In traditional African communities immediately the bride price is settled (paid), the bride ceased to belong to her family. She now belonged to her in-laws. It is important to note that she now belonged to her in-laws and not her husband. Hence in some communities if a woman’s husband dies the woman is inherited by one of her in-laws (usually a brother to the deceased). This is usually referred to as wife inheritance.
In traditional African communities the bride was literally bought by her in-laws and hence would labor for them and take care of her husband for the rest of her life. Divorce of course was a dream not a reality.
Nowadays however dowry is not about buying the bride from her family. It is a test for compatibility. Compatibility of the two families involved. It proves that the two families can discuss, even argue about an issue and come to a consensus. It also shows to what extent the groom is willing to humble himself before his in-laws and how much he is willing to sacrifice for his love.
Dowry is a process not a unit of currency; it is a process that takes weeks or months with plenty of visits being scheduled by the groom’s entourage to the bride’s home where negotiations take place. In some communities when the groom’s entourage arrives at the bride’s home they are ignored at the gate for hours to test their patience.
The rising cost of dowry driven by the parent’s greed and the fact that a woman can annul a marriage through divorce means that dowry today is very harsh on the groom. While in traditional African communities the groom could raid a neighboring community and steal livestock doing the same today would earn him a death sentence. This may tempt many to think that dowry is a practice that is slowly fading out but this is not the case.
Hardly any wedding takes place in Africa with no dowry having been paid. Even church weddings are a culmination of successful dowry negotiations. In fact some churches in Africa will not officiate a wedding if the groom has not paid bride price or the bride’s parents have pending issues. Dowry is not a new concept in Africa but it is definitely here to stay