The price of a bride is a significant social variable, with implications for power and status. Anthropologists, demographers, and social historians have all studied the bride-price. Some studies take an evolutionary ecological view, taking into account women’s reproductive and labor value. While most researchers consider the material value of a bride, others make assumptions about political and social status. Anthropologists have looked at the price of a bride in a patrilineal or matrilineal society to gain insights into the relationship between male and female social status and power.
Although the bride price is common, it is still controversial. While men generally agree that the amount of money a woman is paid for a bride is useful for marriage, women view the value of it negatively. Many believe that bride price reduces women to objects that can be sold for a price. This is especially problematic when considering that girls are forced to marry young, often with poor self-esteem and little knowledge about their sexuality. But even if it is only an economic factor, the price of a bride is correlated to a woman’s future happiness.
The bride’s father also plays an important role in the wedding. He often chooses her bridesmaids and honor attendants. A wedding without a father-daughter ceremony can result in a divorce or legal complications. Fathers are also often considered a part of the bride’s wedding party. They help to plan bridal showers and bachelorette parties, help with the bride’s wedding preparations, and provide refreshments to the guests. In addition to the bride’s wedding day, they help to organize the reception and give speeches during the reception.
Before the adoption of Christianity, the bride wore a crown of wheat. In ancient times, young girls would gather outside the church porch and throw grains of wheat over the bride, who would then scramble to pick them up. The grains of wheat were then cooked into thin biscuits. During the reign of Elizabeth, this tradition resurfaced. The wheat ears subsequently evolved into small rectangular cakes. While the wedding cake is still used today, it is only in certain locations.
While the bride price may be a contemporary phenomenon, its origins are pre-colonial customs that persist throughout Africa. Data collected by the Ethnographic Atlas indicate that ninety percent of pre-colonial ethnic groups in the DRC practiced bride price. Although these marriages promote higher fertility, they also reinforce the idea that husbands have ‘purchased’ their wives. In addition, bride price may lead to worse treatment for wives.
In many cultures, women rely on men for economic support, which reduces their decision-making capacity and increases gender power imbalance. In addition to economic dependence, women in abusive relationships are frightened of the man demanding the bride price or demanding repayment. The frightened women also feel pressured to agree to sexual requests, which are usually made for the sole purpose of sex. In many cases, the men may be reluctant to accept any reason other than dowry.