Dowries and bride price seem more humane in comparison to the payment for a kidnapped child.
In Nigeria, with over 250 ethnic groups, there are so many traditions that it's hard to keep track of them all. When it comes to marriage traditions, the story is the same. However, there are some similarities — man sees woman, proceeds to seek hand-in-marriage from girl's parents, pays some form of compensation and goes home with wife.
That seems like quite a normal process, right? Well, it hasn't always been the norm in some areas.
Marriage by kidnapping in Nigeria
Within the Tiv/Igede tribe of Benue state, marriage in present times is a thing of wealth and celebration, just like in many other parts of Nigeria.
In previous times though, tradition allowed a man who found a girl he likes to organise to kidnap her from the streets. He would hold her hostage and then proceed to negotiate the marriage rights with her parents. The whole process involves gift giving, rituals such as gun firing and warning other intending suitors to keep away from her. After the whole rites, the lady is officially his wife.
This bizarre marriage tradition is so ancient in Tiv culture that it has been phased out over time. Now, marriage is more respectful and the woman has an actual say in the whole process.
While we would like to think that this marriage practice is completely outdated, it is still very much alive among the Latuka tribe of Sudan, and even more bizarre.
The Latuka tribe are a quiet people tucked away in the Southernmost parts of Sudan, who practice subsistence and livestock farming. They have been able to withstand the influence of western religions and technologies in their communities. This is obvious in their enduring practice of marriage by abduction.
Just like in ancient Tiv culture, when a Latuka man sees a woman he likes, he kidnaps her and keeps her hostage, after which he goes to her father's house with an elder to seek his blessing on their marriage. If the father of the bride agrees, he is expected to show his approval by beating up his prospective son-in-law. However, if the father disagrees, the son-in-law either returns the lady to her parents or marries her anyway. Most times, the man chooses the latter.
The place of tradition in modern times
Bride price and dowries have often caused controversy in these times when we cautiously wade the waters of feminism, while attempting to dismantle patriarchy. In September 2018, several conversations begun after award-winning author and activist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, spoke about the commercialism around marriage, and stated very clearly that she is "not a fan of bride price."
At her meet and greet in Lagos, she was quoted to say, “If you go back in history, the idea of marriage is different from what it is today. Yes, there was bride price where fundamentally you sort of give things to the bride’s family, but there was also an exchange of gifts… and it was a bit more fluid... In my opinion I think we should just get rid of the whole idea of money. I think it just ruins things."
While many argued for the need to preserve the culture of bride price, it is important to note that this frightening marriage by abduction, which essentially gives the woman no voice in the whole process of her own marriage, is part of Sudanese culture. So, before we become outraged about how alien and frightening the marriage by abduction is to us, it may as well be justified as part of their "culture" to them.
African culture is no doubt beautiful and deserves to be preserved, but how does one determine what is worth keeping and what should be abolished? Where do we draw the line?