22 Jan 2021


Marriage Turned To Bitter Looting Experience For Dinka Youths

"We need to stop saying “Old generation or new generation will not listen to this” for the consequences will not spare anyone old or young, male or female. It is the future of our people at stake. If we refuse to fix the problem, the problem will fix us and should not be the other way round."

By Angelo Achuil

“Now, to deal with the matters you wrote about. A man does well not to marry.
But because there is so much immorality, every man should have his own wife, and every woman should have her own husband.” 1 Cor 7:1-2

But how much dowry one must pay badly needs discussion. 

Imagine a young man who finished college 2 years ago and badly in need of a wife recently managed to buy 7 cows but that’s a far cry from what his in-laws are asking for: a herd of 120 heads of cattle. He is told that he must at least come half way if he is serious about taking the lady.

But he is from a poor family and may take him decades to get just 50 more because an average cow cost about $200 in his place. He’s considering changing his mind but his heart is already taken by that lady. What would you tell him?

Another young lady is getting a bit impatient for she is almost hitting age 30 but her potential husband, who is ready to marry her, has only 15 cows available so far, but his future in-laws could not be more disappointed with that number!

They are saying that he is no where near-ready to even mention “marriage negotiation” since the lady with a master degree (flaunted by family) is tagged at 150 heads of cattle.

But there is extra pressure also – there is allegedly fifty-some year old man who is ready to easily pay twice as much for the same girl, only that the lady is not interested in the rich man. What would you tell her?

The marriage culture in South Sudan, like in India (only that in India, it’s the girl’s parents who pay), especially among ethnic groups that keep animals (esp cows) like my own (Muonyjang), is deteriorating in an alarming rate. Marriage is becoming more and more complicated, over-commercialized and so frustrating every year for those who want to bother marrying.

Facilitating marriage is becoming what it was not meant to be – frightening and exhausting buying - selling process.

Though many people have good intention to facilitate the union of two people as cheaply as possible it rarely comes to that. The procedure is mostly open to the untold abuse by distant relatives, friends and even neighbors in some instances to delay and complicate it as much as they possibly could just for self-gain or at least self-importance.

Although it is very important for the man to first demonstrate his ability to provide (through dowry payment), his ability can only go so far and achieves so much before it get frustrated.

I have seen over the years in many towns and villages the abuse of many who take advantage and systematically turn marriage event into a well-coordinated looting, extortion, utter wastage and total depletion of in-laws livelihoods in the name of wedding! This can happen to any – bridegroom or bride’s family.

All the while, people are pressured into putting up with the exhausting feasting beyond measure lasting 3-7 days and to brave it all with smile and genuine spirit of generosity until there is almost nothing left to call a home by the time the in-laws are through with you.

This is because the in-laws would normally make wild demands like the need to buy them expensive liquor or special drinks, food, clothing, money, utensils, jewels, beddings and endless list of other things they usually cannot afford or ask for in a non-wedding time. All these are usually demanded in a ‘‘you‘ve got to bring it or else…’ attitude.

What we may not know or may not want to know are the following that are exponentially detrimental to our future based on our current trend of weddings culture: 

1. It turns the prospect of wedding event into hidden chronic sadness because of all the overwhelming demands associated with it. Although we normally keep a lid on it, it still hurt inside regardless, as the result is poverty at the end of it.

2. Complicated marriage procedure send out red flags – warning to the unmarried how impossible marriage really is! This will mostly force many to look else if they hope to ever marry at all.

3. Many others may choose to do marriage the wrong way like doing short cuts – eloping, abduction, impregnating, or anything that is off the moral map since they knew that doing it the correct way is “Mission impossible” and nobody is interested in a complicated marriage.

4. We may ever remain in bondage and live at the mercy of the rich few. Those with the animals or money shall decide the rules on what is wrong and what is right. A 60 year old man may marry 17 year old girl tagged with 75 cows because he has the monopoly to afford the ridiculous price tag instead of a young man who can’t get that much even if given decades. And if the young man’s family is poorer, you can’t possibly imagine how poorer he will be by the time his in-laws finish with him. High dowry coercion is poverty-guaranteed for poor families.

5. Many of our sons and daughters will soon be pick up sugar-daddy, sugar-mommy lifestyle. It is an immoral life method where you are serviced by or produce children with someone who is not your husband or wife – not a legalized bed. It usually happen because people have sexual desires that must be met and if there is an apparent “pull and block” by their society, they go delinquent through the back door - moral decay. Children with sugar-mommies or sugar-daddies are usually not confident about who truly their parents or families are. They live on soft grounds because tracing their history is like opening Pandora box very few would bother risking.

6. Identity crisis – life itself is hard enough even when one’s parents are there caring, but imagine life for children or even adults whose identity, parents, origins are in question. No amount of food will satisfy a daughter who lacks a father in her life and no amount of money or luxury will satisfy or soothes a son whose father’s identity is in question or whose mother is or was an alleged sugar-mommy or worse yet a an alleged prostitute. Children born by divorced parents or outside wedlock live within this realm of forever-stigmatized which no power on earth can re-write or control. Some may feel that the more someone knows their history, the more their status crumble.

I lived in USA for few years and only there did I realize what it meant and felt like to be the minority, be stigmatized and the untold amount of mental strength it took to live there while black. There was no real physical danger but the inconveniences of racial prejudice was surreal. It is a dreadful thing to wake up and have your family history or skin color debated for breakfast only to have it repeated tomorrow.

7. Depression, substance abuse and possible suicide- Regardless of how much food, money or materials you give a child but without a solid moral compass, the life of such a child will be headed toward “self-destruct” path. This is because human being is made up of two things – Dust and breathe of life (Gen 2:7) with the dust as the hardware like that of a computer and breath of life like the software of the computer. The software determines the value and use of the gadget and without a well-programed software, the physical part is useless regardless of how cool it looks or feels.

So without a good moral compass (Good active example) for the child to follow, that child may be doomed regardless of how much money one spend on him or her. It will be useless telling my son not to be lazy, smoke, drink, lie or fornicate when I, myself is a lazy, smoking, alcoholic, lying fornicating father and the child although quiet may know all that. So telling him to just do as I say and not do as I do only adds problem called “hypocrisy or double-standard” to the list of my many sins. And because the child knows that action speaks louder than words, he is more likely to follow my actions not my talking. If you did not have enough strength to be good, where do you think your child will get it from?

Moral compass is what guide children and restrain their behaviors not empty words or lavish gifts which they soon will consider like bribery them to be good since moral compass is missing at home

Jesus Christ said “"Watch out and guard yourselves from every kind of greed; because your true life is not made up of the things you own, no matter how rich you may be" (Lk 12:15).
And this is the lesson a lot of rich parents miss. They would flood their children’s lives with so much food, gifts, and pleasure even in their tender age which only prepare them for early sensualism and animalized behavior utterly unfit for the real world.

And with age, the children will naturally want more and more of those gifts. Soon they will realize that materials do not provide the meaning for why they are here, they would try alcohol, men, women, substance or anything like sport to get meaning for their existence and they will not find unless they come back to God (if they survive the self-actualization journey) who will then make them go back to unlearn their lives of being adorned by others, fame and pleasure-seeking to life of being faceless, nameless and selfless. That is where purpose is hidden.

Those who won’t find the real peace with God would try all the pleasures under the sun but will rest until they either sleep in the vanity or acknowledges God. Some may try life of extremes like crimes and oppose any authority of order as there won’t be any meaning to anything anyway. Assets (resources) only explain what we have but not why we exist. Only God who created us explains that. The abundance of food/cows or lack thereof for a person do not explains why a person was born? In same way, the presence or lack of dowry do not explains why God created called “marriage” between man and a woman.

8. Demanding high dowries inherently predisposes future children (esp females) to the same outrageous expectation and process – saying for example that since your mother cost 85 cows (or $17,000) you better measure up or else. A young girl wound up worrying all the time whether she will be worth anything talking about. It is a terrible feeling as it may reduces one down to a product on the self. And because most high-dowry driven parents are not all that interested in the future economic status of the marrying couples, their future children may be predisposed to dirty-poor situation which also make their children more vulnerable to early marriage since they may not care for them very well. And the cycle goes on and on. This is called bleeding into the future – your child falling into the same ditch you fell into.

9. High dowries create uncontrollable debt condition and violence. Some women’s dowries do not finish for generations. It is sometime the child or grand child that get to clear it off. And this is not very wise. Why bother taking a debt you will die in it?

Although there are many reasons why cattle raiding happens in South Sudan, the pressure to have many cattle enough for a dowry cannot be ruled out among youth. And this is another way high dowry or random dowry demands (pricing one’s daughter as his whims dictates) promote endless culture of violence or bloodshed.

10. High dowries only exacerbates existing power differential among couples. It is usually a reference point during quarrel – things like, “I think we are forgetting in this conversation about who paid for who!” or “Do you think it was a slight thing that your dowry ravaged my family?”

I believe that we need to discuss the marriage–dowry issue especially through whatever channel that work like traditional chiefs at state level to preserve positive marriage culture. We need it balanced so that it is neither spoiled by the irresponsible ones nor abused or made near impossible by the crooked.

Since it was made so difficult by the human beings, by the same it can be simplified. We need to stop saying “Old generation or new generation will not listen to this” for the consequences will not spare anyone old or young, male or female. It is the future of our people at stake. If we refuse to fix the problem, the problem will fix us and should not be the other way round.

Through the parliament, local courts, chiefs supported by the churches or other interested bodies need facilitate this discussion so that various communities reach consensus on the agreed minimum number or basic requirements for marriage at a given location. So that if one wanted to go marry in Aweil, Rumbek, Malakal, or Yambio, or Torit one will already have known the common minimum required is such a number of cows, goats, camels, or whatever materials – Aweil for example is popular for 11 cows as the basic requirement for marriage which I believe is praise-worthy and worth copying.

It is very important for every state or ethnic group to standardize (regulate) the requirement number or amount in SSP as a way to validate as well as protect marrying candidates from both the naïve or greed of bad in-laws. Although we know that anybody interested in exceeding the required minimum would still be free to do so, they can do so privately with the in-laws without the need for witnesses.

The conversation however should not be misconstrued to mean that young people should just take off at will without proving their readiness. With all the irresponsibility and evil of mankind we see, I am not supporting that marriage should be 100% free, that will also be a disaster – you will have millions of irresponsible people doing only sex but not any of the responsibilities that come with it. I repeat, we should not expect marriage to be 100% free in a careless world. The ultimate point here is that we need protection from the two extremes – carelessness versus greed of humanity in marriage and make it affordable.

We need move on with this discussion throughout South Sudan so that marriage is made a bit easier for as many people as is possible; but the longer we delay this conversation, the greater frustration and hurt we are doing to our younger generation. We do not need our children to suffer the same pain we endured. We need leave this country in better shape than we found it.

It is God given right (1 Cor 7:2) for each person who wants and is ready to marry so as not only to prevent careless sex without license (marriage) but also to preserve God’s approved union from being perverted as some already have.

For there is blessing in marriage and curses for those who abuse its sanctity as it is written “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but God will judge fornicators and adulterers.” Heb 13:4

For comments – contact Angelo Achuil: achuil7k@gmail.com

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