Why The Nigerian ‘Bride Price’ Dowry App Is Dividing Opinions

Petitions have been launched to get it deleted. But some argue it's just an 'in' joke that we simply don't get...


by Clare Considine |
Published on

Excruciating slow dances, bouquet scrums, doing the can-can in a village hall in Herefordshire – just some of the things we endure at weddings in the name of tradition.

At Spanish weddings, you all have to stand up at dinner and wave a napkin round your head and the bride and groom must kiss like amorous performing monkeys. At German weddings the bride and groom smash up crockery brought by the guests before cleaning it up as their first life lesson in teamwork.

And in Nigeria, everything from palm oil to cold hard cash is passed from the groom to the bride’s family in a strange, now all-but-extinct gesture with a not-so-nice name – ‘bride price’, the money and gifts given by a man’s family to a woman’s upon their marriage.

It’s a part of Nigerian history from which many modern brides there are trying to move way from. But there’s a new surge of traditionalism in the form of the Nigerian Bride Price app. The app is a essentially a quiz which allows you to find out how much you’d be worth in this age-old tradition. It asks a series of questions before giving the ‘elders’ time to deliberate on the sum of your worth.

This writer, it turns out, goes for around 324, 500NGN (the equivalent of £1,194.64). This makes me a ‘Chassis babe with an NAFDAC number’. Try as I might I can’t find a shred of cyber-knowledge as to what this actually means. So in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I’m going to take it as a compliment.

My status was reached following a plethora of questions ranging from the obvious (height, weight, education) to the slightly more obscure (leg shape, cooking skills, body art). At each step, it is possible to see how your characteristics might affect your overall score. For example, Beyoncé-style bow legs earn you an extra 20,000NGN, but having pimples will set you back 3,000NGN. No surprises there then.

But there are some categories that potentially give a more interesting insight into Nigerian culture – and flies in the face of some commonly accepted myths about the country. For example, far from backing up the assumption that whiter skin is more attractive, having artificially whitened skin is a no-no (‘Whitenicious’), whereas skin like Lupita’s will make you the object of much affection.

On the subject of nationality, Nigerian nationals lose out by a whopping 200,000NGN (the most that you can possibly score in one round) to bona fide Americans. And when it comes to education, a PhD is an attractive prospect, but not as appealing as a nice girl with a slightly less intimidating master's degree.

Having artificially whitened skin is a no-no (‘Whitenicious’), whereas skin like Lupita’s will make you the object of much affection

Unsurprisingly, the app has caused controversy, sending the cyber-sphere into a flurry of consternation. There has already been a petition to have the app taken down, followed swiftly by a petition contesting the petition. Dissenters point to the fact that there are still over 200 missing schoolgirls being held hostage in Nigeria. And they are currently under the very real threat of being sold off as child brides.

Nigeria has a confusing legal system. There are three separate strands – civil, customary and Islamic – all in opposition. So the country’s 2003 Child Rights Act dictates that no child can be married before they turn 18. But federal laws are often ignored by certain states where ancient customs or Muslim principles hold more sway. The up-shot of this is that both forced and early marriages are prevalent in certain areas.

According to the British Council in Nigeria, in 2012 more than half of Nigerian women in the north were married by the age of 16 and were expected to give birth to a child during the first year of marriage. In this part of the country, it is not uncommon to encounter an aged governor married to a 13-year-old girl.

But, in many ways, drawing parallels between the customs referred to in the Bride Price App and serious issues such as forced marriage is a little like casting similar judgments on a father walking his daughter down the aisle.

Bim Adewunmi, author of the yorubagirldancing.com and prolific Nigerian writer on the issue surrounding her country’s culture today, believes that using this app as evidence of modern Nigerian culture dangerously misses its point – which is simply to make people laugh.

She describes herself as a ‘third culture kid of African descent’ and to her the app is simply an in-joke that the rest of the world was never really supposed to get. ‘The app’s core audience is explicitly Nigerian and African,’ she explains. ‘This difficulty people seem to have in “understanding” it lies not with the app, but in the prism they are using to view it, and by extension, Nigeria, Africa, and feminism.’

‘Non-Nigerians seem to have some weird investment in wilfully not grasping the simple thrust of this app: it is a joke’

Bim has also describedhow a simple point seems not to be getting across here: ‘Non-Nigerians seem to have some weird investment in wilfully not grasping the simple thrust of this app: it is a joke.’ And this makes perfect sense when you consider other similar internet crazes that have successfully toed a fine line between the droll and the distasteful, offering up a chorus of ‘It’s funny ’cos it’s true’ among a certain social group. Buzzfeed’s ‘28 Signs You Were Raised by Irish Parents’, for example, felt as though it was written just for me.

‘Many of us third culture kids of African descent do this thing, a thing where we are embarrassed by our roots as kids, then we grow militant about them, before settling comfortably somewhere in between,’ Adewunmi explains. ‘It’s a well-trodden path, one many people will or have walked. The bride price app is a perfect example of this phenomenon.’

In other words, the Bride Price App seems to offer great opportunities for giggles to those whom it’s aimed at, while also taking some subtle and affectionate jibes at historic parts of the culture. Yes, it’s important to tackle the issues that are still being faced by Nigerian women, but is attacking an app that’s clearly (to Nigerians) supposed to be humurous really the way to do that?

Follow Clare on Twitter @ClareBConsidine

Picture: Beth Hoeckel

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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