Monday, April 21, 2008

Dowry Practices in Egypt

Had dinner last night at an Egyptian friend’s house- we are vegetarians (well, actually “eggtarians”); the friend had taken pains to prepare a vegetarian meal. The meal was scrumptious –Lebanese style dolmas-capsicums, tomatoes, zucchinis, onions cored and filled with delicately spiced rice and boiled. For the Indian touch, the friend had added some Indian spices to the rice and the outcome was mouth-watering. The vegetable had been boiled to perfection-firm enough to be easily “knifed” and yet the rice stuffed inside had been cooked through.

My friends are a newly married couple and everything in their house is new. My friend’s wife showed me around their tiny apartment – while doing so, she pointed out the stuff that “she” had contributed to the house as part of the marriage contract. For the first couple of times, I felt odd when she said this but then I realized that she was stating this very matter of factly and without any trace of “show-off”. Then my friend started on about the stuff that he had contributed-soon this escalated into a discussion about the prevailing dowry practices in Egypt.

The man is responsible to provide the house, the curtains and the furniture. The woman is responsible for providing all the kitchen appliances and pots and the pans. Crockery, cutlery, bedclothes also form part of her “dowry.” And one cannot forget the children’s room which has to be fully furnished and equipped, even before the marriage!

Of course, all this frank discussion did sound a bit strange to us-but my mom who was with us reminded us that in India too, the dowry system is widely prevalent and a bigger dowry gets you a “better” husband. In some communities in India, where the dowry amounts involved are huge, the parents start accumulating funds for their daughters’ wedding on her birth. In India, it is usually the girl’s family that bears the entire onus of the wedding expenses, in addition to providing the dowry. Sometimes, the dowry may also include a furnished accommodation for the couple.

That evening, I came away with a lot of thoughts on the concept of dowry-should the union of two people be so fraught with “material” considerations. The maid who works at my house is Egyptian and she too has told me on several occasions that she needs to accumulate money for her dowry-to buy all that is part of her contribution to the marital home. But on second thoughts, all this obsessions with the material aspect of a marriage may be “practical” and provide the married couple with some amount of financial security.


vieN said...

I have read and understood everything that is written and i found it so interesting, weird yet educational because it's a different practice to what i have in my religion.It's a new "know-how", and it's great learning other country's culture and tradition. More power!

Sanks said...

Yes, the customs differ from place to place. And on the surface, they might appear to be different, but in most cases, there is a common thread running through them. I am glad to knoe that you found the post interesting