Essay: African Tribes and Women
Because of the endogamous tendencies of most communities, marriages between different tribes were mostly discouraged unless and until the objective was to form an alliance or strengthen existing ones. Similarly, it was sometimes used by the patriarchal elders to seek settlement of acrimonious issues plaguing the relations of two or more communities. Such arrangements could involve both free and slave women, and their resultant status in the tribe that they were married into was often the direct result of their pre-marriage status in their own tribe. (Hilton, 1983)
For a free woman, the prospect of marriage was mostly accompanied by the proposition of bridewealth, which served as an indicator of her existing social status. This allowed women varying degrees of financial independence in their domestic and social affairs, or to further their engagements in various economic activities. Unfortunately, colonialism adversely affected this custom and the many benefits that it could offer to a newly-wedded woman. This change was brought about by the provision of heavy taxations by the colonial authorities and the inflation in the value of bridewealth, in part exacerbated by an increasing preference for cash payments instead of payments being made in the form of livestock and other produce. This often meant that the women no longer retained control of their bridewealth, as it was being used by their husbands or the family’s patriarchs to meet their resultant debt obligations and/or the mounting load of extortionist taxes being levied on them by the colonial administrators.