KISANGANI, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Paul Masibu Lombeya is dressed in a dapper black suit with a crisp white shirt. He’s wearing new shoes, too.
Around him, men in suits and women in brightly colored, elegantly wrapped kitenge, dance as an irresistible aroma wafts through the crowd. Drinks are flowing, too, because today is the day that Lombeya received the dowry for his daughter.
The prize item in the dowry was a new motorcycle, which sits on display nearby.
Tomorrow, Lombeya will ride it around the city, he says.
“My daughter’s future husband gave me almost everything I asked for,” he says. “I’m very happy.”
Across Kisangani, the dowry tradition is changing. Gone are requests for livestock or home furnishings. Today, fathers require their daughters’ boyfriends to provide technology and transportation to win approval for marriage.
“I have the right to ask for all that I want for the customary marriage of my daughter,” Lombeya says. “My daughter just graduated from university. I gave everything to her, so she can have a better life. So, getting a bike and a TV set before she goes away is the least thing I can ask for.”
Alain Kumbatulu, a sociologist at the Université de Kisangani, says marriage is highly valued in local culture. In Congolese society, the dowry serves as an alliance between two families. Though Congolese law requires that a dowry be paid for the marriage to be official, it notes that the dowry can be symbolic.
“It’s about bonding, not bargaining or buying a wife as a commodity,” he says.
And, as society modernizes, so too is the dowry system, he says.
Today, motorcycles, computers, smartphones and televisions top fathers’ lists. A typical dowry can cost a groom-to-be between $1,500 and $5,000, which some local men say is financially destabilizing.
DRC residents commonly use the U.S. dollar as their primary currency.
Junior Abedi Lemba is preparing to pay a dowry to his future father-in-law.
“I’m already discouraged, and I’m regretting having asked for a list,” he says, adding that a $1,300 motorcycle is atop the list.
These elaborate, modern dowry requests are preventing young men from proposing or following through with marriage, says Esperance Kyakimwa.
“It’s been almost a year since my boyfriend came to my family,” she says. “But the list that he received from them discouraged him. He was asked to bring a motorcycle, television and $5,000 in an envelope.”
Kyakimwa says she is still angry at her family, and her boyfriend hasn’t been able to get the requested amount yet.
Things have certainly changed, says Faustin Kimoto, 78. He says he hasn’t requested elaborate dowries for any of his daughters.
“I got married back in 1965, and my in-laws didn’t ask for a high bride price,” he says. “I gave them one goat and a bottle of local beer.”
Ndahayo Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.
This story is originally published in Global Press Journal