Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Cultural Traditions: The Bride Price

In Angola, there is a still a strong cultural tradition of the asking of the hand in marriage, the alambamento or bride price.  Considered by some as more important than the civil or religious marriage, the alambamento consists of a series of rituals, like the delivery of a letter with the request for the hand of the bride, which often comes with a money offering.

When the young couple decides to marry, it is necessary to have the approval of the bride's family and this is only possible if, during the request, everybody is in agreement that the marriage should happen. The young couple sets the date of the request. This date is agreed upon by the aunt and uncle of the bride, as it is necessary to bring together the whole family and a list is delivered to the groom of all the things he must get before the day of the request.

The day of the request is set and the groom goes out in search of all the materials so that nothing is lacking on the day.  And what is on the list? First is an envelope with money, potentially 300-500 dollars depending on what the uncle stipulates.  It could also be the height of the bride in cases of beer, the height of the bride in cases of Coca-Cola or juice, a goat, a suit for the uncle or some shoes for the mother.

The purchase of these items is also seen as a compensation for all that has been spent on the bride since her birth through her wedding day.  Basically, it is a dowry that represents a valuable asset because the greater the payment, the higher the prestige of the bride. Traditionally, the woman is the one that farms to provide for the family and most importantly she's the one only that can ensure the clan prosperity and continuance through child bearing. Thus a woman leaving her parents home to get married is seen as a great loss of manpower and therefore they are entitled to compensation.

This value can even be greater, in the case that the groom has “jumped through the window.” Jumping through the window means that the bride is pregnant before the wedding and sure, it is just that the request be made stronger.

When the day comes, the family of the groom (father, mother, uncle, aunt, brothers and sisters) goes to the house of the bride, and her uncle, as if he were a judge, introduces all of the people and informs that they are going to begin the request for marriage. The parents of the bride invite the parents of the groom to enter and the uncle begins the reading of the request presented by the groom. If the father of the bride agrees with this request, the groom will need to go look for the alambamento, in other words, that list of things that he got together. The alambamento is presented and if everything is completed a meeting is held to pick the date of the marriage and other logistical details. This resolved, there is singing and dancing (it is not coincidental that beer and coca-cola appear on the list.)

From this day on, if everything goes well, the couple becomes man and wife. Arriving at the wedding, some couples tie the knot wearing traditional clothes and some prefer to use the famous suit and tie with brides wearing the traditional white dress. Before it begins, the bride appears below a piece of cloth, to test if the husband really recognizes her.

After the union is duly official it is time for a party, or else Angolans would not be by nature such party people. Ample food and drink delight the guests, always accompanied by good Angolan music.

The tradition is no longer what it was; in spite of the alambamento still being a strong characteristic of Angolan culture, the truth is that it is becoming less practiced. In the course of modernity, some families give up this tradition while the more conservative make a point to keep it up. At the same time, Angolan society recognizes the ritual importance of alambamento and even uses it in TV advertising. (Global Voices, August 2010)

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