Bride price is a notable Melanesian tradition that has been passed from one generation to another. Traditionally, bride price was a form/gesture of appreciation towards the parents and relatives of the family for raising a woman with traditional moral values.
There was a criteria for the bride price ceremony. A young woman newly married into another family must prove to her husband’s family that their son has chosen wisely. A woman who is able to look after her in-laws as well as her husband. A resourceful wife is raised well by her mother, grandmother and aunts to take care of her husband’s relatives. She displays all the traits of a worthy wife. During the first few months/years with her husband, she is under scrutiny and watchful eyes of her in-laws. This is to see what kind of woman she is.
The groom’s family then decide if an appreciation ceremony should be made to the wife’s family or not.
If a woman is found worthy in the eyes of her in-laws, her in-laws get together and discuss the appreciation ceremony. After careful planning, they send word out to the woman’s family of their intention to hold a ceremony which includes the entire village/tribes. Families of both the man and wife come with gifts of food, ornaments and traditional form of money to exchange amongst two families or tribes, now united as one by the married couple.
The husband’s family and relatives bring good stuffs and gifts according to how helpful the wife of their son has been to them.
When the husband’s family come with foodstuff and gift, they call out the virtues of the wife when handing the gifts over to the wife’s family.
Say my newly wedded wife helps my aunt in her garden. My aunt when bringing her harvest from her garden will call my wife’s name and praise her good deeds, resourcefulness and kind and caring heart when handing the gifts over to my wife’s family.
“My son has chosen a wife who is considerate, helpful and kind” she will sing praises to my wife and elevate her among the stars.
The appreciation is shown first by the man’s family. The wife’s family then return the favor by handing foodstuff and gifts over to the man’s family for the good things they said about their daughter/sister. This was a time for the man’s mother to thank the woman’s mother and female relatives for raising a good woman. The man’s mother vows to protect and care for her daughter in-law as her own flesh and blood.
The matriarch of the woman’s family in front of both families or tribes lays some words of advice down to the family and relatives of the man. That they must love and take their daughter into their home as one of their own, to love and cherish her, help her when she is in need or take care of all her needs when she is with a child.
There is a long exchange of words between both parties, on the welfare of the woman and her future life with her husband.
The bride price ceremony was centered around the woman, the man did not shine, it was not his stage.
In the past 30 years, we have witnessed the deterioration, moral breakdown and the corruption of one of our valuable traditions. Bride price has lost its value. Materialism has taken over and corrupted what was once an important tradition that has bonded families and valued Melanesian women.
The modern bride price system corrupted by foreign influence and culture put man as the center of attention.
Bride price is no longer about showing appreciation to the bride’s family, rather it has become a stage for men to show off their status and standing in their communities. With heads held up high and puffed out chests, men present hundred thousands of Kina in payment to the bride’s family.
Bride price ceremonies in this age are littered with white goods, lump of money and endless supply of alcohol.
A man’s worth is now measured in how much money he pays to his wife’s family, how many pigs he slaughters and how many white goods he brings. This has led to a competition among men in our Melanesian society, to see who holds the record in bride price payment.
With the large amount of money being paid to the family of the wife, the husbands become arrogant and treat women as their property, because they paid them off. When the bride price ceremony is over, everybody goes home talking about what the man has done, his achievements in the bride price payment. The story of the man’s deeds travels far and wide. His popularity grows with the stories of his display of wealth and status in the society.
Yet, little is said of the woman. What is the value of the woman?
K1000,000.000? No, that money, white goods, pigs, etc. is not the value of the woman. Mothers did not sing praises to the woman, to her deeds. No, they sang praises to the man who outclassed other man in paying that much of money to the wife’s family.
With the amount spent on bride price by the man comes with it a sense of ownership. The man claims he bought his wife off, not just the wife but her family as well. And as long as they are alive, they will look upon and worship at his feet. This has led to many marriage problems we witness in our society today.
The bride price payment has been identified as one of the major factors contributing to Gender Based Violence in our now somewhat modernized and Christianized Papua New Guinea. Men thinking that paying lump sum of money meant their wives are their personal property tend to abuse them, because they know that the family of the women will not do anything.
The family of the women are no different to the husband and his family in their mental capacity. They too have come to accept that when the husband pays for their daughter or sister, he owns her and that anything that happens between the husband and wife is a private marriage problem. Thus, they do not interfere in the couple’s personal problems, as much as possible, they try to avoid them or pretend not to take notice of the abuse their daughter/sister goes through.
There have been instances where when the wife runs away from her husband, the husband and her family mobilize and go to the wife’s parents house to demand a refund of the amount of money paid to them as bride price.
This method has been an effective control and manipulation mechanism employed by the husband to keep the wife’s family out of his problems with his wife.
The wife’s family knowing that they are unable to repay the K1000,000.000 and two hundred pigs beg their daughter to return to her husband to avoid any conflict between the two families or tribes.
The wife now knowing the hopeless situation she has been placed in keeps it together, for the sake of her family. She is threatened with the control mechanism by her husband, that if she disobeys him or runs away from him. Her family will be the ones to pay.
The once valuable tradition is marred with materialism and ownership.
OUR ANCESTORS WOULD BE VERY SORRY TO SEE WE HAVE COME TO THIS.
Written out of anger of what we have become!
I personally think that we should do away with the term “Bride Price”.