‘You can live without money, but you cannot live without love’, the romantic quote that many people may have heard before, or even grown up with it. However, in some parts of the world, you cannot love without money, and marriage is more than a ceremony to declare two people’s love. Some lovers cannot be together because of their status differences, and sometimes marriage strongly involves social status and financial stability. They are the bride price I am talking about, the price of love.
Bride price is often mistaken with the dowry. Bride price or bridal dowry is defined to be the assets which a groom must pay to the bride or the bride’s family and vice versa. Dowry is the assets which a bride must pay to the groom or the groom’s family to get married. This article will focus mainly on bride price in Indonesia and Thailand, for bride price is a tradition that takes place commonly in many parts of Southeast Asian cultures.
Dowry and bride price have been parts of ancient cultures since long ago. According to Anderson (2007) “The dowry system dates back at least to the ancient Greek city-states (800 to 300 BCE) and to the Romans by around 200 BCE. The Greco-Roman institution of dowry was then eclipsed for a time as the Germanic observance of brideprice became prevalent throughout much of Europe, but dowry was widely reinstated in the late Middle Ages.” Moreover, bride price also appears in other ancient civilizations, such as ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Hebrew, Aztec and Inca cultures, but most of them have disappeared through time.
Noteworthy, it is believed that the bride price system would be adopted in countries in which women have a major role in agriculture. According to Boserup (as cited in Anderson, 2007), “brideprice is found in societies in which agriculture relies on light tools (such as the hoe) and thus where women are actively engaged. In contrast, dowry is more common in heavy plow agriculture where the role of women is limited.” The statement is compatible with former conditions of bride price in Southeast Asian countries where females have major roles in agriculture to men. However, it is remarkable that many of these agricultural countries have been industrialized, changing from agricultural countries to industrial countries like in Thailand which does not focus wholly on agriculture, but also on tourism, industry, and manufacturing.
Moving to the bride price in Thailand and Indonesia. Bride price in both countries has a slightly different concept. For Indonesia, It is remarkable that Indonesia is a country with different regional cultures. Therefore, in some areas, the bride price may be different. In some regions, the bride price is not commonly practiced, while in others, the bride price is compulsory. Bride price in Indonesia is called ‘Mas-kawin’ or as known as ‘Mahar’, The idea of Mahar is Islamic belief, making it compulsory for marriage as stated in Al-Qur’an.“Mahar in etymology, meaning dowry. In terms of terminology, mahr is a mandatory gift from a prospective husband to a prospective wife as the sincerity of a prospective husband to create a love for a wife to her future husband or a gift that is required for a prospective husband to his future wife, both in the form and service liberate it and teach something useful” (Nurhadi, 2018). The bride price is not limited to money or jewelry, but can be animals or religion-related assets, for instance, Al-Qur’an and other praying appliances.
In Surat An-Nisa, the fourth chapter of Al-Qur’an stated that “Give a dowry or (dowry) to a woman (whom you marry) as a gift full of willingness”. (QS Al-Nisâ ’: 04) According to Nurhadi (2018), Mas-kawin or Mahar is compulsory bride price which men have to pay. The amount of the bride price, however, is not stated which means that it would up to the decision of the bride’s and the groom’s family. “Mahar is an obligation for men, not women, in harmony with the principles of Shari’a that a woman is not obliged to pay at all, either as a mother, a daughter, or a wife. Indeed, what is charged to provide livelihood is men, both in the form of dowry and livelihood, and the others, because men are better able to try to find sustenance. While the work of a woman is to prepare a house, take care of children, and give birth to offspring.” (Nurhadi, 2018)
The bride price tradition in Indonesia may vary to each region, for instance, the bride price or bridal dowry on Java Island would be combined with local traditions. “In a traditional Javanese wedding ceremony, there are some traditional ceremonial phases held such as proposal, “peningsetan” and up to the wedding day. A bridal dowry means of giving something from the prospective groom as a means of engaging the future bride and her family. According to the Javanese ancient tradition, it mainly consists of a set of betel leaves called sirih ayu, pieces of clothes with various motifs, fabric for kebaya (a traditional attire for Indonesian woman), traditional belt called “stagen”, fruits, groceries (rice, sticky rice, sugar, salt, cooking oil, and kitchen spice), a couple of marriage rings, and some cash as a means of the prospective groom’s contribution.” (Puspitorini et al., 2018) Conversely, in other parts of Indonesia like Bali the tradition of bride price may not be a necessary part of marriage, but more as a tradition that the bride and the groom can choose to follow as gifts to the prospective bride. The amount of bride price in Indonesia is normally determined by the prospective bride’s education, social status, and occupation. As Mahar has no standard rates, sometimes it causes the bride price to be so high that the groom cannot afford.
In Thailand, apart from Mahar which is a common practice among Thai Muslim community, bride price is not compulsory but more as a tradition to follow. Bride price in Thailand is categorized as ‘Sinsod’ (สินสอด) and ‘Tongmun’ (ทองหมั้น). “Sinsod” is cash bride price, while Tongmun is gold and jewelry. Contrast to Mas-kawin or Mahar, Sinsod would be assets which the groom gives the bride’s family, not the bride herself. The bride price would be decided and discussed between the bride and the groom’s family. All the asset would later belong to the bride’s parents. The bride’s family would have more negotiating power, and they can decide whether to return the bride price to the newlyweds after the marriage or keep it to themselves.
As stated before, brideprice is commonly found in societies in which agriculture relies on light tools which are the characteristics of Thailand in the past. However, the practice is still followed even though Thailand has been industrialized and agriculture is not the only major source of the country’s economic growth anymore. Many traditional beliefs are constructing the idea of Sinsod in Thailand. As Thailand is a country with a strong concept of family values, Thais view Sinsod, or bride price given to the prospective bride’s family as a way to show gratefulness (ความกตัญญู) to the bride’s parents, especially the bride’s mother, as they take care of the bride and spend a lot of money to get the bride a good education and a good future. Sometimes they would refer bride price as ‘ค่าน้ำนม’ which can be directly translated as ‘the price of mother’s milk’. Therefore, Sinsod is viewed as a way to express gratitude from both the groom and the bride. It could be argued, however, that the bride’s parents are not the only group that takes care of their children and spends money to raise them. The groom’s family also do the same thing. Some scholars would argue that bride price is a cost for the prospective bride’s household labor as a daughter has to move out of her house to take care of her husband instead of her parents. “Bride-price in some countries including Thailand is viewed as women generally join the household of their groom at the time of marriage, brideprice is typically considered to be the payment a husband owes to a bride’s parents for the right to her labor and reproductive capabilities. The amount of brideprice required has usually been rather uniform throughout society, where the size is linked directly to the number of rights which are transferred and not to the wealth level of the families involved.” (Quale; Goody, as cited in Anderson, 2007)
Apart from the family values concept in Thailand, It is believed that the idea of bride price has developed from the limited role of women in households according to the patriarchal society. While Thai men in the past take a leadership role of the breadwinner of the family, Thai women have the role of the supporters who are responsible for household chores such as taking care of children, cooking and cleaning. Therefore, those women lost the opportunity to earn a living by themselves and became dependent on their spouses. Sin sod, which was kept by the bride’s family, would support the bride in case she breaks up with her husband and must earn a living for herself and her children again. Thais also believe that bride price is an assurance that the prospective bride would be taken care well and that the newlyweds would have the financial stability to start a family and to raise children.
The problem of bride price in Thailand is similar to Indonesia. It is an incredibly high price that the groom must pay. The standard cost can be 100,000 – 300,000 Baht (~3,200- 9,600 USD). There are many criteria for the amount of Bride price in Thailand. “its amount is based on your Thai fiancee’s status, education, occupation and other related social background information (such as her virginity). An average middle-class, university-educated Thai lady deserves a dowry of 100,000- 300,000 baht. A dowry of a million baht for an uneducated lady of modest means is just ridiculous. Thai dowry prices fall drastically if your bride-to-be has been previously married, already has children, or is not a virgin anymore. In fact, in most of these instances, no dowry deserves to be paid.” (“Dowry in Thailand”, n.d.) We can see another problem from the statement that the bride’s value is determined mainly by her virginity and her background. Virginity of the bride is the main criterion to be evaluated, as the concept reflects patriarchal cultures. The concept of Sin sod evaluates women who are ‘virgin’ to be pure and worthy women, while women who are married would lose her innocence, purity, and value. Moreover, the concept emphasizes judging people by their social status and background, evaluating their lives to be ‘more worthy’ or ‘less worthy’ than others. It could be viewed as an idea against equality, promoting social categorization. Bride price in Thailand has also become an obstacle for some couples because the bride’s side asked for high bride price which the groom cannot afford.
In conclusion, bride price in Indonesia and Thailand has some differences such as the beneficiary of the bride price, the origin, and the practice. The concept of bride price is still debated whether it is suitable or beneficial in modern days. While bride price seems like a tradition that promotes women evaluation and labeling derived from a patriarchal society, others may argue, considering bride price as part of a tradition which does not cause great harm. Remarkably, the comparison of bride price in Indonesia and Thailand shows that the concept of bride price can be surprisingly similar. They said ‘love has no boundaries’, but is the quote still applicable in the case of dowry and bride price? Or in the end, the ideas of love and social status is just inseparable? For now, the answer seems to depend tightly on each person’s perspective.
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This article was written by Suchanaad Dhanakoses, an undergraduate student of Department of English at the Thammasat University, while working as an intern at Center for Southeast Asian Social Studies (CESASS).
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