In many parts of the world, money changes hands when a man and woman marry. We hear of two terms: a dowry and a bride price. They are not the same.
The bride brings the dowry into the marriage, usually supplied by her family, to help establish the new household. It is wealth transferred from the bride’s family to the groom, or his family.
The bride price is different. When a man chooses a bride, he pays the girl’s father the bride-price. Sometimes this is a set amount; sometimes it is negotiated depending on the girl. It is not “buying” her, but the bride’s family sees it as appreciation for how well they raised their daughter. Some also see it as a sign of the husband’s commitment to the marriage union, and that he can financially take care of his wife.
In the bible, Jacob worked seven years for Rachel. That was a bride price. Over 25 years ago, I heard this story at a womens’ retreat and it touched me deeply. I lost my printed copy and just recently found the story on the internet. It was published in Readers Digest in February 1988.
Johnny Lingo and the Ten Cow Wife
Johnny Lingo wanted to get married. So, he went to his native Island of Kiniwata to find a wife. Now, the custom of his people was to trade in cows (a precious commodity there) for the bride. Typically, two or three cows would buy a fair-to-middling wife, four or five a highly satisfactory one. Johnny Lingo traded ten for his (some renditions of the story say eight cows). Everyone thought Johnny Lingo was crazy. In the eyes of Kiniwatans, Sarita – Johnny’s bride – was barely worth one cow. A local man described her in these words,
“It would be kindness to call her plain. She was little and skinny with no–ah–endowments. She walked with her shoulders hunched and her head ducked, as if she was trying to hide behind herself. Her cheeks had no color, her eyes never opened beyond a slit and her hair was a tangled mop half over her face. She was scared of her own shadow, frightened by her own voice. She was afraid to laugh in public. She never romped with the girls, so how could she attract the boys?”
No one knew of Johnny and Sarita since the nuptials. A young man, who was also interested in getting married, was told the story. Intrigued by the story and with time in his hands, he decided to find out by himself. He sailed to Narabundi where Johnny and Sarita lived. He found Johnny and related to Johnny the reason for his visit. Johnny confirmed the story. As they talked one of the most beautiful and elegant women, he had ever seen walked into the room with flowers. He described her with the following words,
“And then I saw her. Through the glass-beaded portieres that simmered in the archway, I watched her enter the adjoining room to place a bowl of blossoms on the dining table. She stood still a moment to smile with sweet gravity at the young man beside me. Then she went swiftly out again. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Not with the beauty of the girl who carries fruit. That now seemed cheap, common, earthbound. This girl had an ethereal loveliness that was at the same time from the heart of nature. The dew-fresh flowers with which she’d pinned back her lustrous black hair accented the glow of her cheeks. The lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, the sparkle of her eyes all spelled a dignity to which no one could deny her the right. And as she turned to leave, she moved with the grace that made her look like a queen who might, with enchantment, turn into a kitten.”
Before the man could say anything, Johnny said “This is my Sarita. My ten-cow wife. She has changed a lot. Part of which is the result of knowing she is a ten-cow wife. She has no need to worry when other women compare themselves by how much they cost. She cost more than any of them. To many she was not worth one cow and she believed that also. But I loved her and not any other. I wanted to marry her. You see, I always wanted a ten-cow wife.”
Her value was not determined by how much she was worth, but by how much Sarita was worth to Johnny.
Jesus paid a very high bride price for us.
That should tell us how much He believes we are worth.