The Bride Price

By Buchi Emecheta

1,106 ratings - 3.76* vote

A Nigerian girl is allowed to finish her education because a diploma will enhance her bride price, but she then rebels against traditional marriage customs.

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Book details

Paperback, 168 pages
May 17th 1980 by George Braziller Inc.

(first published 1976)

Original Title
The Bride Price
080760951X (ISBN13: 9780807609514)
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

This is my second from Emecheta, after her The Joys of Motherhood having left an unfortunate taste in my mouth; chamomile, not Earl=Grey. But this was already on my shelf, and short, so I thought I'd give it a go. Expecting to leave off after 30 or 50 pages. But it turns out that it worked well for an enjoyable afternoon reading ; not for it's content of course, harrowing as that is, but just the right book for the right mood. Still far too much explaining going on for my preferences, leaving me with the thought that its interest lies more in the anthropology than in the literary. So be it.

Connie G

Aku-nna's father dies when she is thirteen-years-old. Her mother, Ma Blackie, is forced by economic circumstances to leave their close community of supportive relatives in Lagos, and move back to her village in Ibuza with Aku-nna and eleven-year-old Nna-nndo. Following tradition, Ma Blackie becomes the fourth wife of her deceased husband's brother, Okonkwo. Ma Blackie has some money set aside for Aku-nna to finish her schooling, and Okonkwo agrees, only because an educated girl will fetch a higher bride price.

A potential groom offers a bride price to the bride's family as compensation for the loss of a worker in the bride's family. Women are considered property in traditional villages, and cannot determine their own future. There is a tribal superstition that a girl will die in childbirth if her bride price is not paid. (Some of these brides are so young, undernourished, and with such narrow hips that this superstition unfortunately does come true far too often.)

Aku-nna is a fragile, intelligent girl who feels lonely in her new home. Her young teacher Chike is very kind and protective of her, and soon they fall in love. Chike wishes to marry her, but Okonkwo refuses. Because Chike is a descendent of slaves, it would bring shame on Okonkwo's family if Aku-nna married Chike.

In Nigeria, one tribe would kidnap people of another tribe and force them into slavery. Under colonial rule, the slaves were released but their descendents were considered inferior and not true members of the village. A caste system exists where a villager could not marry a descendent of a slave, no matter how educated or successful they were.

There is a conflict between traditional and modern ways when Aku-nna falls in love with Chike and wants to marry him. The book has some serious themes such as tradition, the caste system, feminism, and superstition. How important are community values and community support as opposed to individual values and free will? The story itself is very engaging, keeping my attention as I wondered if the tale of the two Nigerian lovers would have a happy ending.

Buchi Emecheta was born in Nigeria in 1944, and her father died when she was nine years old. She was engaged at age eleven, and married at age sixteen. She left her unhappy, violent marriage six years later. She earned a degree in Sociology in London, while working and raising her five children alone. The author's own experiences from her early life are obviously influencing her writing, and many of her books deal with feminine oppression and poverty.

Ronald Morton

Aku-nna knew that she was too insignificant to be regarded as a blessing to this unfortunate marriage. Not only was she a girl but she was much too thin for the approval of her parents, who would rather have a strong and plump little girl for a daughter. Aku-nna just would not put on weight, and this made her look as if she was being starved; but she simply had not the kind of healthy appetite her brother Nna-nndo had. And that was not the end off the disgrace she was showering on her family. If a child at the other end of Akinwunmi Street had chicken-pox, Aku-nna was bound to catch it; if someone else at the bottom of the yard had malaria, Aku-nna would have her share too. For her it was forever a story of today foot, tomorrow head, the day after neck, so much so that her mother many a time begged her to decide once and for all whether she was going to live or die. One thing Ma Blackie could not stand, she said over and over again, was a "living dead", an ogbanje.
The Bride Price is set in Nigeria, and while the year is not explicitly defined, it is likely around 1960. Buchi Emecheta spent her youth in Nigeria, before moving to London at 18, in 1964. It is very unlikely that any aspect of this book is autobiographical, but at the same time Emecheta has woven a great deal of Nigerian culture into this brief novel, specifically culture as it applies to a young woman struggling to grasp her own agency in a distinctly patriarchal society.

The story here is compelling, and the characters are fully realized and sympathetic. Some of the writing is quite good, but the author at times reverts to an overly didactic, almost textbook, explanation of events and subtexts that weigh the narrative down, though much of this is contained in the first third or so of the novel. Due to this there is a great deal of information imparted, but it feels heavy handed. The latter portion of the book is more focused on Aku-nna's story, and is considerably the stronger portion of the book.

Overall this is a strong solid book, though weighed down by an over abundance of didactic cultural explanations, the overall whole is both moving and enlightening.


I look forward to reading more of Buchi Emecheta's works in the future even though this novel had some difficult and disturbing episodes.

When The Bride Price begins, Aku-nna the character which the story centers around, is a pretty, young, and fragile school girl living in Lagos, Nigeria with her parents and younger brother. It's the 1950s and things are changing in the city where people are blending both Western culture and their own traditions together. After her father's sudden death, Aku-nna's life changes. Following her dad's funeral her mother takes her and her brother back to the village. There Aku-nna sees her life begin to be stifled by severe traditional norms and superstition.

I liked how in the first quarter of the book Emecheta's writing begins in a lighthearted tone on though the tragedy of Aku-nna's father's death, but once Aku-nna's life is uprooted and transported to the village, the mood of the story becomes darker and more ominous moving forward to the conclusion.


3.5 stars if I could give half stars and I liked it enough to grab another book of hers called Double Yoke I saw at my library today. I like to go back into the past to a place I've never been but can see in my minds eye. Ibuza, a village of Ibo people with their customs and ways with many of their youth moving at that time to Lagos looking for work. I like to hear about the old customs and their new ways, how their worship of the ancestors mixes with Christianity to create a new altogether brilliant version of the Christian faith. I can see the people, the women with the vivid descriptions of the bright clothing they wear. I can feel the heat, the sun, can see the sun setting over the village and it's yam and cassava crops whilst I feel the crisp cool night air and the earth beneath my feet.
What will the next book bring to my minds eye?


This book started out with so much potential. However, the more I read, the more I began to see the story lacked character development and essentially seemed to go no where. With a topic such as domestic violence (which is an issue covered in this book), one hopes for an outlet for the character who encounters it. Several outlets are provided and never really explored... To be honest, several issues are presented and never really developed.

I was disappointed by this, because the book draws you in initially and then leaves the reader hanging.
If this book had a sequel I would probably bump it up to 3.5, but I can't justify a higher rating with the emptiness I felt after completing the novel.

In a positive note, it is a quick and easy read. If it were not for my busy schedule, I probably could have completed this book in 2-3 days.


Not one of her best works I must say. The storyline was a bit forced but I liked how it subtly critiqued
*Child marriages
*Girls dying in child labour
*Traditionally/society sanctioned kidnappings as a form of legal marriage.
*Widow inheritance
*Education of the girl child verses the boy child.
*The whole concept of bride price (tradition disguised by greed)
*Effects of slavery (ostracized)
*violence against women.
Buchi was clearly aiming a few shots at certain actions condoned and committed in the name of culture. The message was clear despite the tale failing short of a few things.


You don't have to look further than the title to understand that Emecheta is working with a meaningful premise. At the risk of sounding hackneyed, reading a novel about another culture is a powerful vehicle for understanding another place and time. I could not help comparing this novel to The Joys of Motherhood, which I preferred. There were moments, especially early on, where the prose would specify that a particular practice was unique to Nigeria and it was distracting from the immersive experience of living with these characters. Still really appreciate what Emecheta has done to record a way of life. She makes the cost of female oppression very clear. She must have been a most extraordinary person to write so many novels while working as a social worker and raising four children.


Having a daughter marry someone for a price is almost the same as selling her. According to the book, The Bride Price by Buchi Emecheta, Aku-nna, a young teenager, was forced to marry someone of her uncle, Okonkwo’s choice. Aku-nna fights fate and cultural customs to be with the one she desires. This story shows how females in a society must feel as if they are under the men. The readers learn about how in the African society, the males use women to benefit themselves, traditions play a big part in society, and how betraying your society’s rituals will result in a cursed death.

Aku-nna’s uncle, Okonkwo is in charge of Aku-nna’s life, and that includes who she has to marry. He gets to choose while she must follow his orders. “…Okonkwo was almost a father to her now… He wanted to be an Obi, so he needed more money. Aku-nna had to allowed to stay in school so that she could be married to rich man, from one of those newly prosperous families springing up like mushrooms all over Ibluza” (Emecheta 75). Aku-nna goes against her uncle’s will to marry her teacher and lover, Chike. Okonkwo wanted to become one of the rich men in his community; therefore he decided to keep Aku-nna in school so she could get more money for her bride price. He is selfish and is only doing these things for his own advantage. This can relate to how in society the men are superior to women and are able to be the one in charge. The idea of gender roles comes from ancient thoughts. It is passed on that men are stronger and more powerful than women; therefore Aku-nna’s society continues to carry on the concept of letting the man administrate the women.

During the story, “She could never return to Ibuza because she had committed an abomination. Some elders, however pointed out that as long as Okonkwo did not accept any bride price from the slave, the girl still belonged to Okoboshi for no one is his senses” (Emecheta 104). This passage from the novel shows how the traditions that are passed down from generation to generation teach that females must have her bride price paid in order to be with someone. If their bride price is not paid, it means she still belongs to the uncle and the man the uncles want her to get married with. The elder men in Aku-nna’s life would remind everyone else of how they must have the bride price paid to be with someone, or they are not considered to be married. This expresses how the practice of paying the bride prices carries on.

As it turns out this whole novel is a traditional story told by the people of Ibuza to teach young girls not to go against their family’s will. “Chike and Aku-nna substantiated the traditional superstition they had unknowingly set out to eradicate. Every girl born in Ibuza after Aku-nna’s death was told her story, to reinforce the old taboos of the land” (Emecheta 168). It is supposed to teach young females living in Ibuza how they must listen and obey their parents; if they don’t, they will be punished for not following the traditions.

The Bride Price demonstrates the idea of men being of a higher status than females, customs will continue to be passed on, and disagreement on traditions will have an effect on the future—whether it is negative or positive. Going against her uncle’s will to be married to a man that he disagrees with will result in bad endings. This leads back to the real world society and how it was supposed to be lead by traditions, and customs of a certain society. The manner of men being of greater status is hoarded by the males to restrain females from rebelling.


Review originally written for my blog

So, this is the second of Buchi Emecheta’s books that I’ve now read and this one was also fantastic. It’s set during the 50’s in Nigeria starting in Lagos then moving to Ibuza and looks at the customs surrounding marriage.

The book starts with the death of Aku-nna’s father due to an foot injury he sustained during the war. This means that his family can no longer afford to live in Lagos and so they all return to Ibuza to life with her uncle. Aku-nna and her brother Nna-nndo both continue their education at school as it is believed that the more educated Aku-nna is, the higher a bride price will be paid for her. However, while waiting for her to begin menstruating and thus be old enough for marriage, Aku-nna falls in love and is determined to marry the man she loves despite the opposition from her family.

I really enjoyed this book and watching Aku-nna as she grew and dealt with the issues in her life. It was a very interesting look at the cultural practices and beliefs of the people of Ibuza and the effects that had on the people of the area.

Again, I would definitely recommend this book to learn more about what was life in 50’s Nigeria for young women in Ibuza. Again, it had a very powerful ending and definitely left a strong impact on me.