Marriage and Eligibility

By Christopher D. Roy
University of Iowa

MaliBamana peoples

Door lock

Wood, metal

W. 44.5 cm (17 ½”)

The University of Iowa Museum of Art, The Stanley Collection, X1986.300

Because marriage is not believed to be the concern of the spiritual forces of nature or the wilderness, the art forms that are associated with marriage are rarely sculptural, but more often take the form of gifts that are offered from husband to wife (and the reverse), goods that are publicly displayed by the wife as a sign of the wealth and character she brings to the marriage, and payments of prestige objects that are made by the family of the groom to the family of the bride.  Such payments are often called "bride-wealth" or "bride-price" in the literature, and they are mistakenly thought of as a system of buying a wife, but in fact this is a system by which surplus goods are redistributed throughout the community, because the very same goods that are "paid" to a woman's father are in turn used by him to "purchase" wives for his eligible sons.