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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Bride price: an insult to women, a burden to men?
Swazi maidens
A Swazi family can demand up to 15 cows for their daughter

The BBC's Africa Live programme looks at an age old tradition that is practised by many communities across the world - Bride price.

In Africa, it is still practised extensively and known as "lobola" in the southern parts of the continent, "mahari" in east Africa or "wine-carrying" among tribes in west Africa.

Traditionally, the prospective husband is expected to give a certain amount of money and goods, including cattle, goats, blankets or cowrie shells before a marriage is agreed.

Bride price or dowry was revered as a symbol of sincerity and good faith that brought together the bride's and groom's families.

But in some cases it is derided as a means to enrich a bride's family or a licence for a man to treat a woman as a "purchased" good.

Africa Live is asking: Is Bride price a burden to men and an insult to women?

What purpose does bride price still serve nowadays? Should it be abolished?

Join the BBC's Africa Live debate on Wednesday 1 September at 1630 & 1830GMT.

Use the form to send us your comments - some of which will be published below.

If you would like to take part in the discussion, e-mail us with your telephone number, which will not be published.

Read a section of your emails below:

Modern life has distorted the real meaning of bride price. The huge amounts of money parents ask for these days play a role in the domestic abuses that visit our marital homes. Parents are using this as an opportunity to get rich and make up for money that they couldn't make elsewhere !!!
Mutsawashe, Zimbabwe/USA

If a man and a woman love each other, why should they need to prove it with expensive symbolism?
Joseph Onek, Phoenix, AZ USA

Bride price or engagement rings are old traditional symbols that long served their purpose and should now be stopped. If a man and a woman love each other, why should they need to prove it with expensive symbolism?
Joseph Onek, Phoenix, AZ USA

Just as the wedding ring symbolizes unity between two people, the bride price is a symbol of unity between two families. Bride price injects a sense of accountability into a marriage, giving both families a stake in it. This helps to create strong marriages.
Tafadzwa, US/Zim

Bride price maintains respect for women, and represents an open acknowledgement of women as valuable members of society.
Becky Driscoll, San Jose, USA

Bride price is the official rubber stamp of marriage.
Jackson Olufemi Taiwo, Oklahoma, USA

Dowry is a sign of love and respect for both families
Larry, Texas, USA

Modernization cannot deprive an old customary practice of its genuineness. Dowry is a sign of love and respect for both families, abuse of that custom is unacceptable. Bride price can even be anything as little as $5.00.
Larry, Texas, USA

Let us keep it for what it really is, a symbol of a union between two families, and a gesture of sincerity and good faith.
Derick Agbontaen, New york City, USA

The world would be better off if for once it learned from Africa and made marriage more meaningful. It would be great to end the despicable way of life where wives are extremely easy to find, and equally easy to dispose of.
Kobi Otchere, Virginia, USA-Ghana

Before Africans start discarding their traditions, they had better take a glance at the Western world first. Just look at the dismal state of marriage in the West today, and think again about abandoning your traditions!
Trevor Munroe, New York, USA

Bride price is the ultimate symbol of marriage. Whether it is a ring, a house, or a couple of cows; a man in any culture has to prove his worth in one way or another to both the woman and her family. The dowry is one of the first signs that he is capable of working hard and sacrificing to provide for his potential family. Women should feel honored by this.
Jennifer, Dallas, USA

Bride price or "wine carrying" as it is known in my part of Africa cannot be considered a burden to men or an insult to women. It is a way of putting the suitor to test as to his ability to take care of the wife-to-be, and eventually, children. In my community we are proud as men to show our in-laws that apart from being of age and emotinally fit, we are materially able to support our new family.
Chuma Onyekuru, Houston, Texas

Bride price is traditionally sacred to African culture. It brings respect, honor and dignity to women and their families.
Matthias A. Idyu, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

This practice is slowly becoming obsolete because it was preserved for virgins, which is no longer the case these days.
Oli Kapopo, UK

It's a gesture to the bride's parents that you cherish your wife-to-be and is also a sign of appreciation to them for allowing you to marry their daughter. This practice is slowly becoming obsolete because it was preserved for virgins, which is no longer the case these days.
Oli Kapopo, UK

Bride price is acceptable so long as its reasonable. The key word is moderation. It should be a token of appreciation and not a price tag, since no woman can be sold .
Celstine Osimhen, Lagos Nigeria

Dowry has lost its cultural value of the past. Some men think they have a licence to treat women as slaves because of dowry. Parents tend to encourage their daughters as young as 10 years old to get married instead of going to school.
Ezabele wa Yasak, Lansing, Michigan USA

Dowry is an outdated practice that turns women from human beings into property. Some men abuse their wives physically or emotionally, because they feel that they (wives) are purchased commodities; like cows or cars. Many of my friends also delay getting married, fearing that they may be unable to pay the exorbitant bride price.
William, Kampala, Uganda

Bride price is a token of sincerity and good faith, just like the Western engagement ring. Traditionally, bride price was a bond that created a feeling of trust, mutual respect and understanding between two families. But these days it has become a burden to men and an insult to women because it has become a means to wealth accumulation.
Christine Ouma, Oyugis, Kenya

The essence of the bride price is to make a woman submissive and powerless. It is a shame and should be abolished.
Mokes Gama, Silver Springs, Maryland.

In the West, men still pay alot of money to buy a ring to put on their fiancee's finger. Paying a price to the family of the bride is equally a sign of good faith. We cannot abolish this practice in the name of equality. But let it be a matter of personal choice. James Rich, New York,

Bride price demeans a woman. It makes her the property of her father to be 'sold' to another man.

Just like female genital mutilation (FGM), bride price demeans a woman. It makes her the property of her father to be 'sold' to another man. She then becomes a 'servant' of the buyer; bearing children, providing sex, and performing household chores.

Should the exchange of rings be abolished in Western cultures? Of course not! Just as there is nothing wrong with the European-style exchange of rings, there is nothing wrong with paying the African bride price. But something is definitely wrong when men abuse their partners in the name of the wedding ring or bride price.
Roland S. Weah, Liberian in the US

It is old tradition that still exists in Oromia where I was born. It is practiced to show respect to the bride as well as her family. Unfortunately there are alot of poor men who can't get married because they can't afford to pay dowry, and I guess that is the bad side of this practice
Ilias Ibrahim, Oromia/ Chicago USA

Bride price is our heritage. The purpose of it was to thank the parents of your woman for giving birth and bringing up this beautiful lady who you are going to spend the rest of your life with. I know men who have paid this price and they are not complaining because the benefits you get from a wife; her care, help and companionship far outweigh the cost.
Collins Chidimuro, Aberdeen , UK (Zimbabwean)

Bride price is an African man's way of showing confidence and appreciation to his wife. It is at this time that the man ability to provide is put to test by the bride's family. Surely if you can't afford a cow then you don't deserve to marry! How would you feed your family?
Ken Anang'a, Norwich/Kenyan

Paying bride price is a sign of the man's commitment to the impending union. In Western societies that commitment is demonstrated with an expensive diamond ring bought by the groom.
Joseph Nyirenda, London, England

Biblically, Adam had to be put to sleep and a part of him used to create Eve. He somehow paid for it.
Kennedy Chama, ,Zambia

Bride price symbolises a woman's value. Biblically, Adam had to be put to sleep and a part of him used to create Eve. He somehow paid for it. The payment also helps to preserve marriages. In Europe, where dowry payment is not common many marriages are falling apart.
Kennedy Chama, Chililabombwe, Zambia

Bride price is a symbol of love and dedication to the couple.Where love is supreme, bride price will prevail.
Chris Mgaya /Tanzania.

In the central Sudan, dowry is known as 'Mugtaf', meaning 'a wooden box'. It contains gold, jewels, cash, cloths, shoes and foodstuffs. It is a real mini market, which remains on display for a week at the bride's house. Young unmarried girls then flock to enjoy a party infront of the displayed box, as an expression of best wishes to the institution of marriage. These age-old traditions should continue.
Ahmed Gism El-Bari, Dammam-Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

In some communities, bride price legitimises a marriage. Marriage cannot be valid without it . So it is not a burden or insult for men and women respectively, it is a proud cultural practice.
Daga Said, Seattle USA /Ethiopia

Bride price or Lobola as it is called in my country should not be exaggerated or abused. Lobola is a responsibility and not burden of the prospective husband and his family. It is a gesture of respect for the wife-to-be and her family. Lobola unites the two families, and it should not abolished.
Mutale, Zambia

My dad has been married to my mum for over 35 years now, and he has decided to pay 'lobola' this September.
Ghadie, Motswana in UK

My dad has been married to my mum for over 35 years now, and he has decided to pay 'lobola' this September. It feels very good and we are very happy for him since he is doing it out of his free will and because of he respects the culture that shapes Africa.
Ghadie, Motswana in Leicester, UK

It's misleading to argue that bride price is a 'license' for men to abuse their wives or to treat them as purchased goods. I know a great number of men who never paid bride price but still treat their wives like pieces of garbage. Are we saying there are no wife beaters in places where bride price is not common, say the West?
Martin Curtis, Phoenix, USA

The groom does not actually pay a bride price. It is his family that makes the undertaking. No responsible family would accept bride price directly from a suitor. The bride gets married to the whole extended family, not just the groom. Consequently, such marriages last because the partners do not just wake up from a night's squabble and decide that the marriage is over.
Pat Chuks, Houston, Texas

This tradition was put in place to ensure that only serious people who are strong and hard working marry. This has on no occasion been a burden to men nor an insult to women but rather gave respect and unity to both the couple and their parents.
Monyoro Alex, Sudanese in Australia

There is very little difference between dowry and engagements since both have a price tag. There is a lot to appreciation for both practices. But dowry needs to be redefined to elimate 'gold diggers', and keep the principles of the tradition intact.
Anthony Daymond, Sydney/Australia

Dowry is in recognition of the struggle the bride's family has gone through in raising her. It is a way of saying 'thank you.' It is also a means of exchanging wealth because you pay for somebody's daughter, and someone's else will pay for your own.
Mathiang Ayoor, Southern Sudan, USA

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