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.
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.
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.
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.
Currently, the approximate value of the longest ivory is between 125 and 150 million Indonesian rupiah (IDR), the second longest is between IDR 75 and 120 million, and the rest is between IDR 30 and 70 million. The price of woven fabric is between IDR 200,000 and 300,000, the price of a goat is about IDR 5 million, while that of a pig is IDR 3.5 million.
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Learning Activity: Multiplication with Hanging Zeros (Grade 4, 4.NBT.5)
- A dowry of a woman in Adonara consists of two pieces of ivory. If the first piece is worth IDR 130 million and the second IDR 90 million, what is the amount of money you must provide the groom?
- If when delivering a dowry, the family decides on two pieces of ivory, along with 13 goats and three pigs, how much money do they need to buy the animals?
- If a family shows gratitude by giving fabric in return, how many would they need to weave in order to reach an equivalent amount?
- If you live in a part of the world other than Indonesia, convert these amounts to the currency of your country.
Social Justice Questions
- Give your view of the impact on women of the dowry tradition described in this story. How would you feel if your family made a payment to your spouse’s family in order for you to be married?
- Research the presence of wild elephants in Indonesia. What impact does the use of antique elephant tusks have in either promoting or hindering the conservation of this animal?
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