How is dowry custom evolving in Australia?
Tuesday, April 17, 2018 - 20:30

Dowry practices are alive and well in Australia, not only in sections of the Indian community, but dowry or bride price is widespread amongst the African and Islamic communities too.

In Melbourne, South Sudanese man Chol Goch was proud to negotiate and pay a high price for his new wife Ajah Wuoi. Ajah grew up expecting a dowry and felt more respected by her community after she recently brought in the price of $70,000.

Salpha Dut, from the same community, has been working 11 hours a day, seven days a week for the past three years in Hobart to save up for his wife who is waiting for him to afford the dowry of 250 cows before her family will let her move to Australia. Despite the hardship, Salpha doesn’t have a problem with paying for a wife.

But not everyone within the community is happy to accept the traditional way of doing things without challenging it. South Sudanese lawyer Nyadol Nyuon is against dowry and says it promotes gender imbalance. She’d like to see it abolished but she recently married and accepted her husband paying a large price for her to keep her family happy. She says this highlights the cultural clash within new communities in Australia as they negotiate old traditions in a new setting.

In Sydney, Sheron Sultan, a model from a South African background, asked her Austrian boyfriend Nick Toth to pay lobola, the bride price, as she wanted to uphold her culture and keep her ancestors and family happy. But the couple struggled with the concept of paying for a wife until they interpreted the tradition in a new way to make it their own.

Similarly in Brisbane, Naseema Mustapha personalised her Islamic dowry by requesting her husband-to-be Mohamed to buy and slaughter a goat to cook it and feed the poor. And we hear from a young Indian woman in Melbourne, Roopa, who describes how the dowry custom destroyed her arranged marriage.

This week on Insight we examine the future of dowry in Australia and hear the stories of new communities struggling with old traditions.




JENNY BROCKIE:  Welcome to you all. Ajah, you're from a South Sudanese Dinka background? 

AJAH:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Tell us how dowry works in your culture? 

AJAH:  The dowry system is something that was started for a very, very long time and how important it is, is my mum used to tell me how she was married and that my father paid the dowries to the family.  So as I was growing up as a young lady she used to tell me how important it is for me to get married in a traditional way and for me to make sure that whoever is going to marry me will bring the dowries to my family like exactly the same way that they did to where she was married. It shows how much he respect your family and how much he loves you so much and that's exactly what my husband did it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Chol, you'd known Ajah when you were children in Kenya. You got together here in Australia. Who makes the approach about dowry? 

CHOL:  The parents, could be my dad or, first you have to talk with your dad as a man and then from there your dad will go and talk to his cousins, and then from then was, my son want to get married to this girl and she's from this tribe and then we need to start…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Negotiating? 

CHOL:  Negotiating now. So they go and do their thing and then we do our thing. So yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What does that mean, how does that work? 

CHOL:  I have to make, I was thinking just to convince her to marry me and then, and then they …

JENNY BROCKIE:  Their thing? 

CHOL:  Their thing.  They have to like, they have to reach like my family they can say oh, we need like seventy, we need like 70,000.00 


CHOL:  Yeah, do you have that?

JENNY BROCKIE:  Ajah, what did your family ask for? 

AJAH:  Oh, yeah, my family they ask for 70,000, seventy cows, that's how we just put it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Seventy cows? 

AJAH:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So the cows are word a thousand each? 

AJAH:  Yeah, so they just, because in Sudan they give it as a cow, but here in Australia they have to do it as money, there's no cows here. So yeah, that's how it works. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Let's have a look at your dowry negotiation ceremony in Dandenong in Victoria which was filmed by the ‘The Feed.’

AJAH:  Yes.




MASTER OF CEREMONIES (Translation):   Let us all settle and be quite so that we can start our negotiation.

CHOL:  Tonight we got seventy cows. 

MASTER OF CEREMONIES (Translation):   We have received $55,000 and there is an outstanding $15,000.

CHOL:  Pay the cows but the maximum you can just when you want if you are rich. 

MASTER OF CEREMONIES (Translation):   Another $5,000 will be paid in six months time. The remaining $10,000 will be left unpaid, as a bond to ensure our relationship continues in the future.

CHOL: Everyone is happy as you see now, everyone is dancing, party is going to start very soon. 



JENNY BROCKIE:  Was it difficult to reach agreement on the amount in the end? 

CHOL:  I wasn't there so I don't know. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So this is all done on your behalf.  You're not involved? 

CHOL:  I'm not supposed to be there, they could be like nearly like five hours talking to eight hours talking so they don't need me to be there.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You work in a warehouse? 

CHOL:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And as a soccer referee. How did you get that kind of money together? 

CHOL:  For Sudanese culture, as soon as the boy's like eighteen years old, you live with your parents. Your parents won't charge you anything, you can just give them for, like money for like the food, then they will deal with the rent and the bills because they knew that that thing will come one day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you're going to have to pay a dowry one day? 

CHOL: Yeah, one day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you started saving when you were young? 

CHOL:  Yeah, when I was young. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  For the dowry even without knowing who you wanted to marry? 

CHOL:  Yeah, so you have to, because otherwise, if you know you want to get, you want to get married one day then you have to do your saving. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How many days a week were you working to save that money? 

CHOL:  Like six days a week.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how did you feel about paying the money? 

CHOL:  Alright because that's what I want.  If I get her, doesn't matter, I can pay a million bucks if I had a million bucks. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Ajah, what if he hadn't come up with the money?  What happens then? 

AJAH:  My family they will disagree, like they will say no, you're not going to marry to him. But I will try everything I could to convince my family so that because I love him and it's the man that I want to marry. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you'd try and get the amount down if you had to? 

AJAH:  If only, but it's hard. So if I try to tell my family no, if my man does not have that kind of money and I don't, I will just marry him without any dowry, then they will just feel so bad and, yeah, they will not allow me to, because it's something that has been there and will always be there.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And who gets the money or the cows? 

AJAH:  Oh, my brother, my elder brother, because my father passed away long time so he was, he was presenting the role of my father.  So it was my elder brother, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Sheron, you're from a Zulu background, your husband Nick was born in Austria, you married about a year and a half ago. Describe for me the traditions that you drew on for your wedding and your reception, all the different kinds of traditions that you drew on? 

SHERON:  We incorporated both.  Well I know, they've just explained their side of their tradition in terms of dowry, but for us in South Africa, it's lobola.  Lobola is a custom practice within the Southern African when a man like Nick himself approaches the family of the groom to basically tell him that I want to marry your daughter, because I grew up in Australia, it had to be somewhat balanced in terms of not fully going within the tradition itself. So during our wedding we had the western side of the wedding where I had to wear a full gown. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  A white dress? 

SHERON:  A white dress, yes, and for the reception I had to wear a traditional outfit which is a Zulu outfit and very colourful. 

NICK:  She looked a lot better than me, got a photo somewhere of me wearing this, it's cool. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  They're great photos, there is a photo of you there with the feathers, is that feathers? 

NICK:  Yeah, feathers.  Actually no, they're not feathers, they're …

SHERON:  They're like a…

NICK:  Impala I think. 

SHERON:  Yeah. 

NICK:  It's some hair from an Impala, yeah. But anyways, I mean I guess, I guess…

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you really pulled together, you know, a whole lot of different things? 

NICK:  Yeah. 

SHERON:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  In your wedding and your reception and you've lived here a long time, yeah?  You've been here? 

NICK:  Almost twenty years, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Twenty years, and you've been here what, fifteen? 

SHERON:  Thirteen. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Thirteen? 

SHERON:  Thirteen years. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did you ask Nick to pay a dowry? 

SHERON:  No, I didn't, because he's a very interesting man.  He loves history so before we got married he knew what he was getting himself to marrying a South African, but because I kind of found myself having to negotiate between the two cultures, South African and the western, I found it quite challenging and because he actually watched me having to debate with my mind what should I do? I've got my family here in Australia who are a bit also in between because you've got the elders back in South Africa who pressures them saying when Sheron gets married she needs to go through the culture. But my parents were kind of like but we live in Australia so we can't really force her. But because of Nick, he said to me you know what? I will just give a token of appreciation so therefore we buy piece, because at the end of the day you're trying to make your family happy. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is your family back in South Africa? 

SHERON:  Back in South Africa. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So uncles or…

SHERON:  Uncles, grandmothers, aunties and the whole lot.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what did you offer Nick? 

NICK:  Well, I mean the way that I look at it, the whole context is basically we're talking about traditions, right? And who's to say that one tradition is superior to another? You know, we live in a multicultural place and so you know, let's try and find a common ground of some kind. It is a form of respect to her family. My mum was a little bit, you know, it took a bit of convincing and explaining to my mum because obviously she…

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is your mum in Vienna? 

NICK:  My mother in Vienna, yea.  Obviously because, well you know, it sounds like I'm purchasing a bride. So obviously then had to learn about it a little bit and said okay, well there's got to be some cows.  I was hoping to meet the cows, I wanted to have some kind of personal relationship with the cows but that was not going to happen. It's actually, I learnt a ceremony that's bigger than the wedding itself. The lobola ceremony is more important. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you say your mum had trouble coming to terms with that? 

NICK:  Didn't have trouble but I had to explain to her the context. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What were her concerns? 

NICK:  It can be seen as basically a negotiation over the value, the worth of a female. Once you explain well that's only one part of it, there's also the joining of the two tribes, the two clans together, then you know, it became more clear to her. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what did Nick pay your family in the end? 

SHERON:  I don't know. 


NICK:  It's not supposed to be revealed. But I think, I think it was, you know, I forgot actually, about fifteen cows I think. 

SHERON:  Sorry, actually what we did, we made a budget for actual wedding, our western wedding, and what we did, we divided it into half and because I had told my parents that I'm not going to let my uncles delegate how much I'm worth. I mean it's a great gesture, I love it, I respect my culture, it has formed my identity, but at the same time I am marrying someone out of my culture so therefore I have to respect his side as well.  Because it was very challenging to have both cultures together without feeling, without making him feel like, wow! I’m getting myself into this family where I’m going to feel like I just give, give. They are going to milk me. So we need to come to a mutual agreement. They were quite understanding, so we divided the amount, the budget. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  The cost of the actual wedding? 

SHERON:  For the actual wedding, for the overseas wedding, sorry. So from that, which was $7,000, that was half of our actual budget so I said to them, I said to Nick well, we can just offer this and that's your token of appreciation. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And what about the cows? 

SHERON:  There were two cows. 

NICK:  Two cows. 

SHERON:  There were two cows, but there's only one there because for some reason I couldn't get the second cow. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Not a good looking cow? 

SHERON:  Actually the second cow…

NICK:  I never met the cow. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You've not seen the cow?  Is that the first time you've seen the cow? 

NICK:  No, I saw photos. 

SHERON:  Because we were not there literally. 

NICK:  We weren't there. 

SHERON:  Yes. 

NICK:  So it would have been nice to, you know, have a personal relationship, a special cow, not just any cow. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  It's a very special cow. So there were two? 

SHERON:  There were two cows.  One of them I think must have been slaughtered already, part of the celebration. This one, no they do, they slaughter, I'm sorry if you're vegetarian and you don't get to eat much there. 

NICK:  That’s true. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do the cows represent? 

SHERON:  So it's a symbol of wealth which goes back years, years, years ago, but in today's, well I know the two cows, one of them represent for the mother, dry your tears, that's the one that's still alive.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And was everyone happy in the end with the arrangement?  

SHERON:  Yes, everyone was happy, but in the beginning it was a bit of a, I don't know, it was very unpleasant to deal with because I had my uncles who wanted more than $7,000. So thatwas…

JENNY BROCKIE:  How did you get them to come around in the end? 

SHERON:  I just told my mum that well, they're going to have to accept it, it's $7,000, I'm not going to go any further than that. They need to understand that I'm building a future, Australia is a very expensive country, I'm not going to just let my husband just spend money like that when we're trying to build a family as well in the future. So it's done because I respect them. The thing is with lobola it's a spiritual ceremony where you involve your ancestors. So when you grow up in a place like that, you get told that, you don't want to anger your ancestors and if you do believe in that you need to do right by them. So I'm thinking well, okay, the ancestors are not alive of course so therefore we will give a token. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is the story of migration, isn't it, really? 

SHERON:  Yes.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  About having to adjust and shift and…

SHERON:  Yes. 

NICK:  That's right. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And take bits of tradition with you and let go of other bits and compromise. 

SHERON:  Mm-mmm. 

NICK:  Because that's the beautiful thing here, I think what you're seeing with everyone here, I'm guessing, is that we learn about these traditional customs but then we make our own, we create our own traditions here because a tradition, no matter how old it is, at some point someone made that up, didn't they? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So were there any Viennese traditions in your wedding? 

NICK:  I knew you were going to ask this. Not, not so much, I didn't have schnitzels there or any waltzing going on. But it was basically a, I guess, a Christian white wedding. It was in Bali and our priest was a Balinese Anglican priest, so it was truly a blend of cultures. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Naseema, you have an Indian background, your family moved from South Africa to Australia forty years ago so you've been here quite a long time. You're getting married for the second time in two days.  Will your marriage involve a dowry? 

NASEEMA:  Yes, it does involve a dowry. Mohamed and I are both Muslim and although we come from different cultural backgrounds, we follow the Islamic tradition which overrides our cultural tradition. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So just explain the Islamic tradition that you're going to follow? 

NASEEMA:  The only advice is that first of all the negotiation is between the bride and the groom. The family don't particularly get involved in negotiating the dowry. Whatever the bride requests, the groom obliges to. At the same time the bride is advised to ask for something that he can afford. In our case Mohamed and I are both social workers and we have a much deeper philosophy in giving, I suppose, so I decided that I would like for Mohamed to choose a goat, one single goat, and for him to pray and to slaughter that goat and to cook the food and to feed the poor with that and that's our dowry.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how did you respond to that request Mohamed? 

MOHAMED:  Oh, well, after having heard, um, a lot of people, I've got a lot of friends from Sudan and other places and every time you talk about dowries and marriages, talk about fifty cows, seventy cows, I was very happy to hear that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  One goat? 

MOHAMED:  Yes.  I was like whew, okay. That's a good start, that's a good start, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what's the principle behind it because this is different, isn't it? This is a dowry that goes to the wife, yeah, rather than to the wife's family? 

NASEEMA:  Correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Why does the dowry go to the wife? 

NASEEMA:  It's a gift to the bride, that's what it is. Traditionally, you know, 1400 and something years ago the dowry was sufficient to sustain a woman for a certain period of time in the event that the husband passed away or he was killed in war or whatever the case may be. And that was to sustain her but that doesn't apply so much nowadays because depending on which country you are in, if someone had to give me a dowry enough to sustain me for three months he'd be paying a pretty big packet in Australia. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So Mohamed, you'll go to Sierra Leone to kill the goat?  Are you going to do that yourself? 

MOHAMED:  Yes, I will do that, yes. I will travel back home and because my, most of my family members are still in Sierra Leone and Naseema she knows the story, it's a troubled country, we’ve had many years of war and a lot of suffering, a lot of poor people, orphans and all there so she's, being a social worker, humanitarian, she wanted that at least to go to those people and help so. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you'll ensure the goat is? 

MOHAMED:  I will ensure that it goes to the right people. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And are you going too Naseema? 

NASEEMA:  I would love to go, yes. Something we'd like to do together. 

MOHAMED:  Yes.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was there a dowry for your first marriage? 

NASEEMA:  Yes there was.  I married a person who wasn't very wealthy with my first marriage and I asked for $100. But he came from an Arab culture and that was quite offensive in the Arab culture because they normally ask for much, much more as a dowry. So he decided that no, $100 was quite shameful, and decided he had to give $500.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how widespread is the tradition amongst people you know in Australia? 

NASEEMA:  Every Muslim who gets married, if they're having an Islamic ceremony, it's a condition of the Islamic ceremony, but it varies tremendously. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How tremendously, like what? 

NASEEMA:  Oh, tremendously.  Like there's a lot of cultural influence as well. So like I said just before, that Arabs, even though they're Muslim, would ask for, like from my knowledge anyway, would ask for much greater dowry. Indians love gold so quite often you would ask for jewellery, or if you come from South Africa you ask for a Kruger Rand because that's a gold nugget and that holds a lot of value. So those are the kinds of differences. But I have a member in my family just asked for a Koran, a copy of the Koran as her dowry, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Shahrior, you married Nimi in an Islamic ceremony in 2011? 


JENNY BROCKIE:  How was your dowry negotiated? 

SHAHRIOR:   We had an interesting one. So we didn't even know that we had this dowry negotiation to do and what we did was we didn't get involved in the negotiations, our parents did. It was just a formality, it was just about, you know, how much and I was in a different room. I could hear our parents discussing and my father-in-law and my father had discussed and had agreed on a figure and I could hear the mothers like oh, it's too low because like thirty kangaroos. No, just joking, a joke, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So, so how was it worked out in the end? 

SHAHRIOR:  In the end it was a pretty, it was a pretty arbitrary figure. It wasn't something that was based on how much I had. We got married on the grounds, like we knew that, so the principle around the dowry is that, like you said, it's like an insurance for the girl and when we were getting married we knew that the Australian legal system protects the girl so much that she'll get much more than how much you can get in a dowry. So for us negotiation was pretty informal and it was, it was a bit of a fun exercise. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What did you agree on in the end?  What did you agree to pay? 

SHAHRIOR:  I think it was $30,000 Australian. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  $30,000 Australian dollars?  

NIMMI: Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And did you pay it up-front before the wedding or how did it work? 

SHAHRIOR:   So under the Islamic legal requirements, she, she can ask me for that money when we're getting married or right after we get married, or she can pardon it or she can ask for it later on. She's…

NIMI: I've pardoned it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You've pardoned it?  For how long, forever or for…

NIMI: Um, something happens to him, then yeah, then I can have it but it's not important to me.  We married, we fell in love. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So it's much more symbolic for you then it was an actual? 

NIMI: Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  An actual payment? 

NIMI: Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What's your cultural background? 

NIMI: Bangladesh. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're from Bangladesh and Shahrior? 

SHAHRIOR:   Bangladesh, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And when you had your wedding what traditions did you draw on, different traditions for the wedding and the reception? 

NIMI: We had a few different things.  Like you can see we had Nikah, that's just close family members who comes over to your house, it could be in your house. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  That's the Islamic part of the ceremony? 

NIMI:  The Islamic part of the ceremony. Then we had gaye holud, that's Haldi ceremony, that's like putting turmeric, turmeric paste on your skin to make you look beautiful. It's not really Islamic, it's actually cultural so it came from Indian culture.  I don't attend to his, he doesn't attend to mine but in my one he did surprise me. He showed up like at 10 o'clock dressed as in burqa borrowed, from him and his friends borrowed burqa from aunty.


NIMI: Yeah. 

SHAHRIOR:  Yeah, a niqab.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You wore a burqa to her night?


JENNY BROCKIE:  Is that your hen's night? 

NIMI:   No, that's the Haldi, that's this one here where he wasn’t supposed to come.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Because you had a hen's night as well, yeah? 

NIMI: I didn't actually.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So this, so this is the? 

NIMI: This is gaye holud, this is where the female, everyone comes and applies turmeric paste on your skin to make you look beautiful and they feed you sweets and hot stuff, whatever you want, all the guests comes and take photos with you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about western elements, did you incorporate western elements in your wedding? 

NIMI: Yeah, we chucked the bouquet, the flower from behind in the actual reception after the wedding ended.  That's what we did and we also had, we danced and stuff, part of the thing.  What else did we do? 

SHAHRIOR:  Yeah, like our whole wedding was basically a western wedding but we were just wearing…

NIMI: Cultural.

SHAHRIOR:   Cultural clothes and we had like a good, nice western wedding and, but by appearance we had a lot of, you know, Bangladeshi stuff in it, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Divya, you got married in India at the end of last year, did your family pay a dowry to your husband Gurjap's family, like some Indian families do? 

DIVYA:  We are Sikhs and we absolutely don't believe in dowry. We believe that marriages are bonding of two hearts and money should absolutely not come between such pure relationship of unconditional love.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Let's have a look at your wedding in India late last year. 




JENNY BROCKIE:  So how many people were at your wedding and what sort of celebrations did you have? 

DIVYA:  Yeah, I'd always dreamt of this lavish big Bollywood style wedding so we had numerous functions across India and Australia. It started in early November last year and just a few weeks back we had a reception here in Sydney with 1500 guests. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So do you know how much it cost all together for the wedding? 

DIVYA:  Lots.  No…

JENNY BROCKIE:  I'm just interested given what you said about money. I mean you might not have paid a dowry but obviously it was a very costly, costly exercise? 

DIVYA:  Yeah. I think everyone's an individual so if you do something for others you'll never be satisfied. If you do something for your heart's desires you'll be content. It was always my dream to have a fairy-tale wedding and the truth is to see your dream come true is priceless. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What was traditional about your wedding celebrations and what wasn't? 

DIVYA:  I’m very close to my culture, even though raised here in Australia, So in India, we had all the customs there, you know, very similar to the ones we just mentioned, the henna, the turmeric, the Haldi function and also the ceremony - so the red and white bangles which are making the noise at the moment, was actually put on at the religious ceremony by my maternal uncle on the morning of my wedding day so it symbolises the newly wedded status of a bride and also a sign of prosperity and  the new face of life. It's been four months since our wedding in December and I've not taken them off since. So traditionally we'd like to keep close to our culture so we can pass that on to our future generations. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you also had western elements, you had a helicopter here? 

DIVYA:  Yeah, yeah, that was not traditional. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How many of events did you have all together? 

DIVYA:  Five.

GURJAP:   We had a function in Sydney first way which was a religious ceremony in November. Then in India we had engagement, then we had a wedding ceremony and then we had a reception in India where I invited all my relatives and friends and Divya's relatives that live in India and then when we came back to Sydney we had a reception here for friends and family that live in Sydney. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how did you feel about all these celebrations, the fairy-tale wedding that Divya wanted? 

GURJAP:  That's what she wanted. I being different I would have preferred something smaller, just have close friends and family. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You had a very different wedding to that? 

GURJAP: Yes.  So, yeah, so she got what she wanted. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was that an issue at all that you didn't receive a dowry? 

GURJAP:  No, in India it's illegal to ask for a dowry, right? So…

JENNY BROCKIE:  But it still happens a lot? 

GURJAP:  It still happens. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Who paid for all of this?  For the wedding? 

DIVYA:  I think especially from our Indian background, how the customs work, it was mutual understanding where the bride's family would pay for the wedding functions, the wedding day, Gurjap's family paid for the reception we had in Delhi and we paid for the reception we had in Sydney. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How much did it cost all together? 

GURJAP:  Um, we actually haven't calculated. We actually…

JENNY BROCKIE:  More than a dowry would have been? 

GURJAP:  In some cases, in some cases. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you see as the difference between say lavish gift giving and a dowry in Indian culture? 

GURJAP:  A gift is given by choice. A dowry is asked for in India.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Roopa, you've been living and studying in Melbourne for the past two years. Your parents arranged your marriage. Can you tell us how that happened, that arranged marriage, how was it organised? 

ROOPA:  So I got married in India and I met my husband in Melbourne. Before my wedding everything was fine. My in-laws family said that they don't want anything from my family and my husband used to say that he has got a girl, whatever he wants he has got so he doesn't believe in dowry. But the day I got married and the next day everything started. My mother-in-law, she said that till the day your father won't pay this much money, my son won't talk to you. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  This is after your marriage? 

ROOPA:  The very next day. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  The very next day?  So this was unexpected for you? 

ROOPA:  This was, yes, because before the wedding, my husband he said he don't want anything.

JENNY BROCKIE:  You paid for the wedding? 

ROOPA:  Yes, my parents paid for each and everything. His parents didn't pay for a single thing. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much did the wedding cost? 

ROOPA:  It was approximately $52,000 Australian. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And was there any kind of cash dowry payment before? 

ROOPA:  Yes, but my parents didn't tell me about that. On my engagement they, yes, they paid the cash to my husband.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you know how much he paid before? 

ROOPA:  He told me that at that time he paid $6,000 Australian.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Was it just the dowry that caused the tension? 

ROOPA:  Apart from money, no other problem. The money was the problem, that's it.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How long did you stay with him? 

ROOPA:  Probably four, four months. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How has it affected you do you think? 

ROOPA:  It has affected me, like…it has stopped my life, I can’t trust anyone.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Manjula, you're a psychiatrist, you work in human rights and health and Roopa is one of your patients. Are you hearing many stories like that, about dowry?

MANJULA:  Yes, I have collected several hundred patients by now and the kind of stories I'm hearing is that usually the negotiations, they're not negotiations, they're demands, happen a day before the marriage. At that point usually all of the community has gotten to know that the wedding is going to take place and the social pressure to not break that marriage means often the fathers go ahead, the parents rather go ahead and give that amount of dowry when initially most of the young women are saying we will not marry anybody who wants a, demands a dowry.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kamal, you had an arranged marriage to Manjinder twenty years ago? 

KAMAL:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Did your family pay her family a dowry? 

KAMAL:  Not at all, it's never been practiced in our family at all. I cannot recall in any of my relatives that ever being practiced.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Manjinder, you still felt the need to give something though, didn't you, when you got married?  Why? 

MANJINDER:  When we got married, like you know then my father actually wanted to give some gift to his dad, he gave him a gold ring. Then when we got married, the next day his father came to me, he gave that ring to me, he said your father gave this ring to me but I want to give this to you as a gift because I don't want to keep it, you know? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So it's symbolic but it came back? 

MANJINDER:  Yeah, yeah, so he gave the ring back to me. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you two think about the dowry custom being continued in Australia? 

KAMAL:  Being a father of a gorgeous thirteen year old, I think it's atrocious. Ever since the day my daughter has been born, I've actually had this as a mental block in the back of my head, you know, when she's going to get married I hope this is never, ever going to  occur in our situation. I always believe daughters are the most precious thing to a father. As a father if I can give my most precious thing to my son-in-law, what more can I give? There is no money or any other type of gifts that I could ever give that will replace that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you rest of you think about hearing these stories? 

NYADOL:  I just think I probably agree with you, I think that dowry plays a part in how women are looked at as lesser than men in my society. That's my opinion, I think it plays a part in it because in my culture it's paid as a form of almost compensating the family for bringing up the girl and…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you're from South Sudanese as well? 

NYADOL:  I'm from the same country. 


NYADOL:  But like I grew up with a mother that didn't necessarily bring me up with ideas of getting married at all, my mum I think valued education more than anything and that probably had to do with the fact that you know, I hope my mum is okay for me to say this, that she was actually forced to marry my dad and dowry played a big part in why she was forced to marry my father. She was an excellent student at school, she was taken out of school, she was told this man has status, my father was a relatively well known high ranking soldier in South Sudan. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You know of him? 

CHOL:  Everybody knows dad. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Everybody knows him? 

NYADOL:  Everybody knows him. And because of that, because of his status of the man he was, and the fact that he had a lot to offer, my mum's choice of saying I don't want to marry this man were entirely ignored. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is that right Mary, is that what happened? 

MARY:  Yes, correct, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were forced into the marriage? 

MARY:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how big a part did the dowry play in that because they paid a price for you basically? 

MARY:  Yes, and they paid a lot.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How old were you?  

MARY:  I was sixteen, I was sixteen when he married me. 

NYADOL:  I grew up with that story and I think because my mum had that experience, she never really forced us to want to be married. So she emphasised school and it was the reverse, I was the one that wanted the dowry in a way, even though I am against it, I wanted that celebration for my mum. I wanted that symbolism for her.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  When you got married? 

NYADOL: When I got married and I got married in June last year and my husband paid,  paid a significant amount of cows. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How many cows? 

NYADOL:  300 cows. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  300 cows, that's a lot of cows?   And how do you decide the, I mean the value of the cows seems to vary a little bit I've noticed? 

NYADOL:  Yes, it does, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  How does that work? 

NYADOL:  It depends, I think there's a lot of variation, it depends on I think the time you get married and where you get married as well because we were married in South Sudan. I think there's a bit of extra pressure being back home and also I come from an extremely large family.  My mother, my father married multiple wives so that is taken into consideration when a person wants to marry me, and also the fact that my father's really well known also plays a part into how many cows I get as well. So I think that kind of raised the bar and I think there's another thing now that it's becoming common, they also say oh, my daughter's educated so you have to pay extra because we educated our daughter. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Now you've been living in Australia for twenty two years? 

NYADOL:  Yes, a very long time. 

KAMAL:  But how you can work the cows into dollars, in what rate? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Everyone wants to know this, everyone wants to know how the cows translate into dollars. 

NYADOL:  How much is one cow, Mama? 

MARY:  3,000. 

NYADOL:  It's a bit complicated. So one cow, when I was getting married one cow was equivalent of 3,000 Sudanese pounds. 3,000 pounds at the time was about 300 dollars US? 

MARY:  Yeah. 

NYADOL:  Yeah, so that's how it's calculated and the money is paid in US dollars.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Mary, what did you think about the price that Nyadol was? 

MARY:  I'm very happy. It's not only me, all of my relatives, both my side and Nyadol's father side. 

NYADOL:  So the dowry is distributed throughout the family. So my mum's side gets something, my dad's side gets something, the uncles get something, my aunties get something, my sister gets something and I think that's why it can be a bit complicated sometimes when you want to get divorced. 

MARY:  And father's friends too. 

NYADOL:  My father's friends as well. When you say want to divorce sometimes, it's very hard for your family to pay the money back and so sometimes some women get stuck in relationships. I've heard of stories where women stays in abusive marriages because they don't, they're not sure how their parents would pay back that amount if they were to leave so it does I think play a part in, it's a much bigger context in how women are treated sometimes in my communities. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So what do you think of dowries? 

NYADOL:  I think, I think my personal belief is that it should be abolished, which my mum disagreed. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Your mum disagrees with that? 

NYADOL:  Disagrees with that, she absolutely disagrees with it. I think if we don't want to abolish it, then there should be a limit on how much a person is to be paid. So that it's not an incentive for example, to pull your daughter out of school because it's such a huge amount to get or it's something that can be easily paid back. So the amount should be reduced to something that is sensible and reasonable.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you had a dowry? 

NYADOL:  Yes, I did have a dowry and that's the complicated thing, even though I had a dowry, I don't get a cent of it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you still went along with it? 

NYADOL:  I went along with it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And why did you go along with it when you're not comfortable with it? 

NYADOL:  Because I value the relationship with my mum, I value the relationship with my extended family members. Culturally I have no say on whether or not someone pays a dowry for me. It's not in Nuer law a right of mine to tell anybody that they can't pay a dowry. It's seen as my family right, that's my mum's right, that's my father right. So it would be asserting myself in a very different way. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Ajah, can I ask you what you think about what Nyadol's saying, because you're both from a similar cultural background?

AJAH:  We Dinkas we always pay the dowries, if we want to marry the girl we have to do that.

JENNY BROCKIE:  But I'm interested in, because I know that you see this quite differently, you know, you see a different way of viewing women, don't you Nyadol? Can you explain that? 

NYADOL:  I think because it's only paid by, it's, you know, women who the dowries are paid for, I think that it plays into the larger patriarchal system in my culture in placing, seeing women as lesser, that you have to compensate for the fact that they were brought up by their family when you don't have to compensate for the boys being brought up by the same family. It becomes a transaction in some ways. You know, the fact…

JENNY BROCKIE:  Like you're buying the person? 

NYADOL:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Is it like ownership?

NYADOL:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Does it translate into a sense of ownership? 

NYADOL:  I think that it does, one of the things that, for example, makes me anti dowry is the fact that I don't have the same right to my children, at least in Nuer cultural law I won't have the same rights to my children as my husband would because my husband has paid a dowry, you know, so my children will always be part of his family. They will take his name but they will never necessarily be part of my family.

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you think about that Ajah? 

AJAH:  No, actually I'm not feeling like he paid them because he's like buying me, no.  It's traditional and something that he does to appreciate my family for well raising me to be who I am right now, very respectful woman, because you can just pay those kind of amount of money for any kind of girl, a girl who will not come and settle with you and live with you.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how do you feel then about the price that was paid for you? 

AJAH:  Yeah, I feel so proud, yeah, I feel good. 

NYADOL:  I feel very conflicted and I felt, I felt as if I, I think personally I felt as if I wasn't strong enough to have stood up to my culture. So I felt quite conflicted throughout my wedding and I think I feel quite conflicted now even now speaking honestly in that I haven't settled well with the way I think the, I'm not quite settled with the dowry stuff and I don't think that some of the things that come off the practice itself are justifiable. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay, hands up everywhere, yes, question?

FEMALE: I just want to know, do you ever wish that some of that money went to you as a couple considering you want to start a life together, you need the money?

CHOL:   The thing is, the good part is let's say if I have a, like my job is alright and she has a good job, all the money she make belong to me. So that how it work. So you marry, let's say she's a millionaire and I'm married to her, those million bucks belong to me, they don't belong to her. 

FEMALE: Because of the dowry? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  We're just opening a complete hornet's nest here, I can feel it coming, I can feel it coming. 

CHOL:   Because of the dowries, because the woman belong to you, anything belong to the woman belongs to you, so because you agree to get married. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you're happy with that? 

AJAH:  Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Salpha, you're also from a South Sudanese Dinka background and you live in Hobart? 

SALPHA:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  You're already married but your wife can't join you here until you pay her family a dowry?

SALPHA:  That's right, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What do you have to pay? 

SALPHA:  Could be 250. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  250 cows? 

SALPHA:  Cows, not money, that’s the demand. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how much is that worth in dollars? 

SALPHA:  I think currently will be 300, 350 US dollars. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  $300 per cow? 

SALPHA:  Mm-mmm, per head and a good one. 

FEMALE: Can I ask a question about that? Do you have to pay it all at once, like 250 cows in one lump or can you just do like do, like lay-by? 

SALPHA:  You can't lay-by because you've already got a girl, there's no way they can give you a lay-by for that one.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do have to you pay them all?

SALPHA:  You have to pay them all, they have to be taken in one go. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So Salpha you could be up for what, around $70,000 US? 

SALPHA:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how are you trying to get that money together work wise to try and get that money? 

SALPHA: Well I'm working, I'm doing three jobs so I do kitchen hand where I get paid $12 an hour and I do gardening and I work for a company. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So how many hours a week are you working? 

SALPHA:  Oh, I have to whatever hours I could get my hand on I'll take it because I want to save up for my wife. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how long have you been saving? 

SALPHA:  Since 2015.

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how long ago were you married? 

SALPHA:  2015, January. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So your wife is where? 

SALPHA: In Uganda. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you have any sense of when you think you might have that money? 

SALPHA:  Um, maybe at the end of the year, December. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And you have a daughter, you and your wife have a daughter? 

SALPHA:  I have a daughter, Alex. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Have you net her?  


JENNY BROCKIE:  How old is she? 

SALPHA: She's fifteen months. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What does your wife think about what you're doing? 

SALPHA:  My wife? 


SALPHA:  Oh, she doesn't worry about it really. That's what she wants.

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you can't see your daughter until that dowry is paid? 

SALPHA:  If I don't pay and, for example, I want my daughter in the future, I have to pay for my daughter to be given to me because I didn't pay for their mother. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So how do you feel about the tradition? 

SALPHA:  I don't really have a problem with it because that's the price for wife. My father paid, my grandfather paid, I have to pay for because I would feel really, really bad to have somebody's daughter.  Where they said in some Indian community the girl pay for a boy, I would love to go to that community. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  What about, what about the idea of marrying someone you wouldn't have to pay for? 

SALPHA:  Oh, yeah, I still feel guilty. As a Dinka man I feel like mmm, something is not right. Just the guilt, the guilt that I will have that I actually took somebody's daughter and I didn't give anything to them, yes. 


MALE:  At what point do we start reworking tradition?   I mean it's an incredible part of everyone's culture and it's really about history when we think about it, but what at what point do we start adding to that history and reinventing it and reappropriating our cultures? 

NYADOL: My hope would be that the whole thing is abolished.  I don't think that's going to occur because a lot of people like the practice. I think what we should be pushing for is a younger generation of South Sudanese is to have the dowry, the amount of dowry that is to be paid to be extremely limited. So that it's a particular amount of cows, say fifteen which is cheap, it means that if it doesn't become an economic incentive to take your daughter out of school back home and it doesn't, it's not such a huge amount that cannot be repaid back if the marriage do fall apart, so that the symbolism remains there but you take away some of the negativity that's associated.  

JENNY BROCKIE:  Salpha, how would you feel about that? 

SALPHA:  I would be against it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But what about Nyadol's idea that a dowry be limited so that it's symbolic?  You know, it's fifteen cows rather than 300 cows? 

SALPHA:  I don't think it should be limit. If you want a wife, pay for her. If you want a wife, you want a wife, pay for it. 

NYADOL:  I think a younger generation is attempting to somehow find a middle ground where we don't push away our elders but at the same time, we are able to live a much more decent life or life that recognises women as equals and I do believe that the way things are progressing, the payment of dowry is going to change eventually in my culture because I don't think I will have the same demand or any demand at all that someone pays anything for my daughter and I don't think my husband would have that kind of thinking. In a way, we might be, or at least speaking for myself and my husband, we might be the last generation where someone has to pay a dowry for me. So I think we are changing it. We are transforming our cultures. It is honestly, though, a difficult conversation.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay. Ajah, you have two daughters, if they get married are you going to expect dowries from their future husband's families? 

AJAH:  No, not really because they were born here so we're going to see how they're going to go with the western culture. But I will try everything I could as long as I'm a going to see how I get married and they're going to watch my video, my husband paid the dowries to my family. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you'll tell them the story of your tradition? 

AJAH:  Yeah, I will. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And they'll understand that? 

AJAH:  I will try to. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  But you're open to the idea that it might change with the next generation? 

AJAH:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Do you feel that way too Chol? 

CHOL:   Oh, if my future son will get a free girl then I don't mind my daughters to go for free, but if my son is going to get charged, I'm going to charge the person who take my daughter. That’s how it works. Nothing is free, so that’s how it works.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Loving this. Nyadol, you're not going to expect a dowry for your baby daughter?  

NYADOL:  Personally for me, no.  I would rather put that money in an account for her to put a deposit for a house, since it's so expensive to afford a house in Australia now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Shahrior, what about you?  Nimi, you're pregnant at the moment? 

NIMI:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Can you imagine being in a position where you'd be negotiating a dowry one day? 

NIMI:  No, I don't think so. We'll see. Depends on our daughter but we'll follow the Islamic. 

SHAHRIOR:   I don't think for our children we'd like the idea of a dowry. 

NIMI:  Yeah, we don't like the idea of a dowry. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Sheron, what about you? 

SHERON:  I’m not going to allow it, we're not going to allow it, it’s going to be their choice you’re your right, it should be abolished or not. Maybe women and men should be given the opportunity to choose. Can I do it as a token, not being forced to pay 30 cows? No offence, this is my opinion.


JENNY BROCKIE:  Nick, what do you think? 

NICK:  Yes, that's it.  We'll tell them about it but they grew up here so they can create their own traditions, my thoughts, our thoughts. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Such a fascinating conversation, thank you so much everyone.  Really interesting to hear all your stories and that is all we have time for here but I'm sure there will be a lot of talking on Twitter and on Facebook. Thank you very much everyone, great. Really good.