Today at lunch, a colleague and I had a discussion about dating, marraige, and relationships in our two cultures (timely since it seems like so many of my friends back home are getting engaged).
I asked my coworker about how she met her husband, and what it was like getting engaged in Uganda. She explained to me that in her tribe, longstanding ritual demands that the groom's family offer cows to the bride's parents in exchange for the young woman.
Apparently, my coworkers parents asked for 60 cows. Eventually, they settled on ten.
The system of determining how many cows are to be given away as a dowery depends on the qualifications of the bride-to-be. My coworker's family demanded a high price (evidently 10 is still quite a lot) because she had a master's degree and was educated in the UK. A young woman with lesser qualifications would be worth far fewer cows.
In the end, my colleague's family did not take the cows from the groom's parents; rather, it was a ceremony based on tradition that still resonates in modern, urban Uganda. I felt uneasy coming to terms with the idea that a woman, a human being, could be worth a certain number of livestock, and that the number was on a highly fluid sliding scale based on her resume.
My coworker found this idea quite normal, and said her husband's family would have been happy to give up the cows.
Makes buying a drink for a girl in a bar seem far less daunting...