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Author Name: Farouk Martins
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Don't Knock Dowry Blame In-Laws Power For Bride's Woe
Author: Farouk Martins | December 22, 2009



Africans cherish the role of in-laws during introduction and wedding ceremonies more than the token dowry. We do not just meet one another on the streets or internet and move in together. Ignoring in-laws, custom or dowry for too long, even after having kids invoke penalties. It could be a stiff levy of a house in Dubai or fat cows on the groom’s family! Excessive fine is an abuse of customary dowry; but some overbearing in-laws contribute more to a wife in misery. We must separate dowries from the in-laws. They are not on equal footing if we realize that it is not cash but people that have to represent groom’s side to the bride’s side. Money on the seat, even hard currencies, can neither ask for the woman you want nor answer the grilling from the brides’ relatives. It may influence the eloquence of introduction or hired professional arbiters if family members are not well versed in the traditional or religious marriage. As we become more independent from traditional customs of our duties to all in-laws who are neither mother nor father in-laws, some power-play have developed on who is more dominant in the family issues. Some husbands in Africa and most in Diaspora may leave it to their wives to decide who can move in with them. In those cases, extended family from the wife’s side gain better access. The intention is comfort for the wives not to feel alienated from their families. Many women have been shortchanged when the husband’s side dominates. They have been treated as part of the property of the extended family. God forbids “bad thing” if the husband passes away early, she may be left in poor stead with her children, even worse without children. Out of shock, some ladies may suddenly become homeless and mentally unstable. The entire dowry paid on them wouldn’t help in this dire circumstance, even if saved. Our law courts have been very good in the division of properties in such situations mainly for those they acquired together, rather than those acquired by the husband alone or inherited from families. Consequently many wives do not feel secured in the midst of the husband families. They dread their overbearing influence in the life of the husband and their children. There was an Iranian lady who expressed the same fear about her husband’s Bosnia family. She actually thought her mother in-law bonded too much with her child, not her. Since her own mother was not around, you would think she should appreciate the free babysitting services she got while at work. No! Indeed, the mother in-laws usually move in during prenatal and child births periods of their grand-children. It may be necessary for family members to help with the children through early years of school instead of those cute house-helps. In most cases, relatives come from the wife’s side. When they are from the husband’s side, it presents a burden because of wives’ traditional reluctance to request the husbands’ family to do chores the way she would require hers. There are others factors that determine who have access to the nuclear family. There are cases where the wives get along so well that their mother in-laws and the brother or sister in-laws would rather go through her to curry favors from her husband. In other cases the husband may be totally useless to his own family and be more useful to the wife’s family. If the nuclear family is struggling to make ends meet, that may close the access dependants used to have to the wife or the husband, especially in African society where the middleclass are getting fewer today. It has never been a one way street of giving amongst Africans. Extended families will help out a young struggling family usually early in their marriage apart from their usual wedding gifts. The point is making sure the union survives well. Traditional counseling is offered by the elders on both sides of the family so that they can learn the rope of marriage and avoid mistakes made by those who were in the same position before them. Despite all these generous support from the extended families, some wealthy nuclear families are trying to free themselves from most of the inconveniences. In the process one side of the family may become estranged. They may find out that their sons or daughters are hardly home. It may not be a problem as we can usually catch them very early in the morning or wait until he or she comes back home. We may find out that it is not an option if their gate is always locked. Throughout colonial African countries are GRAs (Government Reservation Areas). It is totally opposite of what the name refers to in US or England. These are not Indian reservation areas or governments clusters of housing in United Kingdom. If you see them in the West Indian islands, they are the same in Africa. It is a place usually reserved for colonial workers and developed to their British standard. They are well built with boys’ quarters at the back for house helps. As Africans moved up the leader to professional levels working for the government, they are also allocated “government housing”, retaining the colonial and economic disparities between the ruled and the rulers: a huge salary gap. There is no easy access to these “housing projects” for commercial buses except by private cars or taxis. Before you can get into the house of your brother or sister, a gateman may be waiting. If he tells you they are not home, that is it. So before you leave home, think about how much the taxi is going to cost you. The chances of not meeting either of them at home or not allowed inside must be factored in. While a gateman may have instructions on who to let in and who not to let in, he knows who the regulars are at the house that may not need introduction before gaining unhindered access. They may be disproportionably from one side of the family and for the factors touched on, the wives’ side. In most African societies, the father owns the children. But the in today’s nuclear family, once the father is out of the picture, the mother may take over her children with all his properties unless there are other children. Africans fear that she may cut off the husband’s legacy from his extended families, though the name of the children remains that of the husband forever. Chei, it used to be the fear of the bride’s family!

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