Reflections a Japadhola cultural leader on bride price, cultures and colonialism
Many people talk glibly about something they call African culture. In The New Vision of March 31, Jenn Jegire of Canada wrote a letter entitled, “Nothing barbaric about bride wealth”.
She wrote about bride price, colonialism and African culture. The problem for me is that I am not sure whether what is called African culture actually exits.
Which Culture is Africa with all this diversity of traditions?
The Baganda may talk about their Kiganda culture; just as any other nationality may also talk about theirs. And there may be some commonality between these “cultures”. Probably this is what leads people to talk of African culture. But these common features are not limited to Africa-they can be found all over the Third World. That being the case, there is nothing specifically racial or African about these cultures.
This brings us to the question: what is it that gives character to culture? I believe that the character of a culture is not determined by race but by the level of technical development or better still what Marxists call the forces of production.
By forces of production the Marxists mean the combination of raw materials, means of production, technology, energy, knowledge, skill, and labour that go into the production of goods and services.
In the earlier phase of the socio-political development of man, because of the rudimentary level of the forces of production, man’s relations with other people in order to produce was limited. If he needed food, he went hunting or sometimes he just went foraging for plant products. This is the stage of human development which anthropologists call hunt and gather societies.
However, as the forces of production developed, man got to relate with others in order to produce. In the more developed form of production, man developed what is called relations of production.
It is about means of production, not culture
Simply defined, this means the way man relates to other people when producing. These include property ownership, power and control relations governing society’s productive assets, often codified in law, cooperative work relations and forms of association, relations between people and the objects of their work, and the relations between social classes.
A specific combination of productive forces and relations of production gives rise to what is called mode of production. It is the mode of production which substantively shaped the nature of the mode of distribution, the mode of circulation and the mode of consumption, all of which together constitute the economic sphere.
It is also what determines the specific nature and character of society. Mankind has known or passed through a number of modes of production. These include lineage mode of production which existed in most areas of Uganda, the tributary mode of production which obtained in places like Buganda, Ankole and Bunyoro; and the capitalist mode of production.
The mode of production has two aspects to it: the economic basis and the superstructure. The base of society is the way people relate to one another in the production of their lives and their means- in other words the production relations. Social classes are an example of these production relations.
Superstructure defines cultures and practices
People relate to one another through their mutual relation to property. This in turn defines society. The superstructure is composed of things like the state, the legal system, social institutions, and ideas that arise on this base. Colonialism was the imposition of the capitalist mode of production in the area that became Uganda.
When capitalism came to Uganda, it came with its corresponding superstructure. This superstructure did not land on a blank slate because the modes of production which had been in existence in Uganda also had their corresponding superstructure.
There is nothing west or east about colonialism. It is not a geographical phenomenon. Colonialism could have come from anywhere. It just came from the West because at the time capitalism had developed to the level of imperialism in Western Europe.
Culture is an aspect of the superstructure. And as we said before, the economic basis of society in the main determines the superstructure.
With the introduction of capitalism in the area that became Uganda, a new economic basis of society, the culture had to alter. Bride price happens to be an aspect of the pre-capitalist superstructure.
Just as capitalism sought to drive out the pre-capitalist economic bases of society, so did the superstructure corresponding to capitalism seek to drive out the one corresponding to the pre-capitalist modes of production. It is in this struggle that bride price has to go. But there is another reason. Bride price demeans the womenfolk. It reduces them in value.
Bride Price and other women demeaning cultures incorrect
Even if we were to accept, for the sake of argument, the existence of the so-called African culture whose aspect is bride price, we should recognise that a practice which makes the womenfolk be of less value than the menfolk is not correct.
Apart from reflecting on the issue of bride price, the theoretical framework we have set out should also help us respond to the other points such as colonialism which Jagire raised in her article.
I would like to add a personal note here. I am the elder brother of Jenn Jagire. Much as she claims to be a great advocate of bride price and the so-called African culture, I would like to state that she actually does not practise what she says.
She has been married but I have not demanded any bride price for her because I do not believe in it.
However, since she believes in it she should have ensured that the relevant bride price is delivered to those members of the clan who believe in it. This she has not done so!
By Yoga Adhola, a cultural leader of the Jopadhola