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Wulwar is an ancient Pashtoon custom of paying an amount, in cash or kind, paid or agreed to be paid, to the parent or guardian of a woman by any person in consideration of marriage of such woman with that man. It is indeed price of the bride paid by the groom or his family to the parents of woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom. The custom of wulwar is opposite to dowry, which is paid to the groom by the bride’s family to help establish a new household.   
The wulwar has some specific Pashtoon peculiarities, but as a custom of bride price it has existed in the ancient civilizations of Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Aztecs and Incas (“Siwan”). According to Islamic law a marriage cannot be declared valid without contracting bride price, known as Mahr.  The custom of paying bride price to the woman’s father has been mentioned as an established custom in the Code of Hammurabi, the Hebrew Bible and Talmud (central text of Judaism pertaining to law, ethics, customs and history) (“Full”).  In ancient China and India bride price was negotiated for validity of marriage and such transfers continue to be practiced in rural areas in these countries. As of now bride prices are most prevalent in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan countries, where such payments are made in 90 percent marriages (“Siwan”).
Historically the pashtoons were sheep and goat-herding pastoralists who migrated annually from winter pastures to the summer highland pastures, who were exclusively involved in pastoral economy for their livelihoods. Contrary to the common perception of woman as powerless and subjugated individuals in typical patriarchal tribal social structure, women made important contributions to economic and social decision-making in nomadic pastoralist society. Shepherding and marketing was carried out by men and adolescent boys, while dairy and wool production activities were the responsibilities of the women and adolescent girls. The management of economic resources provided those women with sources of power, which was not available to women in sedentary communities. Hence, woman’s skills as a pastoralist producer and manager made her an attractive wife and daughter-in-law. Therefore, looked at from an anthropological perspective, wulwar or bride price could be explained in monetary terms, as compensation made in exchange for bride’s family loss of her labour within the family.        
In Pashtoon society the price of wulwar varies across families in accordance with their social and economic status. The price is lower when marriage takes place within the family or clan but it could be considerably larger if the bride is married to a distant relative or outside the family and clan. Similarly a virgin’s price is considerably higher than a divorced / raped woman. As mentioned in Deuteronomy 22: 28-29, we learn that a man who rapes an unbetrothed virgin must pay 50 shekels to her father and marry her (“Women”).
The wulwar is a contested issue. It has both negative and positive connotations. From a gender rights perspective, it is a human rights violation and is quite often considered as a social evil because of the moral implications of selling a woman. Moreover, in most cases marriages are delayed for longer periods on account of difficulties faced by the groom in raising / defraying Wulwar price. On the positive side, wulver at times acts as disincentive to the husband to either divorce his wife or remarry, because he would need certain amount to bale to pay for second wife. This probably also explains the norm of monogamy and occurrence of very low divorces in typical Pashtoon tribal society.
Literature review reveals that there is a decline in bride price payment across the developing countries and it may eventually disappear altogether (“Siwan”). Although legislation was done in number of countries to prohibit this practice, but such measure did not prove successful. It is argued that the advent of industrialization and the resultant process of urbanization and modernization in Europe caused the disappearance of marriage payments in nineteenth century. The modernization process acted as a catalyst of change. It transformed the traditional hierarchical society based on inherited status into a more individualistic society based on achievement and with it led to the disappearance of marriage payments.
The custom of wulwar is dying out in Pashtoon society. Its cultural acceptability is fast waning. It is almost non-existent in urban middle-class educated families. Here too, it was not the law such as the Balochistan Prohibition of Wulver Act 1964 that led to the demise of wulver. But it is the socio-economic change, as a result of urbanization and modernization, and positive role played by civil society and public opinion leaders that is fast rendering wulwar unacceptable. 

About The Author: Hassan Yar Bareach is a current student of Anthropology/Sociology at lums. His areas of interest includes religion, developmental studies and South Asian culture

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