Brideprice and prejudice: an audio‐visual ethnography on marriage and modernity in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea

Henry, Rosita, and Vavrova, Daniela (2020) Brideprice and prejudice: an audio‐visual ethnography on marriage and modernity in Mt Hagen, Papua New Guinea. Oceania, 90 (3). pp. 214-233.

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The relationship between bridewealth and women's autonomy is not only discussed amongst anthropologists, development practitioners and other scholars but also amongst brides themselves. Women continue to embrace such marital exchanges, despite their knowledge of ‘modern’ development discourse about the constraints of the practice on women's status and its links to gender‐based violence. This paper provides a visual exploration of contemporary brideprice practices and women's autonomy in Mt Hagen. We draw on scenes from our ethnographic film (An Extraordinary Wedding: Marriage and Modernity in Highlands PNG) to explore deliberations and developments that occurred in the case of a particular marriage that took place in 2012. We argue that the institution of brideprice has the potential to enhance the visibility of some women and the importance of their contribution to their own and husbands' kin groups. Despite current tensions regarding brideprice, it can serve as an avenue for the enhancement of women's political participation. The particular brideprice exchange featured in our film, raised concerns for the participants, which we consider in terms of three questions: Does brideprice commodify women? Does it play a role in gender‐based violence? Is it inimical to aspirations for modernist individuality? We discuss the importance of bekim (‘return gift’) and suggest that this practice challenges the notion of brideprice as a commodity transaction. We argue that, while there may be an association between brideprice and gender‐based violence, brideprice, in and of itself, is not causative of violence. The marriage represented in the film, and discussed in this paper, reveals the creativity of participants in adjusting the values inherent in the customary practice of brideprice to their contemporary aspirations.

Item ID: 65497
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1834-4461
Keywords: brideprice, ethnographic film, marriage, gender based violence, Papua New Guinea
Copyright Information: © 2020 Oceania Publications
Date Deposited: 18 Feb 2021 23:58
FoR Codes: 44 HUMAN SOCIETY > 4401 Anthropology > 440102 Anthropology of gender and sexuality @ 100%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 50%
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