The internet was recently awash with news that the family of 17-year-old Nyalong Ngong Deng Jalang in South Sudan gave a chance to five men who lined up in a competition to marry their young daughter with set terms and conditions that the highest bidder (who pays the highest bride price) takes the girl.
A number of men came in with their bids but businessman, Kok Alat, led the race with 500 cows, three V8 cars and $10,000 (about Shs37.4m). Among the suitors competing for Nyalong’s heart are a deputy governor of South Sudan’s eastern Lakes State, David Mayom Riak. It is in his bid to beat the stiff competition that Alat has made the outrageous offer even though the bride price in the area is typically 20 to 40 cows.
According to Edge.ug, an online publication, the vast majority of marriages in South Sudan are thought to be families selling their daughters by exchanging cows.
Bride price is the custom of a groom paying a woman’s family with money, cows, land or other material goods in exchange for a wife. The tradition originated as an official recognition of a marriage and as a gift to the bride’s family. It was also believed to make the woman more valuable and protect her from abuse in her new household.
The practice remains very common in Uganda. How much bride price is paid remains a secret between the two families.
What women say
“Love is never bought and even if he filled the whole compound with material things, they cannot equal the love she is going to invest in the relationship. So if my man brought a lot for bride price, I would feel great because it shows how much he loves and values me.”
Tasha Naava Mazzi, married
“Getting married or coming to a woman’s home is a mutual understanding between two people who are in love. So, if he brought that much, I would not mind as long as it is done in love because material things can never buy love.”
Naava Grey Zalwango, engaged
“It really depends. If it is my parents who asked for most of what my man has brought, yes I would feel like I am being bought but if my husband decided to bring a lot, it would mean he loves me and appreciates my parents for a job well done.” Alisha Nakitto Mpagi, married
What activists think
Dr Sylvia Tamale, human rights activist
“Placing a price tag on a human being is despicable and essentially regarded as criminal today. It is a sexist commodification of women’s bodies which must be rejected. The nuanced rationale behind this historical institution was very different from the commercialisation that it is steeped in today. It is important for people to research about the historical aspects of the institution of bride wealth in Africa.”
Cecilia Engole, Executive Director, Teso Women Peace Activists
“According to the tradition, bride price is supposed to be a token of appreciation the groom takes to the girl’s family. So it should be a gift showing how much the man values the partnership or relationship. It should be done to create a bond between the two people in love. Why would men start competing for a girl? That shows the men bought his wife yet it should not be done in that manner. You cannot buy someone, not even their love.”
What men say
“Bride price should be a way of thanking the parents for raising my wife-to-be. As one cannot dictate on which gift they should be given, let the groom and bride decide on which bride price to pay since there is a wedding which will also need funding.”
Malachi Kabale, married
“A good wife is worth a lot. Also, grooming a child into a person who can make a good wife is not easy. So if someone raised their daughter into that person you can be proud of calling your wife and the mother of your children, paying bride price is okay.”
Edris Mpagi Kajubi, married
“To me, marriage is a commitment for sacrifice, love, care, patience and perseverance. So once a woman is ready to meet and hold onto such, no amount in monetary, material or otherwise is fit for the endurance that is ahead for her.”
Stephen Mbidde, married
“Bride price should not be tagged to a cost. And where a man says, “I paid my cows” and a woman claims, “you have not taken a thing to my parents,” expect no respect. In such a marriage, partners take the other for granted, love and consideration will be very minimal since a man takes the woman or wife as his property.
Partners or anyone intending to marry or get married should know that marriage is supposed to be a place of mutual benefit with trust being a bedrock and each party respecting one another. The moment commodification sets in, it becomes a problem because the other party is viewed as an asset, meaning the owner is able to treat or use it as he desires.”
Phillip Kihumuro, marriage counsellor