This is an East African custom. It is called bride price. It is the opposite situation in India. In India, it is the dowry system and the girls family is expected to provide the dowry and pay for the wedding.
In East Africa it is the other way around. Many men cannot afford the bride price and hence lots of men, I mean a lot, are unmarried for that reason. We have Branch Presidents who are in their late 40’s that are still unmarried, many of them supporting others who live in their home that might be sisters, or brothers, or nieces and newphews. Many couples co- habitate for years because the man is not able to pay a bride price for the woman he wants to marry. There was a recent marriage our friends went to in which the bride was 8 months pregnant with her third child. It took that long for the groom to come up with the bride price.
It is a real problem when teaching investigators who want to be baptized, to try to get them married if they are co-habitating as we cannot baptize them till they get legally married. We are teaching these parents, some who are members of the Church that if the couple is of age, which is 21 or older, that legally in Uganda, they can get married without the bride price. But the parents won’t give permission for their daughters to marry unless they receive a bride price.
The marriage ceremony itself is in two parts. The first part is called the “Introduction” (Engagement party) and is as elaborate as the wedding with large number of guests. If you’re invited, it is an insult if you don’t go, however, you are expected to come up and talk to them and give them money. Prior to the Introduction the brides parents ask the grooms parents for some “payment” such as cows, goats or pigs and oil, sugar and beans etc. This gift is for the family and NOT for the bride. It is a smaller amount than the actual bride price which is actually negotiated at the time of the Introduction by the parents.. The equivalent amounts in shillings is acceptable, if negotiated for, and depends on the tribe. The going rate for a cow in Uganda is 200,000 shillings. ( $68) . A goat is $20 and a small pig is $18. Once the bride price is agreed upon the couple can then get married.
Now here is the interesting part, The bride price actually represents the cost and privilege of the future children. So, when the bridegroom pays for the bride price, the kids are his in the event of a divorce, for he bought them. If the bride chooses not to have the bride price then the custody is decided by the courts. If there is a divorce and the daughter returns to her family with her kids, the family has to pay the bride price back. It does not matter whether she decides to leave or he divorces her, if he paid the price, the kids are his! Many babies are raised by their older siblings, even if they’re not that much older.
Some interesting stats:
37% of the population lives on $1.25 a day
2nd highest fertility rate in the world. 6.65 kids per couple
Life expectancy at birth 53.45
Median age (Average age of the population) 15 yr
Infant Mortality 61/1000
HIV rate was down to 6.4% in 2008 but now on the rise again.
Total Population is 35 million
85% people live in the villages>> subsistence farmers (how they survive), they grow just enough crops to feed themselves and their family.