To which point should we allow our parents and age-old traditions to control and influence our lives? How much of a say should other people have when it comes to our love life and relationships? guest contributor Godson Da-Clarke discusses the subject of dowry and maintains that we should make our own choices rather than take someone else’s orders.
“‘Don’t get it twisted, love is a beautiful thing!’ That was the verdict passed by D’Banj. What the Koko crooner failed to add, however, is that the beauty of love fades away at the point of marriage, at least in Africa. Marriage, which should be the apex of love affairs, has become a sad albatross in the love adventure simply because of the many barriers we put in the way all in the name of tradition. Oh, how I hate that word with perfect hatred! I am speaking here in reference to the many stages of marriage rites in African cultures which discourage rather than strengthen marriage. The worst and pivotal part of these rites of passage is the payment of dowry or bride price to obtain the lady and have her for keeps.

“Before putting this piece to paper and publication, I floated the idea of the termination dowry payment before a random cross-section of people of different age groups and traditional and educational leanings. Most of the responses I got toed the line of ‘How dare you!’ bothering on even the mere thought of it being an anathema. I am utterly astonished that even educated folks who should be more enlightened, having gone through the scholastic rigours of the Ivory Tower, including and especially youths like me, have a hard time questioning the status quo of dowry. It’s amazing how people just take traditions that have been handed down for generations and continue to propagate them without stopping to think about why exactly we do what we do.

“Regardless of whichever tribe you hail from, you will readily agree with me that the man spends money toasting the girl. He spend money for introduction (which they call ‘knocking on the door’) to inform the bride’s family of his intention formally in the presence of his own family. He spends money for dowry. He spends money for traditional wedding. He very likely also spends money for the so-called white wedding in the church or mosque (without which most Christian and Muslim congregations will not endorse the marriage). There are also some who spend money on court wedding. All these, of course, involve several hidden charges apart from the expenses blown away on logistics. By the time processes are completed and conditions fulfilled, the couple is already deep in debt or thin on finances. Meanwhile, the girl’s family is happy to have been enriched by some lump sum.

“Now, shall we tell ourselves and each other the truth, that this ‘family’ neither loves you nor has your best interests at heart? How can people who claim to love you derive so much pleasure in milking you dry by expecting you to make the dowry payment? Sometimes I think it is the failure of the intending couple to stand their ground and call their families’ bluffs that makes parents seem to able to wreck a marriage. Even if a parent from either side is quite troublesome, there’s no child who doesn’t know the weak points of his or her parents. Do you really think your families can run your marriage successfully? It is a lie! Gone are those days when people simply did what their parents or priests of whatever form wanted! These days, you decide what you want and do it.

“So where do we go from here? First, I suggest parents should be reminded that they are the ones who should lay up treasures for their children, not the other way around. Their children are their legacy to the world. They should give, not take, from their children. Put your money where your mouth is. There’s no need to place greater burden than necessary on a man who’s perhaps already spent a lot of himself trying to impress your daughter. That’s the surest way to be respected by the couple: let parents from both sides make the wedding a reality by sponsoring it, having certified that the couple has a means of comfortable livelihood. I think the Yoruba people in Nigeria do that well—they return the bride price and then sponsor the wedding.

“Second, we should realize that civilization has changed the world. If you listen well, you will hear the man tell the bride’s father, ‘I have come to pluck this flower from your garden’, or something like that. We must learn to question preconceived notions. There was a time when girls stayed with their parents till it was time to marry. These days, ladies relocate, often far from their parents, because of work. How, then, do you pluck a flower from a garden that has it no more? The payment of dowry is obsolete because the flower is no more in its father’s field.