving the temple and their society’s expectation.
To be honest, I approach Pres. Nelson’s words, as he currently speaks for the LDS church at large, the way I learned to approach the LDS church’s response to same gender marriage in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Like the choices faced by Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, neither choice was intrinsically good or evil, but rather opposite in that the chooser could not back out of the choice once it was made.
The choice to break tradition, just like the choice to be baptized into the LDS church, is personal and eternal.
Considering the bride price tradition being biblical in scope, as you pointed out in your OP, the same Lord who countenanced similar traditions in previous generations would appear to expect his children to move on from that tradition now.
Consistently, the Lord expected his children to move on from the tradition of excluding black men from the priesthood so his church in Africa could grow unimpeded by LDS members not ready to move on.
Thanks for all the comments. I want to start with Jerry Schmidt who came up with a conclusion I fully underwrite: “it’s up to African LDS saints where the direction of tradition should go, not western LDS saints”. Yes, it is up to the ones who live a culture to change it, not outsiders. Culture is not sacrosanct, can change and has to change with the times. It consists of a series of choices to solve some recurrent issues, and one important one in any culture is how to create a situation in which the next generation will be generated, i.e. marriage.
Chastity is of course an issue, but even chastity depends on a cultural definition of what is a marriage, and on when a marriage is actually a marriage. Given, of course, in principle in all cultures, that a man and a woman are faithful to their committed relationship. Many African cultures have more than one possible definition. Traditional marriages are completely accepted, except in urban areas. Thanks for the example of Ivory Coast.
So, yes, what is at stake, in all our cultural adaptations to the eternal principles of the gospel, is the relationship between (culturally coloured) definitions of what marriage is. Much of the debates on LGTB marriages is just a struggle about who has the power of definition.
My general theme indeed is that marriage is a very cultural thing, and that we all have to work to fit in the eternal side of it in our own personal and cultural ways, and a one-sided definition is never sufficient.
Clark is correct: my point is that blanket condemnation is not the way to treat foreign cultures. Weighing the pros and cons of a custom is never easy, and the balance shifts continuously. The flip side of the brideprice system is definitely there. The informal ways of just living together till the bride wealth can be paid, is one of them. That creates a situation in limbo, socially and gospelwise, and I did not go into that, though I know it well.
Associating brideprices with genital mutilation and slavery is nonsense, the link with polygyny however is clear and present. Africa is the continent of polygyny, but I fail to see why that is a real problem. Since when is polygyny the ultimate evil? However, polygyny in Africa is on the wane, monogamy is on the rise, but again this is their choice.
The female point of view is underrepresented, that is correct. African women have a very clear understanding about their own value in society, may have ambivalent feelings about the bride price system but they do share the pro-natal outlook the brideprice system embodies.
I am not wiser than a “generation of prophets”, surely not, but after a lifetime of studying the continent I know Africa better than our leaders do. After all, the Church’s track record in dealing with Africans is ‘less than perfect’. And my expreince in church leadership taught me that I could expect to be inspired after I did my utmost to be informed; inspiration tends to follow information.
Evidently my reading of your essay is so off in your view that my comments are written of as pure nonsense. I want to let you know that I am not commenting out of some sense of zeal in defending the prophet or willful misunderstanding of your writing to make a rhetorical point. I readily admit that my sense that bridewealth and slavery are similar comes only from your essay. I’ve never been to Africa nor do I have any real interaction with any African culture.
However to say that the female point of view is underrepresented in your essay is quite the understatement. The essay comes across to me as entirely from the male point of view. It is entirely about the interaction between the father and potential husband and their opinions about the women in these relationships. There is no mention of female agency or autonomy throughout.
I’m sorry for apparently misunderstanding you.
Yes, Africans will ultimately be the ones to decide how to handle bridewealth in their society. Culture is difficult to change from within that culture and nearly impossible to change from without. A relative handful of Saints dropping the practice will not appreciably change it on a culture wide scale.
Perhaps President Nelson would have been better off by saying that there are problems with the bridewealth system and encouraging the saints to work to find culturally acceptable solutions to those problems. Still effectively the same stance, but worded more sensitively.
As you will recall, Russell Nelson invoked the pro-natal outlook of his own example, ten children born to him and his first wife, five of whom he wouldn’t have if he had waited until out of debt to marry. It was an argument of more worth to a pro-natal people than to most Europeans or Americans. Maybe Russell Nelson does know something about the multiple cultures he has addressed over the decades. Or maybe I’m wrong and he has also given talks in Europe encouraging people that if they follow his example, then they too may be able to have ten children instead of only five.
JohnM, yes, that part of President Nelson’s talk was pro-natal. Using himself as an example, however, was beside the point for many. There is and has long been a vast difference between the prospects of an American heart surgeon getting out of debt while supporting a large family and the prospects of many others for getting out of debt while supporting a large family. The bankruptcy solution is not worldwide and even in the US does not provide a get out of debt solution to taxes or student debt. Accordingly, it may be that even knowing “something about the multiple cultures he has addressed” this use of example is culturally insensitive in multiple cultures. It is one thing to contemplate the hypothetical of not having had one’s loved children and quite another to contemplate family planning to make it reasonably possible to provide for children one does not yet have.
For thousands of years, a marriage occurred when a man and woman said it did, and/or when their community said it did. Those marriages were legitimate and were respected by God. Paper certificates and governmental sanction are new, and are not necessary for a marriage to be real in the eyes of God. But we forget that thousands of years of history had no state-issued marriage certificates.
Consider Panaca, Nevada. It’s an isolated town with 900 people and two LDS wards that was settled by Mormons in 1864. Within the boundaries of the Panaca Stake, the population at the last census was 5,345; that was the total population of Lincoln County, not just the count of Latter-day Saints in its six wards.
The current stake president was called and set apart by Elder Joseph Sitati from Bungoma, Kenya. Elder Sitati of the Seventy said that the occasion was his first visit to Lincoln County. There is no lack of Seventies whose familiarity with the region dwarfs Elder Sitati’s who could have been assigned to reorganize the Panaca Stake, but there is something very apostolic in having a foreigner come among strangers and set apart leaders for them and counsel them on how to live Christ’s gospel. I’m glad the saints of Panaca were so blessed.
We seem to be working towards a consensus. Yes, being culturally sensitive is important, especially when coming from the rich North, as we do. About the female side, I intend to give the women a larger voice than I did in my piece, so here is the following. I just came back from a defense of thesis by a Zambian working in Namibia, attended i.a. by three women from East Africa, one from Kenya, one from Zimbabwe, and one from Zambia, all PhD candidates here at Wageningen University. So I ‘organised’ a little very informal focus group discussion, about what their views as educated and relatively successful urban dwelling women were on the ‘lobola’ (brideprice) issue. All three countries know the system, to some extent. A nice discussion followed which I can best subsume as “ambivalent”. Their problem was not postponement of marriage (let alone mission), but the seesawing between “being appreciated in a clear, material fashion” and “being considered a property”. They all viewed appreciation of womenhood as important, and were in favour of a diversification of lobola-like transactions. In fact, that is what is happening in the larger cities, but also between various ethnic groups. One of the ladies, of the Kamba group, said that three goats now constituted most of the transfer in her group, a small material transfer – consumed mainly in the festivities. Later this present would be completed with additional help by the spouse to the woman’s family whenever a specific need presented itself. Like help in building a house, but dependent on need and means. They also noted that the feminist stance “we do not like to be considered property”, a feeling they shared to some extent, was much more a theory than actual practice, as for most women accepting the lobola as her marriage arrangement, gave her an iron clad position both in her husband’s home and versus her father. Often, at least, diversity reigns.
So: ambivalent, but fully realising that lobola cannot be simply done away with, and should not: according to them it should diversify, be contained, and remain in some form since appreciation is seen as a good thing.
It’s not like western weddings are free from issues of money, and deciding what family pays what. Yes, if needed it can be really bare bones, but there are also bridezilla’s. In addition to the bride price are there marriage traditions about families paying for certain parts of the wedding? What Pres. Nelson set some realistic goals for the bride price? Something like “it shouldn’t be more than what the man can make in 3 months” or something like that?
Weddings cost money, almost anywhere. To restrain these costs seems wise and tradition may help in deciding who helps out whom.
No, pres. Nelson should definitely not set goals for wedding expenses, brideprice or dowry; my point is exactly that such a move is for the African Saints themselves to consider, with some very general guidelines from abroad if needed. Do not make specific rules for other cultures, let them make their own; after all, they do know the gospel and should be trusted to make their own cultural adaptations guided by the spirit.