Bride price has been at the centre of the Kinyarwanda culture for ages. Normally, a groom delivers it to the parents of the bride-to-be as a token of appreciation for taking good care of the girl. And although some people wrongly misconceive it to mean ‘buying’ the girl, experts say bride price is a symbol of unity between the two families as well as respect for the Rwandan culture.
Unlike today where some people are opposed to bride price, research shows that a lot of importance was attached to it in the past. In his book ‘Ubukwe bwi’wacu’, Munezero F. Gasimba explains that when both the boy and girl’s families reached an understanding regarding their children’s fate, the boy’s family would later send a message to the girl’s family announcing their visit, specifically to ask for the bride. Together with his father or uncle, the groom-to-be would go carrying two kinds of local beer ( Amaarwa and Urwagwa) in pots, a cow(s) for the families that had cattle or goats if they didn’t have cows, and hoes.
According to Claudine Mukakarangwa, 75, a hoe, known as Cyozi Cyongera Inka, was given to the girl’s parents at the same time as the cow. However, another hoe (mbogo), was supposed to be delivered before this visit. She says in some cases, the boy’s family would on top of the above mentioned items, be required to also bring a stick called Isando. The stick was to be put at the entrance of the house to alert everybody – visitors, neighbours and passersby - that their daughter was already taken.
It must, however, be noted that not everyone could afford bride price immediately. In such cases, according to Dr Jacques Nzabonimpa, the director of culture, research, protection and promotion unit, the boy’s father would plead with the girl’s father to allow them pay the bride price in future. If the girl’s father was kind enough to accept their request, the boy would be given the girl to start a family. Some parents, however, would give away the girl on condition that the boy works for his in-laws for a given period of time.
Bride price today
Dr Nzabonimpa says although bride price is still respected today, some things have changed about it. Unlike in the past where it was in material form, bride price today is normally in form of money, and the amount determined by the education level and employment status of the girl. He says it is only in a few places that a cow is still greatly valued.