The history of dowry goes way back in time. Scriptural texts from African, Asian and European cultures show evidence that the union between a man and a woman is usually marked by an exchange of either money or other items of value.
But as modernity marches on and civilization slowly advance on us, more people across cultures and territorial divides are beginning to question the rationale behind dowry. Feminist movements, particularly, have been quite critical of the practice while tagging it same time as archaic, backward and useless. There is even further argument supporting the notion that dowry supports the institution and perpetuation of patriarchy.
In many African cultures, a bachelor gathers things of value or even a large sum of money, often pre-determined by the spinster’s family, and heads over to present it in goodwill. Oftentimes, negotiations of what the dowry has to comprise breaks down between a groom’s family and the bride’s family. Sometimes because it might be too bogus for the man’s financial standing or some other disagreement.
The second layer of gifting/propositioning is irrespective of the first, which must have involved wooing the woman with things of value. After all, in a gradually climbing western culture of proposals, which a lot of Africans are taking after, a man still goes out of his way to propose to his woman with a gift. Couldn’t this be taken as a watered down version of dowry? In any case, why not take it as representative of dowry if it also involves an exchange of not just emotion but also of a valuable item – a ring.
This is where most of the criticism on dowry comes from: while some see it as symbolising purchasing a bride from her family, others view the financial pressure of paying a bogus dowry as laying an undue patriarchal burden on unmarried men. Also, with the way a vast number of traditional African men dominate their wives at home, many belief the dowry gives the man a sense of entitlement, where the woman is seen his procured possession and as an instrument to be controlled. All these may be true or untrue, but context of particular relationships may bear more direct reality in such cases.
But it has now gotten to a point where some modern families have to demand for particular cogent reasons why the other family wants a dowry to be paid for their daughter, especially if they want it to seem like their ward is being commoditized. There is hardly a major argument supporting dowries nowadays than the fact that it is just a long-standing tradition which even more progenies have to follow blindly.
In a rather interesting addition however, a user on Twitter dropped a rare piece of information which indicated that when men propose to their heartthrobs with an engagement ring, their women naturally ought to replicate with a complementary gift as well. This fact was corroborated by an etiquette expert who was also once Butler to Prince Charles. The gift, said to be mostly a wrist-watch, though not a compulsion on the bride, was said to be representative of the acceptance of a man’s proposal.
If this is taken seriously enough, we may indeed then begin to see dowry and proposals as more of representing the reciprocity of romance and the beauty of exchanging not only love but also valuable items. It will be easier then, to also see dowry as merely symbolic of a love exchange and a confirmation with familial witnesses of the brewing romance between couples.
Featured image source: Nairaland Forum