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Acholi cultural leaders warn against fundraising for marriage

Bride price in Acholi was to Shillings 5million in a recently passed by-law. File Photo 

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Acholi cultural leaders are discouraging their subjects from fundraising for traditional marriage, saying it is behind the increasing cases of divorce in the sub-region. In the past in the Acholi tradition, a man was dependent on the leaders and elders of his lineage for marriage as they would contribute the bride price in terms of materials such as goats, cattle, and money.

While the elders from the woman’s clan were involved in the discussions and negotiations surrounding the marriage, a specific date was set for delivering the bride price either in full or by installment. Even after the first installment, the girl became part of the man’s clan. Often the dowry was not consumed or spent but saved to offset her sister-in-law’s dowry when her brother was ready to marry.

Additionally, marriages could be organized without the consent of the boy and girl, where if a father preferred the daughter of his friend over other girls for his son, the two fathers could strike a deal and compel the children to get married. This happened because it was often the father’s wealth that gave the boy the bride price, so the boy had little say in the arrangement. Dowry refunds were made in the event of divorce, although the value depended on the terms agreed upon when the dowry is paid.

However, arranged marriages and where the fathers have the final say in the marriage of their children have become rare due to the freedom of choice and modernity. Payment of bride price is now mainly a nuclear-family affair. Because of the pressure of shouldering the weight of the marriage singly, men now ask friends, colleagues, and neighbors to contribute money for their marriage. Some brides even get involved in fundraising money for their own marriage.

However, officials at the Acholi Cultural Institution, say this modern way of looking for resources for marriage is the reason many marriages are shaky and divorces are common. Rwot Faustino Owor, the head of the fifteen chiefdoms in Agago district told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that traditionally, money for traditional marriage came from a household or clans.

Owor explains that if a man didn’t have the resources to complete the payment of the bride price at once, the woman would stay with her husband till their first daughter is married and the money will be used to pay for her mother’s bride price. He argues that the arrangement made the woman content and respectful in her marital home.

Rwot Owor notes that the Acholi believed that if a man got money from other people who are not of his clan, it comes with all the blessings, but when one is forced to contribute money for the marriage of one he is not even related to, they give the money begrudgingly and the union wouldn’t be healthy.

Rwot Kassimiro Ongom, the chief of Patongo clan in Agago district, says almost 60 percent of the things itemized on the marriage list are not required in the Acholi culture but are imported from other cultures.

Kassimiro advises Acholi to revert to their old practice of elopement before marriage. He says this helped the man and women to know each other’s weaknesses, including impotence before they decide whether or not to continue with the union.

Alex Oyet, the coordinator of Acholi Cultural Institution in Kitgum, Pader, Agago, and Lawmo districts, says the traditional way of marriage in Acholi was changed by individuals. Oyet also argues that the rate of divorce in Acholi is high because the money collected from people of other clans does not have the spirit of the clan of the persons getting married.

Oyet explains that in Acholi, people get money for marriage from their own clan because a woman is not only for the husband she gets married to but she is a mother of children in the entire clan, adding that another clan can contribute only after a collective resolution is made.

Oyet explains that separation has become common because men don’t feel the pain of raising money themselves to pay the bride price and divorce at will, and mostly on flimsy grounds.

Some people say they seek financial help because marriage is now expensive and since it involves two people, they must all contribute towards it. However, Oyet says that explains why the cultural chiefs came up with a maximum price for the bride price, to make it easier for men to pay the bride price.

In 2020, Acholi cultural chiefs passed a by-law which limited bride price to Shillings 5million. The bye-law followed discussions that started in 2018 to prevent what they termed as commercialization of traditional marriages.



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