Dowry Dealings

by Wara Sabon Dominikus
Adonara Island, East Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Although elephants no longer roam freely in Adonara, a bride’s dowry is still paid in ivory. We do not know exactly when and why ivory began to be used as a dowry, but we can assume that it was a long time ago. Elephants used to live in Adonara since migrating from an unknown location.

The Meaning of Ivory

When an elephant tusk is given as a dowry, it represents much more than part of an animal; it symbolizes the dignity of the bride. Ivory even represents the woman herself, expressing appreciation for her trust, honesty, sincerity, and friendship. The ivory is considered sacred, not only as a source of wealth but livelihood in general.

Marriage is also more than it seems at first glance. It signifies not only the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife, but also the union of two families. Consequently, each family appoints a representative to negotiate the exchange.

Measuring the Ivory

The ivory pieces used as dowries are classified into types according to their length, measured in fathoms. One fathom equals the distance between the tip of the middle finger of the left hand to the tip of the middle finger of the right hand of the outstretched arms of an adult. The longest ivory is more than one fathom long, the second longest is exactly one, and the rest less than one fathom. These categories vary according to the social status and clan to which the bride belongs.

Kewatek and nowi stacked for delivery

Dowry Delivery

At the time of delivering the dowry, goats and pigs might also be included. As a final part of the exchange, the bride’s family may provide woven fabric equal to the value of ivory and animals received (see the other Global Math Story from this island!)

Value of the Dowry

Currently, the approximate value of the longest ivory is between 125 and 150 million RI (Indonesian Rupiah), the second longest is between 75 and 120 million RI, and the rest is between 30 and 70 million RI. The price of woven fabric is between 200,000 and 300,000 RI, the price of a goat is about 5 million RI, while that of a pig is 3.5 million RI.

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Math Questions

  1. A dowry of a woman in Adonara consists of two pieces of ivory. If the first piece is worth 130 million RI and the second 90 million RI, what is the amount of money you must provide the groom?
  2. If when delivering a dowry, the family decides on two pieces of ivory, along with 13 goats and 3 pigs, how much money do they need to buy the animals?
  3. If a family shows gratitude by giving fabrics in return, how many would they need to weave in order to reach an equivalent amount?
  4. If you live in a part of the world other than Indonesia, converts these amounts to the currency of your country.

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Lesson Download

Extension Questions

  1. Give your view of the social impact of the dowry tradition described above. This practice has declined in some parts of the world. Why do you think it persists in Adonara?
  2. Research the presence of wild elephants in Indonesia. What impact does the use of elephant tusks have in either promoting or hindering the conservation of this animal?

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