In the 1970s I spend some weeks in Morocco, to finish the research for my thesis. My professor asked me to stay since a new group was coming and nobody spoke French, which was the official language out there.
He decided to ask a Moroccan family in Marrakech to give me room and lodgings so that I did not have to live in a tent. The family was so nice, but one thing was completely strange to them…
I told them that I was 22 years old and that I was not married. Unbelievable, according to their opinion. They assumed that my ‘polio handicap’ as they called it, was the most important reason for me being single.
They were working on a solution. And found some guy that offered my father a bridewealth of 500 pregnant camels. My father answered by thanking him for the offer, but that he had to decline.
His garden was not large enough for a herd of 1000 camels, and he rather had some jewelry (that was a joke, but the guy did not know, I reckon).
In the meanwhile I am married and one day my husband and I spend a holiday in India. A very nice guide accompanied us. In a private talk, he admitted that his family choose his wife for him, and one of the decisive arguments was the dowry the father of the girl offered.
He told us that his sister, who studied at the university was forced by his family to marry a retarded guy, whose family offered a bridewealth.
What is the difference between a bridewealth and a dowry? And is jewelry involved in this ‘business’?
A bridewealth or a dowry?
A dowry is given to the groom by the family of the bride when they are wed. The content of the dowry can be money, real estate, or goods, like jewelry, a trousseau, or other valuable objects.
There are three reasons why the family of the bride gives or has to give a dowry. It is a start for the couple to start living together in a furnished house.
Besides that, it forms a kind of protection for the bride in case of a divorce or when the husband gets abusive. In that case, the bride gets her dowry and can leave, with her kids and has enough money to survive. It should hold the groom from divorcing since he will have to pay the dowry back to her.
The dowry is in a lot of cultures and also the heritage of the girl. She does not get anything else when her father dies, unlike her brothers and unmarried sisters.
And the last reason is that a dowry can be tempting for a man to marry that girl. In this case, a dowry is a kind of selling money to get rid of the girl. No more and no less.
Bridewealth or bride price
The ‘bridewealth’ or ‘bride price’ is the money the groom pays to the family of the girl, to get permission to marry her. It is a kind of compensation for the fact that the girl cannot work on the land of her father anymore.
In a lot of cultures in the whole world, they know a kind of system for paying to get a girl married or ‘selling’ the girl to a groom, who pays a compensation.
Another tradition is that the oldest girl gets the jewelry (most of the time traditional jewelry that is in the family for ages) from her mother. It can be a part of her dowry.
Where does this ‘dowry’ tradition come from?
It is nearly impossible to find out when this practice started. It may be as old as civilization itself. In the Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest written legal codes known, the king of Babylon, called Hammurabi, wrote down the rules about the practice of dowry.
This king reigned from 1792 to 1750 BC and that means that the practice of the dowry is even older. In those days daughters did not inherit anything, but they got a dowry (as part of the heritage) which was a way to offer her security during their life.
In Ancient Greece and in the Roman Empire dowries were common, and also used because getting married was more a business arrangement than an act of love. And in that business deal assets were exchanged to facilitate the desired deal.
The practice of dowries and bridewealth is a tradition that exists all over the world, not only in Europe, but also in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. The system is mentioned in the Quran and in the books of Ancient China.
It is not only a practice of ancient times, but even in the Middle Ages, and sorry to say even today it is still practiced (in some cultures), although it is forbidden.
One great exception is Bhutan. Although in all cultures and traditions occurred the system of dowry and/or bride wealth, this system is lacking in Bhutan.
Girls there don’t carry the surname of their father or husband. They can own land themselves, or they can have a business, without the husband interfering.
It is possible to marry more than one man, or a man can marry more than one lady. Sometimes the man starts to work with the family of the girl to own the right to marry her (only with her consent).
Dowry system in the Middle Ages
In the Middle Ages, the dowries were huge, especially among noble families. My own country, The Netherlands was once a part of a dowry, and also a part of France (Aquitaine) came as a dowry when King Louis VII married Eleanor of Aquitaine.
But when they got a divorce King Louis VII lost it, since the land has to be given back to the bride. Eleanor remarried the Duke of Normandy, the later King of England, and Aquitaine was again part of her dowry.
Another remarkable ‘dowry affair’ was the marriage of Violante Visconti with Lionel of Antwerp, the son of King Edward III. He died soon after the marriage and the family refused to return the dowry because they thought he was poisoned by the father of the bride.
Dowry in legends
There is a painting called ‘the story of St Nicholas’, made by Fra Angelico. It is based on an old story about three girls who are from a very poor family. And since their father could not afford a dowry, they still were single.
According to the story in a mysterious way, three times a bag with golden coins appeared in their home. The gift came from St Nicholas, who made it possible for the girls to marry and start a family of their own.
St Nicholas is better known as Santa Claus, and the bag of gold then is the Christmas stocking nowadays.
Jewelry as part of a dowry
As stated above a dowry could consist of land, real estate, money, cattle, but also jewelry. The jewelry could be some pieces of the jewelry of the mother and when you were the oldest daughter you might get all of the traditional family jewelry.
In some cultures in the Middle East, you get (mostly golden) pieces of jewelry as a marriage present from the family of the groom or your own family. That jewelry belongs to you and when something happens you can sell them and be financially independent.
Sometimes you wear your family jewelry at your wedding and in other cases the jewelry you get as a present is new.
Let’s see what kind of jewelry you wear on your wedding day, and don’t think about dowries or bridewealth and the jewelry that you get from that.
Great tips on what jewelry to wear on the big day.
In some cultures, family jewelry is rather large and extremely heavy. And when you have to wear all of it, you might look like a Christmas tree instead of a bride.
The best tip is to consider what is the jewelry you normally wear and turn those up a notch or two. You feel comfortable with it, and together with the dress, you look like a confident bride in her most beautiful outfit.
Say you normally only wear small studs. You will not feel comfortable, and then not really stunning, when you suddenly appear with large statement earrings. Everyone will see on your face, that this isn’t you. And if you don’t look comfortable, you don’t look beautiful (but anxious).
The same goes for necklaces or bracelets. If you wear only lightweight necklaces, try a little shiny necklace with faceted gemstones. Or when you normally love to wear stacked bracelets, wear them on your wedding day too, but add some shining bracelets to the stack.
Some jewelry borrowed
Do you know the expression ‘something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’. If you want to follow this you have to borrow a piece of jewelry, that you might not fancy. And what about if the color blue does not fit your dress and your jewelry?
When I married my mother passed away about 2 months before that. I love emeralds and she had an emerald necklace I wore on that day, together with small earrings. I felt comfortable and had the feeling I had my mother close to me.
Well, I did not borrow the necklace, since it was a part of my inheritance. And the color of the necklace was green, so no blue. So don’t take the expression too literally. And don’t take the risk that the borrowed jewelry does not match.
Adding some family jewelry to your normal (or just bought for the occasion jewelry) can be beautiful, as long as it represents you and you are happy with it.
Combine several colors of precious metals
Then some brides panic when their engagement ring is not made from the same precious metal as their wedding ring. Like one is from white gold and the other one from yellow gold. Or that the precious metal of their borrowed piece of jewelry is different from their rings.
Don’t worry. Overdo it and you’re fine. That is if you want to wear let’s say a white gold necklace and a yellow gold ring, add some other jewelry in both colors of precious metal.
For instance, I have a white and yellow gold wedding ring and I wear a bracelet made of silver and tips of yellow gold. Show that this is on purpose! Like a statement.
There is some kind of rule that advises that bridal jewelry should complement the shade of the wedding dress. In a pure white wedding dress white gold or platinum jewelry looks awesome. But if your dress has another whitish color, you’d better wear yellow or rose gold jewelry.
A focus piece
Your necklace may be the right eyecatcher together with your wedding dress. The necklace should not touch the dress, it is a separate jewel around your neck without touching anything.
And it is best if your necklace matches your neckline. A pendant goes best with a V-shaped neckline. And statement necklaces or chokers look most beautiful on a strapless dress or a dress with a sweetheart neckline.
The most important thing to look awesome is to have a focus point (besides the bride herself of course). That can be a statement necklace with matching earrings or a veil. Don’t overdo this and stick to one point.
The focus point can change during the day. For instance, at the official ceremony (and the wedding photos) you wear a veil as a focal point, with smaller necklaces and earrings. But at the reception or the party, you part from the veil and start wearing a statement necklace with matching earrings and maybe a bracelet.
Types of wedding jewelry
A wedding is something very personal and your jewelry should be as personal as possible, including the borrowed piece of jewelry. Your wedding will be full of your ideas, your style.
To help you out with the type of jewelry that matches best with a certain style of wedding, you can find here some ideas:
At a classic wedding, you might wear diamond or pearl pieces of jewelry. Diamonds and pearls are timeless and fit perfectly in a classic wedding party.
If you are the more romantic type, choose a piece of jewelry that has a lot of movement and floral elements. Like a gemstone necklace in the shape of flowers and leaves, drop or long dangle earrings.
Are you a modern type and want a modern wedding? Think about wearing jewelry made of precious metals, with maybe a very small gemstone decoration. Just keep it sleek or plain.
Are you just the opposite, like more the Boho style of person? Well, go ahead with a lot of pieces of jewelry in many colors, shapes, and gemstones. Just one tip: see that all your jewelry matches with each other and with your dress.
It may seem a big step from the subject ‘dowry’ and ‘bride wealth’ to what jewelry to wear at your wedding, but actually, it is not.
When jewelry is part of the dowry, most of the time it is the traditional family jewelry that comes with you to your new home and status. You might as well wear it, since there may be not so many occasions you can.
If your family gets a bridewealth in jewelry, it will be most of the time golden jewelry that is just bought on the market. There is no emotional attachment to that and it is not custom that you give family jewelry away.
Nowadays in the Western World, the tradition of dowry and bridewealth is not used anymore. Actually, it is forbidden in the whole world. But there are enough local traditional societies that use this practice even now.
For instance in Yemen, very young girls have to get married to a much older man, and the family gets the bride’s wealth for her. Even in Afghanistan, people are so poor that sometimes they have to sell a daughter for a bride’s wealth, to give the siblings enough food and shelter.
Things change, and hopefully for the better.
When I was young (in the Netherlands) it was custom that the bride’s family paid for the wedding party, and the girl receives a trousseau from them. You may see this as a dowry, but in the true sense, it wasn’t of course.
Nowadays the couple pays for the party, and the trousseau. Both families give presents or money, to get them going. And the mother of the bride offers her daughter to wear one of the pieces of the family jewelry. And if the bride is lucky it is for keeping.
My last advice is whenever you wear a piece of jewelry from your family, or from his family, or a part from your dowry… make sure it matches your taste and that you feel comfortable with wearing it.
And you have to know what kind of jewelry looks best on you. Choosing the right jewelry is not an easy task, certainly not choosing the jewelry for your big day. Don’t worry, FlorenceJewelshop made a PDF with dozens of tips on what to choose best for your features. It is free of charge. Just let me know to whom I can send it.
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