How Many Cows Are You Worth?

by Delilah


Ever read the marriage proposals column in the Sunday Observer?

Once I’m done laughing at the “55 but looks younger” and the “divorced but innocent party” ads, I notice how some ads are far lengthier than others.

Reading on, stop to wonder if I’d mistakenly picked up the real estate section after all.

“Two-storey modern house in Colombo 5”

“15 acres of land in Kurunegala”

“Assets worth 20 million”

“Valuable property in Nawala”

Of all social evils that we have tried to abolish isn’t it strange how the dowry custom still keeps rearing its ugly head?

Like it or not this custom exists, even among the urbane and educated, although it is conveniently sugarcoated and negotiated discreetly.

I have a friend whose father makes early judgment on how suitable a girl is, based on the height of the boundary walls around her house or the number of cars her family owns.

And I know a girl whose mom has no qualms about asking her daughter’s potential suitors to reveal their salary details immediately.

I’m positive that there may have been some excellent logic to it when the dowry & the bride-price customs were invented.

It was commonly believed that a dowry was means of economic security for the bride in case she loses her husband through death or divorce. Which sounds like a pretty good insurance plan to me.

 And the bride-price custom, mostly practiced in Africa, is where the groom’s family offers a price to the bride’s family as a reward for raising her well or as compensation for losing her. Seems fair enough again.

Sadly though, somewhere along the way these systems have warped in to empty traditions with hideous implications.

But as long as we are following these ridiculous customs, you’d think that we could at least adapt more colorful and imaginative methods of execution.

We could take cue from the Dinka tribe in Sudan, where men from the groom’s family perform a dowry dance and attempt to impress the bridal party by jumping as high as possible. Just picture all your ageing pot-bellied uncles trying to heave themselves off the ground.

Or perhaps we can draw inspiration from the Roman tradition of retaining one sixth of the dowry in the event of adultery, which might prove useful in these fickle times.

And then there were the middle age Eastern Europeans who gifted ‘dowry beds’ to girls when they reached the tender age of 12 and a wardrobe when they turned 13. Imagine the fun a 12 year old would have when given a bed and being told in ominous tones that ‘you will have sex on this bed someday’.

Also on a completely related note did you know that in 2005, Bill Clinton was offered 40 goats and 20 cows by a Kenyan government official, in return for Chelsea’s hand in marriage?