The Bride Price Tradition in Papua New Guinea
By Maureen Gerawa
Papua, New Guinea. Incidents of domestic violence are common in Papua New Guinea (PNG), a Pacific Island state of about 7 million people. But some cases are so horrific that they have made headlines in the country’s media. Bashed Up: Family Violence in Papua New Guinea, the exact number of women who experience domestic violence is unknown. However, a 1992 PNG government survey—the most recent of its kind—found that it occurs in about two-thirds of all households. The report adds that “bride price sends a message that women are property”—which, many would conclude, increases the likelihood of domestic violence. PNG has recently taken steps to address this abuse. In 2013, parliament unanimously adopted the Family Protection Act, which criminalizes domestic violence and provides penalties of up to two years in prison; however, implementing regulations are still being drafted. Other signs of progress include a new hotline that has been established to refer victims to appropriate aid services, and a government strategy that is being developed to handle gender-based violence. Yet despite such positive developments, obtaining justice for victims remains difficult, partly because some law enforcement officials do not take the crime seriously, and government-run legal and social services are often limited and underfunded. According to a report by Chief Inspector David Kola of the police department’s Family Sexual Violence Unit, the greatest challenge that law enforcement officials face in pursuing such cases is that women often withdraw their complaints against their perpetrators. Most victims in PNG, where domestic violence is widely seen as a private and even shameful matter, do not seek help because they fear damaging their family’s reputation. Economic concerns are also a factor: many women depend on their husbands for financial support, and bride prices are customarily repaid if the wife leaves her husband, even if she is abused. In rural areas, the situation is compounded by high rates of illiteracy and limited access to health care, social services, and law enforcement agencies. Joanne was one of the lucky ones. With the support of her parents, who are helping care for her six children, she told her story to the media which led to her husband being arrested and charged Now separated from her husband, against whom she has a restraining order, Joanne feels safer in the belief that he will not harm her again because he fears facing further humiliation in the media. Meanwhile, popular attitudes are a factor in downplaying any connection between the bride price tradition and domestic abuse. No less than the country’s prime minister, Peter O’Neil, shares a widely held view that the practice of paying a bride price is not a factor in the country’s high rates of domestic violence. Many Papua New Guineans support continuing the practice for social and cultural reasons, though some caution against its misuse. A journalist from Tari in the Southern Highlands province, who says that he was glad to pay a bride price for his wife, believes that the tradition makes men more responsible, particularly as the breakdown of marriages becomes increasingly common. “It’s a ceremony; it’s part of our culture. You just cannot get the girl and go. You have to be man enough to do the right thing and pay a bride price.” But he also stresses his opposition to using the practice as an excuse to abuse one’s wife. A librarian in her late 40s, whose daughter received a bride price, defends the practice by saying that not all men who have paid high prices abuse their wives. In addition, she notes that a man who does not pay a bride price will face criticism from both his wife’s and his own family members. She also cites cultural reasons for maintaining the tradition. “I think we want to keep [the practice], because if a man does not pay a bride price, when [his wife] dies, her body will be taken back to be buried on her parents’ land. After the man pays a bride price, she belongs to him. So when she dies, she will be buried on her husband’s land.” A woman named Marilyn Paul, who is from the Southern and Western Highlands provinces, says that a bride price is like a marriage contract. While it can be very expensive, without one, “you’re saying that your marriage is not recognized.” Her sister, who has been happily married for the last year, received a bride price because her new husband wanted to show his appreciation and respect for his wife’s family; he paid K 30,000 (US$ 9,9000) and also gave his new wife 35 pigs, 2 cows, and 2 cassowary birds (relatives of ostriches). Although Paul supports continuing the tradition, she adds that it is often abused. “I think the best thing is to understand why one has to pay [a bride price]. [Men] should understand that [paying it] does not give you the right to abuse your wife, but to appreciate her and her family.”One such story concerns Joanne (not her real name) from the capital city of Port Moresby whose husband attempted to cut off her leg over a small matter. Although he had beaten her up many times in the past during arguments or when he was angry, this time he went beyond. He defended his actions by claiming that he could treat his wife as he pleased because he had paid a bride price for her. The custom of paying a bride price—in which the groom or his family gives money, property, or other forms of compensation to his fiancé or wife—is found in various parts of Asia and Africa. In PNG, the tradition is practiced in some parts of this culturally diverse country and can range from payments in the form of livestock and small amounts of cash to large sums of money, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Historically, the function of a bride price was to provide compensation to the family of the bride, who would typically move in with her new husband’s family. In more recent times, it has also been described as providing a disincentive for divorce, since the husband would have to pay another bride price when seeking a new wife. The amount of a bride price is set by the groom and his relatives, and the parents of some women have complained about receiving low prices for their daughters. Certain wealthy individuals, however, view the setting of a bride price as a type of competition with their friends and acquaintances. In Central Province, some reportedly have paid more than K100,000 ($US33, 000) excluding the cost for various food and other items exchanged between the brides’ and grooms’ families. Two women living with wealthy, abusive men say that their husbands have told them that they will make their wives’ families repay their high bride prices if they leave. “I know my parents cannot afford it, and I do not want to put them under pressure,” says one. According to a November 2015 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled
Originally, Bride Price is an exchange of goods and food stuff to build relationship between the families but now it is no longer an exchange but a business. The modern-day payment of bride price has run into six figures, hundreds of thousands. It is a miss fit in our society and therefore we should do away with it. A girl does not born with a price tag and therefore they should get married freely. Bride Price in today society is simply showing of how wealthy someone is.
i agree. because of hundreds of thousands, girls are interested in someone who has money who is a wealthier person. however, the younger boys are left out, girls favoring money forgetting about true love and friendship.
Bride Price is just another financial burden. There’s no pride or honor in it and should be banned. Its telling our women folks that their bodies worth some money, and if they decide to claim it themselves, we call them prostitutes
Bride Price backfires in a lot of situation and it is the main cause of family sexual Violence.
Those educated ones supporting it should come out from their traditional huts and see how today’s world is programmed to be.
Its a tradition worth termination!
That’s true , i really agree with you because seeing ladies as comedies of earning money to earn your living is not appropriate.
We must not see girls as a cash crops, we must see them as subject and vale them as a human person. The girls a human to and we must respect the human dignity and appreciate the gift of women in this world .
Bride Price payments be critically assessed before adhering to. My mother would gladly force my partner to pay for my bride price so she can continue her drinking spree. And all her relatives a supportive knowing the cash would be in the pockets. I am one of those few women strong enough to put an end to this failed and abused custom and not have it passed down to my future daughters.
totaly agreeing to all of the above. Bride price traditionally had value, because of respect and honor. Today its all about fast money, property ownership, typical common mentality of this century in PNG. How do we changed that now? It’s already taking place, Bride price valuing is up against real estate business and before you know it, everyone we are all heading for Doom, because we all don’t know the real meaning of Bride price anymore. its been commercialized. Because we are already in the future, why not we do away with bride price because no female baby was born with a price tag and prefer state marriage and church marriage because it has god’s blessing and state recognition, for common understanding. lets have all marriage vows be blessed and honored and legally bound through civil for respect and honor to be maintained.
Pride price is a customary marital obligation performed by man (husband) as a sign of respect and token of appreciation to the families and relatives of a woman (wife).
I totally agree with you all. Lets say Bride Price is a bad culture today as it was before. The values in the Bride Price are fading away because of modernization and the level of Individual understandings now a days. We know that our cultures are also changing and some cultures are blending into modern cultures (Money Culture). Let me say that some of our cultures are modified to suits individual needs and wants. For example, there are different levels of Bride Price now a days. Some of the criteria that add values (PGK) to Bride Price such as Family Social and Economic Status in the community, Level of Education, Job Employment, and family’s pride. Lately PNG Men are paying Bride Price ranging from PGK 500, 000.00 to PGK 1, 000 000.00. As a woman, you must think about your future and make a decision to be free. Women are not sexy toys, property or commodity where men spend so much thinking that they bought and own you. “SO GIRLS STAND UP AND SAY NO TO BRIDE PRICE”..Tell your Parents “DO NOT SELL ME!
I totally agree with all the comments here. One thing that I do not want is the modification of Bride Price. We sort of miss leading the very intent of the Bride Price. Bride Price is a social obligation to build and strengthen family relationship and this is all about social beneficiaries and social networking. But when money is involved, the social obligation shift to economic obligation and the mentality of our people also change to go with the new modified obligation.
When someone use money to do any transaction, there are always goods and services and once transaction is done, the new owner owns it and do whatever he/she wants to do. Therefore, if a lady is charged more than thousand Kina, your all life is own by your man and your rights and freedom will be restricted, limited and controlled. Women may say that we are not own by anyone but we all know that money plays big role here.
The Bride Price should be done away with or otherwise the family of Groom and Bride come together to give whatever support for the new couple to make a new journey in their lives.
Birde price has been taken out of context with westernization-we have lost the traditional meaning of pride price.
To add on-Poligamy is a curse that needs eradication-Back in the olden days manpower was required to protect the land so man had to have multiple wives to to increase manpower. There is no need for poligamy now,with land shortage,high employment rate,ect. This cultural mindset need to be changed for the sake of the future generation.
Bride price is a customary obligation of groom’s families to appreciate the bride’s families in a mutual understanding of common bond. The duty of payment has been exist since prehistorical era, and the process evolved was so complicated. Constitution also recognized the bride price activities, yet does not give full effect to deal with irregularities involved. Pay back system of bride price in the country cause an impediment on the progression of women in each societies. After bride price payment men’s perceptions on women as an owning property where he could do anything he wishes. These perceptions lead to violence against women rights.
Therefore, bride price should be a thing of the past compared to today’s westernized period where everything is changed to promote equality. Strong governmental policies on bride price should paw way for women’s development.
Bride pride is basically a mode of strenghtening bonds between the two parties as well as compensation to her family for leaving them. Thus, bride price has resulted in highly domestic violence over the past years even to date. Many or not most man pay bride price and yet continues to have many affairs and continue to abuse their wives. Therefore, strong policies from authorities be implemented to monitor and deal with such issues. those that take advantage of bride price to create violence be held accountable. The world is changing and certain practices needed serious look through.
I would agree with the majority of comments expressed above. Taking into account all that has been expressed above, I pose the following question, Can you confidently say Bride Price has lost its Cultural essence in modern Papua New Guinea?
I think pride price is a kind of tradition practised in PNG as well as other parts of the world. However, its not been practised as it has been. Its like selling a high quality product with thousands of dollars. This is not a good culture and tradition to be paractise.
I agree with you Gethrude. We were born without price tag but I am wondering where these prices are coming from. We are created with Gods Love and that is reflected in the marriage or co-existence of our great grand parents in love with intimacy when babies are conceived and subsequently given birth. that was basically how we come to being. All through LOVE.
Now, When in marriage relationships, the same would be given a role to play. We should have love at the forefront as the binding factor of the bride and the groom. there should not be any application of wealth or man made material applied in a relationship that requires nothing but LOVE. Lets Change please, we can do it.
By reading all the suggestions made with comments I just want to refute on a comment made here by saying, woman is not born with a price tag,
Here is my only view according to biblical perspective,
Always consider the living word before you come up with solutions,
Verse 16: If a man has sexual relations with a virgin who he is not engaged to, then he must pay her father the full amount necessary to marry her.
Be a man of value…
Success is not achieved its attracted.
Respect is not achieved its earned.
Bride price is a good if it serve the original intent of it, which is exchange of goods, money and goods for the successful of the new marriage come into existence. However, such practices are no longer available, instead there is unrestricted payments and sharing of gifts for their own reasons like for pride and even it actually practing discriminating and make the life of the news couple difficult to Mary for some and some even take it lightly due to They could not comply with those expectations of the people in the community. In which get involved in marriage early or in their old age. Thus, we literally need to improve in this areas for building good, trustworthy and healthy family.
100% AGREE! with all of your comments because in the beginning or Genesis there is no bride price excepted
Should the authorities look at the use of money at bride price ceremonies and banned this practice? Is this not prostitution?
Bride price is one of the causes why PNG rates very low as a tourist destination because of the high crime rates particularly rape. Males of all ages, without relatives able to muster a worthy bride price, resort to crime or rape to satisfy their sexual urges. Bride price was an ancient tribal custom from which the law of liberty and grace in Jesus Christ has set us free. Godly Christian churches and pastors in PNG should denounce the bride price which is a source of pride by those who can afford to pay and poverty by those who can’t afford to pay. Where else but through rape will many men be able to satisfy their sexual urges when they are not financially marriageable? Furthermore, it gives the chauvinistic male the pleasure of owning the woman as a commodity which gives him the apparent right to beat her if she displeases him. I believe that this can also be the case amongst married Christians as recounted to me by a former missionary to PNG.