What is the Bride Price?

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Dispela Meri I Hamas Mani? Tok Pisin. How much is this lady?

Story and photos by Michael & Judith Dupuis

Learning the customs and culture of a new place can be quite rewarding but somewhat overwhelming at times. The day after our arrival in Mt. Hagen, we started our lessons in Tok Pisin and soon after, we went to a village in the Southern Highlands to attend a worship service with an MAF ministry team. Up to now, our encounters with PNG culture have been a bit like drinking from a fire hose.

When a large crowd began to gather just outside our house in Mt. Hagen, we found ourselves at the fountain again. Our previous experience in East Africa has helped us to adjust here in PNG, but processing all of the new culture has been challenging. Fortunately, the Highland people are very patient, friendly and understanding.

It was in Africa that we first encountered a custom strange to most westerners. It is the buying a wife, which is also known as paying the Bride Price. The concept of a “dowry” is not unknown in the western world, but it is rarely practiced among those of European decent. Marriage customs vary widely around the world and in some places it is the woman’s parents, who must pay a dowry to the husband’s family. But in East Africa as well as here in Papua New Guinea, the bride’s family receive the payment.

In Papua New Guinea, just like in East Africa, a son will take on the responsibility of caring for his elderly parents. Saying that a person is buying a wife is not quite accurate. It is not a woman who is being purchased, but rather it is a type of compensation to secure the long-term security of her parents and extended family. Because the wife will usually live with her new husband, the bride’s family will no longer have her help in her family’s daily life. The money presented by the bride groom and his family is understood as a compensation for the family’s personal loss of their daughter. The money goes to the bride’s family and will filter through the community in various ways. The decision as to the acceptable price is more of a community decision, following traditional norms and criteria too complicated for an outsider to fathom. Similarly, it is usually the community that decides who will get married in the first place, and it is not always based on a mutual attraction. Arranged marriages are more common in village settings.

In the West, individual rights and privileges are honoured above all. In PNG, it is the community that is paramount, and so it is rare that an individual will go against the wishes of the community and still be allowed to remain within that community. As western culture permeates this culture through economic growth and development, movies and television, it is taking a toll on communities. More and more individuals are driven to the big cities where they often live a more singular lifestyle. But many are having a difficult time being apart from the supporting network of their home community, which is why Port Moresby, the capitol city of PNG, is one of the most crime-ridden places on earth. Drugs, alcohol and pokies (gambling) provide an alternative community membership. Despite the obvious downside, criminal gangs and communal despondency is still more attractive to many than living apart.

We are Canadians working with MAF in Mt. Hagen, in the central highlands. Mt Hagen is not a big city. It would rank only as a town in Canada. In landmass, it is about the same as a town with around 6000-8000 inhabitants. It would not be big enough for a Walmart but big enough to have most of the shops and stores to support the local and regional population. Nevertheless, a city the size of Mt. Hagen still draws workers from some of the surrounding provinces. The community where we are living has a good number of people from neighboring Enga Province.

When we awoke to the sound of buses and other vehicles outside our compound gate, it was a sign that a large group was about to mass in the small undeveloped strip of land out front. After several hours, many locals as well as travelers from Enga Province had arrived for a Bride Price negotiation.

As we walked out among the crowd, several people came up to us and explained what was happening, and we were invited to watch and even participate if we wished. The scene was a bit chaotic to our eyes, with a number of pigs staked out in the middle of the field surrounded by about 150 onlookers. With the help of an Engan man who could speak a little English as well as Tok Pisin, we learned who some of the speakers were. A number of people were giving what seemed like very eloquent speeches in the local tribal language. Many people were nodding their heads in agreement, while others, like ourselves, did not understand the tribal language, presumably because they too had joined in to watch and were not part of the Engan community.

In the center, right next to the livestock, were three colourfully adorned women. The one in the middle was the bride, with two supporting “sisters”. Each time a person gave a speech, all three would run over and hug the person then return to their previous spot in the middle of the ceremonies. We learned that the men and women giving the speeches were agreeing to support the married couple and to contribute some money towards the Bride Price.

By the end of the first day, there was disappointment in the air. Only 4000 Kina (approx. CDN$2000) cash had been raised. Added to the cash amount were 17 pigs and one goat. All together, the livestock was worth about 40,000 Kina or CDN$20,000.

Judith had been taking many photos during the day, and everyone was happy to see their pictures, even if only for the moment captured in time. When the negotiations slowed, Judith was inspired to make a contribution to the Bride Price. After asking about the appropriate amount that would be customary for a stranger to contribute, she made a small donation. Although the amount was not large, it was appreciated by all, and we were both made to feel a part of the community.

Soon after this, the speeches started again. One interpreter told me that the bride’s father had complained in a speech that if even strangers could contribute, then the amount that the family was seeking was fair. Now we were concerned that we might have had an intrusive influence on the proceedings, but we were assured that our participation was welcomed by all and that the father’s tactics were well understood and every bit a normal part of the negotiations. Some times later the talks stalled, and it was clear that the bride’s family was not satisfied with the offering. The father of the bride stated that another meeting would be necessary and that everyone should return later in the week after searching for more money.

After a few days, the crowd returned, along with truck loads of pigs and the goat. Within a few hours, the negotiations were concluded, with the final results being 8,160 Kina (CDN4100$) plus 19 pigs plus and one goat. Everyone was happy as Judith took some family photos of the two families. They all went home pleased with the results, and the two of us learned a great deal about the people from Enga Province and their customs regarding a Bride Price.


Gaining Perspective


Returning from working in East Africa has been difficult in ways that we would never have imagined.  From our perspective,  South Sudan is a place that can bring plenty of discomfort to someone born and raised in Canadian society where we take many of our (western) ways for granted.  Our first experience with local customs was standing at the visa and immigration window at the Juba airport where are least four South Sudanese nationals were pushing in front of us and had their arms and passports shoved through the same window we were standing. The very concept of lining up in turn, is not generally respected as we came to learn on several occasions.  Poverty, corruption by police and government workers, corrupt business practices, child marriage, and lack of worker safety are a few of the things that we had seen or experienced.  We had been prepared for this, in part by the Perspectives Course instructors and through an intensive cross-cultural training program with Mission Aviation Fellowship. (thankfully MAF does not participate in corrupt practices!)

Photo courtesy of Africageographic

Photo courtesy of Africageographic

We quickly gained a perspective on the horrible roads and insane driving habits that cause outrageous scenes of carnage nearly everywhere we traveled; some seemed almost as horrid as the aftermath of civil war in South Sudan.  There is no amount of study or forewarning that can fully prepare for it. It was sad to hear nearly weekly stories from national staff who lost family members to traffic accidents. I remember when my mother used to say to me when I was a badly misbehaving child: “When your father gets home, you’re going to be in big trouble!”.  I often wondered if mothers in Juba and Nairobi would say the same but substitute: “If your father gets home…” Over time we developed a perspective that driving was one of the most telling symptoms for the troubles in the region. People behaved on the road much like they did in every other way. If you have had the opportunity to watch the TV show Don’t Drive Here, you may notice that nearly every malady that I have described is prevalent in the cities that are featured on that show.  Lack of care and concern for a neighbour can be seen in driving habits.

The simple fact is that self-centered desire, greed, me-first, my-right, my-time or any other mine-style thinking exists in every IMG_6309society to some degree or another.  From our new perspective, it seems like places where the Gospel has not been heard or practiced, it is the norm.  Christ Jesus taught us that the greatest of laws was to love God and to love others (Read Matthew 22:34-40).  Sounds simple and without going into the amazing depth and breadth of the Gospel and the redemption that it offers, it is really that simple.  In societies that have taken hold of the Gospel, even those who may have grasped the learning but deny the teacher, it is easy to see that care, concern and respect for others is a significant aspect of daily life.  Whether it be through charity, paying taxes, yielding in traffic or simply standing up so another can take your seat on a bus, thinking about and doing for the welfare of others can be preached, learned and practised regardless of the cultural context.  When a society is transformed by the Gospel of Christ even driving styles change.  When a society begins to forget the Gospel, it soon becomes apparent and once again, driving styles will reflect change seen in some cities even within the same country.  Of course, driving is not the be all and end all in the measure of a society and not all societies drive; that is not the point: transformation is! While working in East Africa, we saw individuals as well as whole communities transformed as they began to love their neighbours as themselves and act in ways that affirmed their new beliefs.

A very good tool for preparing to work in a cross-cultural context is the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.  It is a 12-16 week course that was developed by the US Center for World Mission. We studied at the William Carey College at UBC and
barebumboykorrkenyadid the whole thing in 10 days. This course is not just for someone going overseas.  It explains the concept of missions and missional-thinking that can be understood and embraced by almost anyone.  It clearly helps to give a perspective on missions and to open ministry to gain new perspectives. If you are thinking of serving in mission or for those who wish to develop and encourage mission programs, the course will have plenty to offer. The Perspectives course is recommended for the volunteer worker at a street mission, a person seeking to know more about God and their purpose, to a church pastor or an experienced cross-cultural missionary or anyone willing to make themselves available in His service.

For the past month we have been sorting through the boxes that we had in storage for the past four years.  The scripture passage:  “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19) has a new meaning as we saw mold, mildew, rust and rot had taken a toll on our worldly belongings. At least some books were saved and stumbling on the Perspectives books and study material again has been a blessing.  It has given us a reminder and a whole new perspective that even our own Canadian culture is foreign. (Of course you will have to take the course to learn why!)

IMG_6209Our reflection on Perspectives has helped us to revive as well as helping us to rejoice at the  joys and blessings that we have experienced in our time in Kenya and South Sudan. One could say that we have gained a new perspective as we are looking forward to serving our Lord through MAF’s aviation ministry in Papua New Guinea. There are few roads in the highlands near Mt Hagen where we anticipate being posted. Nevertheless, we can hardly wait to get the perspective on traffic there!

Civil war, children and saving lives-Journey Log 27 Feb 2014


Alex and some new friends

A few days ago, I flew into Gumruk airstrip in Pibor county, South Sudan.  This airstrip is unusable for most of the wet season due to flooding so it was almost eight months since I was last here. On that flight, MAF was bringing in supplies for IDP camps that were formed when David Yau Yau’s militia was fighting against the government. Yau Yau had failed in his bid to be elected as the representative the region which, is mostly inhabited by the cattle-keeping members of the Murle tribe, recently .  In the recent civil-war clashes between Riek Machar’s forces and the South Sudan government, the World Food Program stocks at Gumruk were looted and carried away by the combatants leaving the IDP’s to fend for themselves. Also running from the fighting was the teachers, healthcare workers and many other NGO’s who were forced to flee for their own safety.

This flight was carrying medical staff who were there to restart the clinic after more than two month. People were very excited to see the aircraft arrive and a many visited with us during the two hours we waited at the airstrip for the medical team.  Waiting with me was Alex, one of MAF’s flight dispatch team members.  Whenever possible, we will take MAF staff members on flight so they can see, first hand, the impact of the work that they are doing. Like most South Sudanese, Dispatch Team member Alex can speak four different languages but it did not help us to communicate with the children that had gathered around us. The majority of the people in Gumruk lack any formal education and the Murle language is quite different from the Juba-Arabic, Kiswahili, Bari,  English or French that we could muster

New Friends at Gumruk

New Friends at Gumruk

between the two of us. We discovered they had no food, no donkeys to haul water from the river 5km away, no schools and what was strikingly obvious from their thin bodies, no food.  As we enjoyed the company of our new friends, we watched the older boys and young men walking by sporting brand new green uniforms and  toting AK47’s.  They are now part of the new local militia for the area.  It was the first time that I had ever seen child soldiers. Most of the boys were between 13-16 years old, I was a bit stunned by their casual attitude as they carried their weapons like veterans with many years  toting firearms.  The odd reality is that even without civil war, these same young boys would be carrying AK’s to protect their cattle from raiders. Instead of militia uniforms they would be covered in dung and wearing a filthy tee-shirt and worn-out trousers

When the medical assessment team returned they had three patients that needed immediate transport to Juba. Without medical intervention, there was little doubt that none would survive.  I was struggling in my spirit as I strapped in two young girls aged somewhere between 12-13 years.  Both were seriously malnourished. Their arms and legs were little more than twigs and their stomachs distended.  I was shocked to discover that the distention was actually pregnancy!  Children, just children… mothers-to-be, suffering from the ravages of cattle-culture, ignorance and war.  Boy soldiers with nothing better to do, no options, no education, no work…just violence and strife.

Back in Juba at our office, I found myself head in hands, lost in thought.  I have seen many hard things since coming to serve in South Sudan.  Dead and decaying human bodies strewn like cattle carcasses after a drought (which I can’t bring myself to write about) to putrefied limbs from snake bites; corruption, ignorance and spiritual darkness.  The need for the Gospel is so great as it clearly is the only way to overcome these things.  Humanitarian aid alone, somehow seems to only prolong or aggravate the agony or give false hope in faint doses.  It is only the hope of Christ that will transform a society…people…to begin caring for one another instead of fighting over meager resources while at the same time destroying the same resources for everyone else.

It was Alex that brought me back to reality as I overheard him talking to another national staff member.  He was saddened by what he had seen and disappointed that many of his countrymen were suffering so badly but he said ‘today we were flying for life, just like it says on the MAF logo’.  Indeed we were and so we shall continue so long as we have supporters that want to spread the love of Christ to a land in such great need!  Amen.

NOTE: Out of respect to the pregnant girls and for fear of the reaction of the boy soldiers, I did not take any photos except with a few children that came to visit.  Alex, who is featured in one photo has been with MAF in Juba for several years.  He is a flight dispatcher and handles the passenger check-ins for us at Juba International Airport.

The Dish

the dishOne of the fun things about working in Africa is the many varieties of English that is spoken.  We prepared to work cross-culturally by learning some of the customs and practices of African people-groups, not realizing that our greatest challenge would be within the expat community.  Judith and I decided to learn a bit about the Dutch, Aussies, Kiwis, Germans, Fins and Swedes by watching popular movies from those countries.  Of course we know our American neighbors fairly well or Hollywood’s version, at least.

Two of the Australian families recommended the movie “The Dish” which is a very funny movie about a very large satellite dish in Australia used to support NASA during the moon landing.  The funny thing about the movie is that the Aussies did not know how to make it work!  In a parallel to that story, our local experts have not been able to get a reliable satellite signal for the V-SAT, which is a key element of our Juba operations.

Reliable Internet access is vital for our flight management system as well as for email and for Voice Over Internet telephone (VOIP).  The Juba-based families and visiting pilots and support staff are very dependent on Internet for keeping in touch with their base management, family and supporters. Unlike Kenya, where mobile long-distance telephone is cheaper that local calls in Canada, long distance cellular telephone is very expensive in South Sudan and there is no government mail service yet


L-R Owen Fuller (MAF-US), Phil Buehler (MAF-Juba base), Christian Haak, (MAF-Kenya)

As you can imagine, after many months of unreliable Internet, we were so excited to a visit from IT specialist, Owen Fuller from MAF-USA.  Owen,  his wife Stephanie and children Larinda(7), Gabriella(5), Macy(4) and Omri(2) have been serving  with MAF Bunia, Democratic Republic of Congo since 2012.  Owen gained his expertise in V-Sat and Internet Technologies though his service with the Signal Corps of the US National Guard where he did tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq before joining MAF.  In Bunia, MAF provides crucial Satellite-based communications services for a number of MAF partners.

The satellite that our dish was oriented towards was on the same longitude as Eastern Brazil and Greenland or 37deg latitude West. The long low sight line resulted in too much susceptibility to interference.  Now, it its tilted skywards a full 70 degrees and is communicating with a satellite that is at 13 Degrees East over Nigeria and is running about four times faster than the older NSS10 satellite.  Everyone at the Juba base is now thrilled at how we can now run Skype and receive regular emails with attachments.  Flight management and communications with Nairobi has allowed us to increase our confidence in daily operations and weather information is now available through satellite imagery instead of relying upon unqualified verbal reports.


Compare to photo above to see the higher angle

While many people think of MAF as a group of pilots and mechanics working in remote areas., it takes a more diverse group of dedicated and qualified people to achieve safe and reliable operations as well as supporting the families and national staff members who are at the front lines of the work we do.  Teachers, IT specialists, project and development specialists,  managers, communications, quality assurance and human resource specialists are all working together in service to our Lord.  We praise God for people like Owen and others who support the daily operations within the MAF system.  A special thanks to Owen and his family for ensuring that MAF and the many partners who benefit from MAF services can stay connected to the people from around the world who support us in our daily endeavors in Christ’s name.