Bridewealth and the Autonomy of Women in Melanesia

Karen Sykes, Christine Jourdan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Considering bridewealth in Melanesia from the angle of women's autonomy, in this introduction we review and analyse the various elements of this marriage practice that reveal its place in the symbolic, social and economic worlds of women. With an accent on social transformation, we discuss women's autonomy and agency in relation to the constraints that bridewealth puts on their lives, and on how they engage with it. Knowing what bridewealth is, and how the rules of reciprocity that it indexes obligate married women, the focus is on women's ability to act within these constraints or to redefine their contours, particularly with regards to economic and reproductive agency. The article, which serves also as the introduction for the special issue on bridewealth in the journal Oceania, discusses themes analysed in the collection, such as the moral prospects of bridewealth today, its relation to ‘capital’ in twenty‐first century Oceania, the triad value/valuables/valuers, and the empowerment of women. It concludes with thoughts on gender inequality.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle ID: OCEA5285
Pages (from-to)178-193
Number of pages16
Issue number3
Early online date5 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2020


  • bridewealth
  • moral economy
  • women's autonomy
  • melanesia


Dive into the research topics of 'Bridewealth and the Autonomy of Women in Melanesia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this