The dowry is still practiced in several of our African countries. Often we apply laws or precepts without really knowing the origin. In this article, we will attempt to answer some questions about this practice.
Origin since the earliest antiquity
The origin of the dowry goes back to the highest antiquity. Indeed, the writings of the Bible reveal the fact that in the Hebrews, when a man married a woman, he had to constitute a dowry that he gave to his wife or the father of it. Then he went back to his father to prepare a place for his future wife before coming back after the wedding.
For example, Jacob served 7 years to get Rachel but it was Lea who was slipped into her bed on the wedding night. He then served another seven years, which made Laban 14 years to get Rachel, the one her heart loved.
This law is still observed by the Jews. Yet among the Romans it was customary for men to receive the dowry of their wives. Among the Gauls before they were conquered by the Franks, such was the procedure: the wife brought a sum of money to her husband, and the husband, on her side, took a sum equal to her property. Then the two sums were collected and the profits retained. Finally, it all belonged to the survivor of both spouses.
The value of the dowry
The dowry is seen as a promise of the bridegroom to marry the bride. Indeed, the latter demonstrates thus that he is ready and decided to take for wife this woman. The dowry is the way for the bridegroom to be in the good graces of his in-laws by demonstrating that he has the capacity to take care of a family. Because he is asked to provide himself the gifts he brings. Moreover, it is a token of alliance because it is done in the presence of members of extended families on both sides.
In several cultures, dowry has become a way for the fiancée’s family to extort money from the fiancé with endless gift lists. Many do not realize that the purpose of this practice is not personal enrichment but to bring resources to the bride to found her home. Some men see the purchase of their wife.
Dowry in some countries
In some countries such as Ghana, DRC, Guinea or Djibouti, it is an obligation that validates marriage. It is the prerequisite for the authorities to recognize the marriage and issue the marriage certificate. Then, in Senegal the amount is fixed by the family of the bride.
However, in return, the bride buys gifts for her in-laws. Then in Togo, the dowry is framed by law. Indeed, it has symbolic value. Payable in kind, in cash or in both forms, it may not exceed 10,000 francs.
However, in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Uganda, dowry is prohibited by law. Nevertheless, in the first mentioned country, the dowry ceremonies furnish the daily life of the inhabitants.