At the current pace of transformation, there is considerable shift in culture and the previously important things have become very insignificant to the new generation.
For example, dowry has lost its significance in the formation of new families.
Today’s couples just agree to start a family and then walk into the nearest Sector office with witnesses on either side, take oath before a public notary then pay Rwf10,000 and are pronounced husband and wife.
The couple then appends their signatures in a huge hardcover book and walk back home to establish their new family. And this is simply as required by the law which has made it so cheap, convenient and quick for willing and consenting adults (man and woman) to start a family.
With all this provided for in the law, there are still many couples that have failed to do away with cultural bottle necks that prevent them from marrying. Some parents still demand for exorbitant ancient dowry and this has kept most of their daughters home without a chance of ever establishing a family.
In traditional Rwandan society when culture ruled every aspect of society, the process a couple had to go through to start a family was so expensive in terms of requirements.
Under the cultural tradition, a Rwandan man would mobilize cattle, local beer, many gifts and several other items all known as dowry to be offered to the girls family before they would give her away to the qualifying man.
For example, venantie Mukasine a resident of Rwamagana district was married in 1950’s. She still believes that dowry should be maintained.
“We were very proud to be accompanied by a cow valued as dowry behind us and brides carried on traditional stretchers,” Mukasine remembers her golden days.
She remembers that the family of son in law’s had to offer back a cow (indongoranyo) when the cow offered as dowry gave birth to a calf.
She cautions other parents against demanding expensive dowry because it can scare away potential in-laws and in some instances create conflicts between couples.
Nyirabikari Stephanie, 75, lives at Kamonyi in South Province argues that as a mother who has children that got married, she thinks that dowry should be banned if it is a barrier to young people to get married
“Dowry was a way to honor parents for raising well their daughter but now it is becoming a bad habit with money.
Sometimes this has led couples into having a child before marriage under the fear by the boy’s failure to raise dowry. Thus families would not talk much about dowry.
She suggests that if a man can’t find cows for dowry, the girls’ parents shouldn’t demand for lots of money because only love counts. If possible the girl shouldn’t even remain stuck at home because the boy can’t afford the dowry instead the girl would go without offering anything to parents as they love each other.
On the other side young people have their say about dowry especially men, most of them say that nowadays marriage is too expensive but others say that if dowry is removed, they could marry easily and omit some ceremonies.
Gasana Jean de Dieu works as a construction technician in Kigali, says that he will not spend millions on marriage; “I can’t spend 5 million for wedding, maybe I will negotiate with my girlfriend and we celebrate only traditional wedding otherwise it’s not easy.”
Kayitare Damascene from Nyamata in Ngeruka Sector says that even a girl who didn’t go to school can’t leave her parents unless you offer at least Rwf500,000 as dowry.
“I am now 25 years and I am practicing mechanics but I don’t think about getting married, because I tried it and found that in Nyamata the dowry now is valuing between Rwf700,000 and Rwf1 million, it’s hard for me because I survive on temporal jobs.”
Uwamahoro Innocent, 28, is a manager at a petrol station he admits that he can’t even marry a girl without dowry, he respects Rwandan culture and doesn’t mind about money given to parents as dowry.
“I respect culture and changes will always happen. I can’t even marry a girl without offering any thing to her parents but the problem would be to negotiate with my girlfriend and the way we communicate, because I believe that love is between two people. If they reach an agreement, the family wouldn’t disapprove of their decision.”
But married women argue that dowry is significant in Rwandan culture but don’t understand where the culture of giving money as dowry came from.
Nkundimfura Rosette, the Director of Gender and Family Promotion agrees with the fact that dowry has been a big problem since some people started offering money as dowry.
“Things change with development , now dowry is valued in terms of money and that leaves an image of trading, boys sometimes seek bank loans to pay for dowry and other ceremonies,” says Nkundimfura.
She says there are consequences to such weddings that end by creating some family conflicts caused by the crisis from high expensive wedding and dowry.
She advices young people to discuss enough before even announcing their project to parents that will help them to know each other and not to spend much money beyond their means.
Rwanda academy of Language and culture (RALC) told Taarifa that they are trying to sensitize people to think about culture first, throwing back to the ancient culture and to all series of ceremony because they are all important and significant.
Dr Jack Nzabonimpa staff of RALC in charge of culture notices that dowry is not recovering the cost of what parents spent while raising their daughter but it’s a culture component.
“We have plans to mobilize people to change their mind set, there is a book already published explaining the process of traditional wedding and its significance.
There are campaigns (Family campaign) organized in partnership with the Ministry of gender and Family Promotion MIGEPROF and other programs to help people having common understanding about dowry.
He recommends parents not to destroy the future family before even being formed, he also recommends couples to approach their family early in order to discuss and know each other.
“They should offer dowry depending on the standard of living, if the cost of the cow is Rwf300,000, don’t pay above, therefore it will prevent family conflicts,” suggested Dr Nzabonimpa.
Editors note: This article was published May 27, 2019