Bridewealth, as an aspect of the Economic Contract, is found in both matrilineal and patrilineal societies. A matrilineal society is one in which lineage is traced through a mother and her ancestors on the female side of the family. A patrilineal society is the opposite type of group structure and lineage is traced through the father and his ancestors on the male side of the family. North American and European societies are characterized as patrilineal societies, which give pride and precedence to male lineage. Group membership is thus determined to be ascribed to the male side of the family. Accordingly patrilineal and matrilineal societies exist in Africa with each also engaging in the Economic Contract of marriage.In Africa, bridewealth is a common form of economic exchange and it is directly tied to the social status of the bride-to-be. Undertaking a quantitative analysis of the practice on bridewealth amongst various societies on the African continent, Ogbu examined the various functions of bridewealth and attempted to relate them to women’s status. Arguing that the “function of the bridewealth payment is legitimation of marriage” (258), he further argues that bridewealth can actually improve the social standing of women and their status vis-à-vis their husbands. This is a controversial assertion and Ogbu makes this claim after analyzing 60 diverse African societies. Here he found instances which supported the claim that bridewealth protected and enhanced the status of women, including among the Xhosa people of South-east Africa who recognize adultery as a punishable offence, but only if bridewealth had been paid. Although he argues that it is now less of a source of status enhancement for women in Africa, Ogbu maintains that bridewealth legitimizes the marriage agreement and provides reciprocal rights and obligations between husband and wife (Ogbu 241-262).The Economic Contract can have multiple implications for a bride and groom. While feminists decry the Economic Contract as a misogynist practice – admittedly the term “brideprice” sounds like the husband is “buying” the bride and that the soon-to-be wife is “for sale – the Economic Contract can, in fact, be positive (Bossen 1988). An Economic Contract can both secure the financial future of the new couple as well strengthen bonds between families and kin groups. By stipulating the economic parameters of the union at
Bossen, Laurel. “Towards a Theory of Marriage: The Economic Anthropology of Marriage Transactions.” Ethnology 27:2 (1988): 127-144.
Dalton, George. “Bridewealth vs. Brideprice". American Anthropologist 68: 3 (Jun., 1966): 732-738.
Ogbu, John U. “African Bridewealth and Womens Status.” American Ethnologist 5: 2 (May, 1978): 241-262.
Womack, Mari. Being Human: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998.
Please type your essay title, choose your document type, enter your email and we send you essay samples