An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
IN BOUGAINVILLE most women are not paid to become wives because they own land and resources. So, if there is a bride price, it generally won’t be higher than K3,000.
During traditional times in north Bougainville, bride price was paid with shell money and food. Nowadays it’s transacted in kina. The highest amount would not usually exceed K500 but, if the person paying want to increase the amount, it is in his own hands.
The bride’s family is not allowed to charge more than K500 because of a Local Level Government marriage law. However, most marriages have no bride price.
In central Bougainville, there is no such thing as bride price. Wedding ceremonies were carried out in a traditional way with feasting and giving presents. The marriage is free to keep women powerful in the society because land is owned by women and they are the final decision-makers in communities.
South Bougainville, however, is known for its bride price system. Because the society is patrilineal, especially in the Buin area, men have to pay for their brides.
I heard that the highest price paid by a person from central Bougainville who married in south Bougainville was K7,000 paid for a Buin woman by a prominent Panguna businessman. Normally the highest bride price charged for the Buin people is around K3,000.
Unfortunately, though, there seems to have been a recent exception. The young Bougainvillean author Leonard Fong Roka (pictured above) was charged a price of K20,000 for his fiancée from Laguai in the Buin area of south Bougainville.
“My fiancée’s uncle who looked after her charged me that amount, it is true,” Leonard Roka told me.
“I was in a bit of shock paying that amount of money. I’m working on it because I have great respect for Bougainville culture.”
So to the question, “Is it worth it?” As I mentioned, in Bougainville a woman is powerful without bride price and that makes a wife equal to her husband.
But if a woman is paid to be married for a large amount, a man feels like he owns the wife so he can do whatever he wishes to do with her because she is his property which he had purchased her from her parents possession.
Anyway, that is just my thought, I’m not trying to dispute the custom or tradition of the people but just giving an insight into Bougainville’s bride price system.
It’s about time the Bougainville government intervened to create laws for such things as bride price. The cash economy is influencing the minds of the people who are forgetting the traditional ways which, apart from being a valued part of our culture, were cheaper than now.