Paying bride price for the dead

Ben Mukasa recently lost his wife Rose Nagguja to hypertension. The two had met 40 years ago and they immediately started a family. Three of their six children are already married.

Mukasa was a very strict man, but on the day his wife passed on, mourners were in shock. Mukasa had no idea about his wife’s ancestral home. All he knew was his wife’s village in Kalungu, Masaka District and the name of his father-in-law, who happened to be very famous in the area.

They managed to get to the burial grounds, but as fate would have it, Mukasa’s father-in-law was still alive and he swore not to take his daughter’s corpse because he did not know the person who claimed to be his daughter’s husband.

Together with his children, Mukasa got on his knees and tried to plead for mercy but their pleas fell on deaf ears.

“We want to teach other people a lesson never to mess with other people’s daughters. All we knew is that our daughter lived in town but we had no idea she was married,” the in-laws said.

In some cultures, if bride price is not paid, your spouse’s relatives will conclude that you stole their daughter, and however much you delay, time will come when you will be expected to give that token of appreciation to your in-laws.

Bride price is a cherished custom in many African communities because it is one way of legalising an intimate relationship between a man and woman. The price paid differs from culture to culture, and is also dependant on the financial muscle of the man.
The loss of a loved one is such a hurtful period, you may find your mind diverted from the pain of the loss to worrying about your in-laws’ expectations, just as it happened to Mukasa.

Some men will choose to run into hiding, but only those ready to face the wrath of the in-laws will stick by and settle their dues.

While some mourners thought Mukasa was being treated unfairly, others thought he deserved what he got. “He should have at least known where his wife’s home was,” one said.

Rose Mary Lukholo, a counsellor at Family Support Uganda, says there are specific tribes that can never let a man toy with their daughters.

“Just like circumcision is compulsory for men, bride price is a must for people who marry women from Mbale (Bugisu sub-region),” Lukholo says, adding that marriages these days have been commercialised, thus many men are afraid to legalise their unions.
“Parents tend to fix a price tag for their daughters, but it is upon the couple to negotiate and come to an agreement on how much they should pay to legalise their marriage,” she says.

But how possible is it that someone can live with another person for years, have children with them, but never know where their partner comes from?
Molly Nakaweesi, a married shop attendant, says it is possible for a man not to know his wife’s home, especially for runaway children.

For her, it is the responsibility of the woman to demand that her husband visits her home. If she does not, the man will also be reluctant. Some girls may have had arguments with their parents and may not wish to go back home.

She adds that sometimes if the girl comes from a well-to-do family, the man will be afraid of going to visit that family for fear that he may not meet the parents’ demands or expectations.

In such a case, Lukholo suggests that people should go back to traditional weddings where marriages were legalised with few resources and they never had to invite so many people like they do nowadays. This saves you from facing the wrath of in-laws when you lose your partner.

Peter Ojepan, a spare parts shop owner, who lost his girlfriend during child-birth, has his own story to tell of the wrath he faced at the hands of his in-laws.

Ojepan had to keep his partner’s dead body for three days after his in-laws rejected it, claiming that their daughter had gone to school and was not married and yet he had impregnated her.

Along with the dead, Ojepan had to carry gifts to Nandudu’s home as if he was going for an Introduction ceremony and only then was he allowed to bury his wife.

Ideally, payment of bride price meant that the man got rights to the woman’s body and could go ahead and bury her in his home. Ojepan buried his wife at her home. But why?

Livingstone Okello-Okello, an Acholi elder, says negotiations for the price the man pays happen at the girl’s place, and during mourning, the grave is already dug.

He adds that marriage in the Acholi culture was compulsory back then but the concept of making a man pay for his dead partner is new.

“It has caused problems though, as the body will remain unburied for long because the man is looking for money to pay to his in-laws,” Okello-Okello says.

According to David Kavuma, a counselling psychologist at Mildmay Uganda, bride price is a norm that is culturally accepted allover. Parents may ask for bride price even after the death of their daughters, not because they are materialistic but to teach a lesson to those who may not have legalised their marriages.”

He adds that it is important to appreciate the people we have while they are alive. “What good does it do when you pay for something that is dead? I think parents also do this to punish such men for breaking cultural norms that are supposed to be uplifted in society.”

BEN MUKASA, 58: All I knew was her father’s name and a few of her siblings

I met my late wife Rose Naggujja in town 41 years ago. I took her to my single room which I rented then because we loved each other. We worked together and soon after, we had children and built our house.

There was a time she had wanted me to go and see her parents so we could legalise our marriage but she fell ill. She got a mental problem after she had given birth to our fourth child. So I used all the money we had saved for her treatment in Butabika Hospital.

It took her six months to completely recover but the worst part was that I did not tell her relatives. They only came to know about it through rumours but I was scared of telling them because we had never been introduced.

One of my in-laws came to visit her and told us how her parents were not happy with their daughter’s marriage. I also felt guilty for not even knowing my wife’s home. Not even my children knew where their mother came from.

As fate would have it, the next year one of our children got the same mental problem and then we lost hope of ever having an introduction ceremony.

We had two more children but the sick child took long to recover. My wife, because of the stress she had over our sick child, became hypertensive and she would get frequent high blood pressure attacks.

She sometimes visited her relatives at home, but I was always busy with work because I wanted to save enough money for the sick child to recover, so that we would be able to visit our in-laws as a family, but I failed.

In September this year, my wife got an attack and before we had reached hospital, she breathed her last. For an hour, I stood there watching her breathless body. I was startled and did not know what to do. I did not know how I would face her parents and worse still, I did not know where her exact home was.

All I had known from her was her father’s name and some of her siblings. I told the people I knew about my ordeal and we checked her phone for her relatives’ contacts. I knew she was from Masaka, so I went on inquiring from the villagers, until I reached her family home.

On asking my wife’s relatives, they said they did not know the person I was talking about and that I should ask somewhere else. Since I had told her sister over the phone, many people had already gathered and one of the mourners asked me how I was related to Naggujja.

I told them I was her husband but they said they did not know she ever had a husband. They asked me if I knew any of them but thank God I knew the sister who had visited her one day when she was sick.

They blamed me for not marrying their daughter legally because all their other sons and daughters had married legally. It was a custom in their family to marry or get married with the consent of the parents. I was told to pay a fine before they accepted the body at their home.

They told me to pay Shs1m in cash there and then. I was shocked because I had almost spent all the money I had and I was left with only Shs100,000 for our transport back home.

This was not fair because I was not the cause for my wife’s death. We wanted to visit the parents while she was still alive but it was not possible.

My children joined me to bargain with the in-laws, until we reached an agreement of Shs500,000. With the help of the people who had gone with me for burial, I was able to raise the money. Since then I have told my sons to legalise their marriages no matter how little they have so they do not face the same fury that I faced from in-laws.

Some of the tribes that expect a man to pay bride price before burying his woman include:
• Iteso
• Langi
• Bagisu
• Acholi
• Japadhola

“This concept is new in the Acholi culture but it has caused problems because the woman’s body will remain unburied for as long as when the man meets the expected conditions as agreed by the woman’s family,”

livingstone okello-okello, acholi elder


“It depends on the man’s financial status. If he is wealthy, then I know my daughter must have worked hard for this wealth so I deserve to get a token of it. If he was not well off, then I would not ask for anything,”
Rashidah Tusuubira, tailor

“This is not fair. Parents should know why men do not go for Introduction. Everything is commercialised these days. Some parents hope they will accomplish all that they failed to after marrying off their daughters,”
Robert Onyango, teacher

“Asking for bride price when the woman is dead is fair. Even if they were not financially well, the man and his in-laws can come to a compromise and agree on a price he can afford,”
Rajab Ssenninde, student

“I cannot ask for the bride price. I believe this is the responsibility of the girl to bring the man to her home. If she did not, then there is no way I can demand bride price,”
Gertrude Nanziri, business woman

“Asking for bride price at my daughter’s funeral makes me too cheap a parent and very materialistic. Maybe if it can bring back my child, only then would I ask for bride price,”
Jacob Wasede, photographer

“This is as if we are trading for the dead person. Once one is gone, they can never return. If they failed to legalise their marriage while they were still together then we should leave everything to God,”
Prossy Nyakwezi, student

“I know that culturally, it would be fair but making the man pay will hurt him psychologically and financially because he did not call for her death. It is like the man is paying for the corpse,”
Daniel Wasike, lecturer

“It hurts that your daughter was taken at no price but it is not fair to make the man pay for something that is already dead because he did not call for her death. I aise the man in case he re-marries, not to do the same thing because he may not be forgiven,”
Olivia Tendo, designer

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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