Anthropological literature has historically engaged with the practice and problematics of bridewealth through an economic perspective, debating primarily whether bridewealth or bride price items had to be considered as gifts or as commodities and the women in those exchanges as « persons of value in local kinship exchanges» or as « things with a price tag» (Jolly 2015 : 64). Although this approach has proven fundamental to the understanding of bridewealth around the world and although it has allowed the accumulation of a great deal of ethnographic data on the manifestations of this practice in various settings, we adopt a slightly different perspective in this project. We are indeed primarily concerned with the individuals' experiences and perspectives on bridewealth exchanges, the importance or relevance of this practice in their lives and the implications on this practice in today's world.
The project has four components:
Ethnographic fieldwork on bridewealth in the Solomon Islands
This component will be carried out by the primary investigator, Christine Jourdan, who has been conducting research in Honiara, the capital city of the Solomon Islands, since 1981. It will aim to study the urban modalities of bridewealth exchange and marriage among the middle class in Honiara. Data will also be collected among the families of urban middle-class citizens in three rural ethnic groups where bridewealth is still important : the Lau and the Kwaio of the island of Malaita and the Kaoka located close to Honiara on the island of Guadalcanal. The main research techniques will include participant observation, recorded interviews, video recording of bridewealth exchanges and archival research.
Workshop on bridewealth in the Solomon Islands
Another component of the project will consist in the organization of a workshop on bridewealth in the Solomon Islands. Held in Honiara, this workshop will assemble community organization representatives, government officials, policy-makers and church leaders to discuss the practice of bridewealth and the issues it raises at the local and at the national level.
Workshop on bridewealth in Canada
The third component of this project will consist in the organization of a workshop on bridewealth in Canada. Canada is home to diaspora communities from all over the world. Many of these communities continue to practice bridewealth within Canada, or are expected by family in their home country to exchange bridewealth in order to remit portions of the payment to family back 'home.' Organized in Montreal, this workshop on bridewealth in Canada will bring together academics, community organization representatives and members of communities to discuss the importance of bridewealth in Canada and the challenges and difficulties it poses.
Bridewealth in the World: the website
An important component of the project is the website « Bridewealth in the World.» This website is intended as a reference tool on bridewealth and problematics of bridewealth in the world, including domestic violence and the tensions between «customary law» and «introduced law » in case of divorce from marriages including the payment of bridewealth. The website is divided by regions. Each region contains a map of the distribution of the practice of bridewealth, an overview of the practice in that region, information and images of the exchanged objects in each case and a region-specific bibliography of sources to consult for further information. There is also a page dedicated to the customary and national laws governing bridewealth (when applicable) and a page with further media (e.g. recorded interviews, films, etc).
Jolly, Margaret. 2015. "Braed Praes in Vanuatu: Both Gifts and Commodities?" Oceania 85 (1): 63–78.