How many camels is my girlfriend worth?
September 8, 2006 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How many camels is my girlfriend worth?

I'm getting married in November, and my bride-to-be's father used to be a senior diplomat in the Middle East. In several Middle Eastern cultures, notably the Bedouin, it's traditional for the groom to pay a "bride price" to the bride's family, usually in livestock.

We've joked about how many camels I owe my future father-in-law, but as a gesture of thanks and to show how much I value his daughter and his contribution to our wedding (he's being extraordinarily generous), I want to pay for a number of the animals to be given to poor communities in north Africa. Oxfam runs a scheme that organises it.

What I need to know is: how many camels is the oldest daughter of a former diplomat worth, in Bedu reckoning? Because the last thing I want to do is undervalue her.
posted by Hogshead to Human Relations (32 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
data point: this article [pdf] says a typical dowry is 20 camels.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 1:54 PM on September 8, 2006


at least 20 cartons
posted by matteo at 1:59 PM on September 8, 2006 [7 favorites]


Thank you Matteo, yes, that is the joke I will be using in my speech.
posted by Hogshead at 2:00 PM on September 8, 2006


Chelsea Clinton was apparently worth 20 cows and 40 goats. I'd certainly be insulted if any man offered less than that.

Seriously, I think it's great that you and your fiancee have found such a great way to turn an old, sexist tradition into a way of helping people. I think that the number is less important than the fact that you're making this very generous gesture towards integrating your two families.
posted by Amy Phillips at 2:05 PM on September 8, 2006


I was all prepared to get indignant before I read the more inside, but damn that is just cool. I don't have any kind of answer to your question, but after looking over the oxfam information, I just wanted to applaud a very strange and nifty idea.

Cheers and congratulations.
posted by quin at 2:06 PM on September 8, 2006


maybe just pick some number that is meaningful to you - like your wedding date, the number of years you've been together, the number of years her parents have been together, the date you met, etc... then you don't have to worry about the significance from a "value" standpoint.
posted by judith at 2:15 PM on September 8, 2006


Or, pick a dollar amount that won't break the bank and that you feel comfortable with, and give that much. I'm sure the gesture will be much appreciated no matter how much you give.
posted by zachlipton at 2:20 PM on September 8, 2006


With Heifer Project International, you could give several cows, a water buffalo, ducks, trees, a trio of rabbits and a sheep. I think a water buffalo is worth at least 10 stinky camels...

This is very charming, BTW. sniff.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:33 PM on September 8, 2006


Have you considered the humps per camel ratio?
posted by found missing at 2:43 PM on September 8, 2006


Feel free to use that joke in your speech :)
posted by langedon at 2:58 PM on September 8, 2006


That's awesome.

I'd say go with however many you feel you can afford.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 3:01 PM on September 8, 2006


So you just have to figure out how many Chelsea Clinton's your wife is worth, multiply up the cows and goats, and convert to camels.

I tried Googling

(20 cows + 40 goats) in camels

but sadly it didn't work.

(I had about 5% expectation that it just might... that's how great Google is...)
posted by unSane at 3:13 PM on September 8, 2006 [4 favorites]


If 20 is typical, you'd better go with 30.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:16 PM on September 8, 2006


Ditto those who've said to go with what you can afford.

I was offended by your question at first glance but am quite charmed with your idea given complete information. Also, I think your question should read "fiance" as opposed to girlfriend now...
posted by phoenixc at 3:53 PM on September 8, 2006


small_ruminant writes "If 20 is typical, you'd better go with 30."

30 anything for a person has bad connotations.
posted by orthogonality at 3:54 PM on September 8, 2006


My mother discovered at age 23 or so that she was worth rather less than one camel, at least to one particular tribe.

(Jump to 26:00 or so...)
posted by dmd at 3:56 PM on September 8, 2006


Dude, she's priceless. Send equivalent values of rice, beans and seeds and you can feed thousands, instead of fixing up a few families.
posted by paulsc at 4:13 PM on September 8, 2006


30 anything for a person has bad connotations.

Yeah, I've found it best in life to avoid animal-to-person ratios. While it was an effective way to draw attention to the question, you probably don't want to present this as "this is how many camels your daughter is worth" regardless of how many camels you end up getting.
posted by scottreynen at 4:44 PM on September 8, 2006


I'm just echoing the idea that this is a totally brilliant idea.

Speak to someone from Oxfam, ask them what they suggest.
posted by cholly at 5:53 PM on September 8, 2006


If you want to "raise the ante" still further, you could get your guests involved in the giving by following suggestions/methods from the I Do Foundation. Nevertheless, what ever you decide, making a charitable contribution part of your wedding plans is an absolutely brilliant idea. Good on you!
posted by paulsc at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2006


When my cousin was in Africa (in Cameroun I believe) she had to deal with some military officer who kept asking her for marriage, eventually raising his initial offer of 3 cattle to 20, which is a heck of a lot of cattle for a dowry I am told. I'm not sure how many camels that converts to as the cattles-to-camels exchange calculator site is down at the moment.

Anyways, I guess I don't have much of a point except that I think your idea is absolutely awesome, and I thinkoyu should try and find out what a lucky number is in your father in-law's home country and use that.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:03 PM on September 8, 2006


if the female in question is sally hogshead, you really should insist on getting those camels. I'd consider about one-hundred-forty-six appropriate, a number somewhat correlating to the number of people who lost their source of income when she screwed up the crispin, porter+bogusky operation in venice.

no seriously, this is the best thread ever.
posted by krautland at 6:55 PM on September 8, 2006


Wow. When my uncle married a woman from Kenya, the brideprice was one goat. (I think her father asked for a brideprice just out of a sense of tribal tradition, not as a value of her worth else I'd think it would be much higher.) But this caused my uncle no small amount of anxiety as he had never bought livestock before. Her brothers said they would handle the transaction, and procured the smallest, sickliest goat they could find, much to the consternation of the father and the embarrassment of my uncle. Tradition was satisfied, but it was probably not the best way to get in good with the in-laws. The marriage didn't last.
posted by Soliloquy at 7:41 PM on September 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think your speech should go:

"...and I determined that your daughter is worth twenty camels, so..."

and then you produce the pack of smokes from your pocket.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:20 PM on September 8, 2006


Speak to someone from Oxfam, ask them what they suggest.

What, you think some hippie intern from Brown will know?
/snark

Seriously, great idea. Assuming you're both in your twenties, why not her age in camels?
posted by mkultra at 9:29 PM on September 8, 2006


ooo yes a camel for every year - that's neat.
posted by gomichild at 10:35 PM on September 8, 2006


Many people feel that two months' salary is a good guide.
posted by bingo at 6:26 AM on September 9, 2006


Another vote for Heifer International. I gave people goats for Christmas last year.


Data point from Egypt:

"An Ababde girl is worth six camels; these are paid to her father, who gives back three to his daughter, to be the common property of her and her husband; if a divorce take place, half the value of the three camels goes to the latter."

But that's in 1835 camels so you'll have to adjust for inflation.

Here's a more current discussion and a poll showing 2 goats may be acceptable in some parts.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:57 AM on September 9, 2006


A camel for every year isn't practical, unfortunately, since neither of us are spring chickens.

(Just to correct a couple of misapprehensions: my father-in-law-elect isn't from the Middle East, but he used to be the UK ambassador to a couple of Middle Eastern countries. And bride-price isn't quite the same thing as a dowry, which is what the bride's family pays the groom to take her.)
posted by Hogshead at 7:59 AM on September 9, 2006


Its not a sexist tradition, its an economical tradition. In the days that it originated, boys/men usually stayed with their family and helped support the family business with their labor. Women, on the other hand, were married off to men and joined the new family. Hence, there was no necessity for men to have dowrys paid for them. Women, on the other hand, had a particular economic value as they essentially provided the receiving family with the potential for more children, and thus ultimately more laborers. To give them away without receiving some compensation would have simply been bad business practice. Sounds somewhat harsh, but it was the facts of life back then.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:07 AM on September 9, 2006


I don't know the answer. But I think it's a great idea! Kudos to you, and hope that the livestock enriches the lives of those who need it, as your love will enrich your life.
posted by Savannah at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2006


Looks like Oxfam gives those camels to folks in Somalia, which is normally described as EAST Africa. If you're interested in bride prices for North African tribes, though, my husband tells me that brides from his area (this was in the past) normally got two of everything from their new husbands (and/or the family) - two camels, two goats, two sheep, two cows, two caftans, two takshetas, two djellabas, etc...

Maybe you could give two camels, then find other charities that do something similar - cows, maybe?
posted by Liosliath at 7:12 PM on September 9, 2006


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