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Payment made by the groom or his kin to the kin of the wife in order to ratify the marriage. The practice is common in most parts of the globe in one form or another, but it is perhaps most prevalent in Africa. It is most often a matter of social and symbolic as well as economic reciprocity, being part of a long series of exchanges between the two intermarrying families. It represents a pledge that the wife will be well treated and serves as compensation for her family's loss. Payment may consist of goods or, less frequently, services, and it may be paid in one sum or regularly over a long period of time. See also dowry.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on bridewealth, visit Britannica.com.