In traditional Setswana culture, there is bogadi (dowry) before the marriage is formalized. Firstly the man’s family comes and asks for sego sa metsi (woman’s hand in marriage). After several meetings (merero), a “bride price” is concluded. This is not a sale but a token of appreciation to the bride’s family. The bride is going to leave her family and join her husband’s family as their daughter and assume their clan name. This is the groom and his family’s way of saying, “Thank you, you have given us a cultured, beautiful and intelligent woman as a daughter and you have done an excellent job at raising her”.
Nowadays many people only care about money and so we have seen the value of bogadi being eroded because people want to gain without considering that the couple will have a life thereafter. Some families do not care about the couple but what they can benefit.
It doesn’t help that some people want quick and easy things. Younger people are impatient and expect ‘miracles’ of relationships. Back in the day people understood the importance of marriage and respected the institution; it was a rite of passage for those who believe in it. Women ensured they were worthy of being married and when a man wanted to marry, he made the effort to, even if it meant him toiling extra hard to afford the required dowry and care for his wife and children.
One thing that affects relationships and marriage are gender dichotomy and patriarchal set-ups where men see their wives as commodities/assets as they paid bogadi for them. Domestic abuse is quite widespread in Botswana, with men who disrespect, beat, belittle, insult and enslave their wives with the mentality that “I bought her”.
Bogadi is taken like a business nowadays. Some relatives budget on girl children. Some don’t even contribute to the wedding celebrations nor consider how the couple is going to survive financially thereafter. Does that mean if a man doesn’t have much money they cannot marry? I understand the importance of financial security. Personally I wouldn’t marry a broke man either, but we must be fair and consider what the men can afford, together with their chosen partners. Do you know how many people are resentful, in debt and frustrated because of the financial obligations placed on them? The same issues affect relationships and marriages but I can assure that the same people, who were ululating, stuffing their faces with food and getting drunk at your wedding, will not be there when you have domestic challenges. Perhaps that is why young couples are opting not to marry or choose a vat-en sit arrangement.
There should be a standard procedure for bogadi and we must engage on sub-issues. The process should be quick. Traditionally, the family meets two or three times if not more, for negotiations. If for example I am getting married to a man who isn’t a Motswana is his family expected to always budget for those trips? The current economic situation is bad so we can’t do things like unthinking individuals.
Some men argue that they shouldn’t pay a dowry unlike before. They attribute it to ‘woman liberation’ and ‘equality’. The weak argument is that women of nowadays “don’t know their place” and since they make money, they should also pay a dowry. This idea comes from unsophisticated and backward mentalities that a wife’s ‘original role” revolves around cooking, cleaning, ‘making’ and caring for children and rendering sex. No intelligent 21st century woman is going to spend her days cooking, wiping fat baby buttocks and cleaning etc while she can equally build a career and actively participate in the social, economic and political arena. The one thing that a lot of men can’t seem to absorb is that this goes both ways; you get as much as you give, period.
It is unfortunate that bogadi’s core has been eroded by minorities who want to undermine it because of their own selfish reasons. Culture isn’t wrong; some people have just manipulated it. This totally undermines its purpose and the value of marriage and that may well be the reason why people do not respect the marital institution.