Has Lobola gone Hollywood?

Fitzgerald Munyoro

The practice of paying “Lobola” (or Lobolo)/bride price/dowry as part of the marriage process is a tradition in many African cultures including Xhosa, Zula, Swazi, Ndebele and Shona amongst others.

Beyond the confines of the African culture, biblical accounts reflect that this is an ancient practice as well.

The 29th chapter of the book of Genesis tells a story of Jacob who loved Rachel and offered to work seven years for her father, Laban, in exchange for her hand in marriage.

This is proof that in Eastern culture, giving of dowry was the expected cultural practice and arranging to work as a replacement for dowry was an accepted practice as well.

To this day, dowry is widely practiced in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to mention but a few.

Lobola is essentially the “bride price” that the prospective groom must pay to the bride’s family in order to enter into marriage.

It is an appreciation shown by the groom for the proper rearing and upbringing they have given to his prospective spouse.

For centuries cattle has formed the primary currency of lobola but more recently, cash plays a significant role as well.

However, often, even the cash amount is tendered by way of establishing the price of a cow and how many cows would have been given. 

Other gifts are also formally requested and agreed to during the negotiations and clothing and other accessories are often in high demand.

Interestingly, historically the lobola negotiations are attended not by the bride and groom, but by their families, and most often, by the men in the family.

Besides simply coming to a financial agreement, this ritual is said to form a bond between the two families.

During the negotiations families who otherwise may not have met, come together to meet and spend time with each other.  

However, there have been a number of emerging trends in recent times that have changed and slightly titled how lobola is viewed and perceived.

In essence, lobola is not what it used to be.

The glitz and the glamour normally associated with European and Western unions has seeped into African culture.

Gone is the serious nature of the event, it has been replaced by much pomp and fanfare

.What was once a reclusive ceremony has been transformed into a huge spectacle that features cakes, photographers, colourful costumes and the divisive “lobola/roora squad.’’

In a post on her Facebook account inl, talk show queen and marriage counselor Rebbecca Chisamba took a swipe at the roora squad wave and said“I think some Zimbabweans have a problem of just jumping on board on some of the trends which do not speak of our culture.

” There is nothing in our culture called roora squad. It is a private family function, because in some instances the families will have a disagreement on certain matters and it remains private on that day. Why would you need 10 friends to witness that?

“This is when the groom or bride is asked if they are sure of the decision they are about to make, and it is not for the public and friends. I think those who are doing the roora squad are about showing off their fashion statements and moreover they are celebrating it the wrong way.

“Gone are the days when only family representatives would attend the ceremony. I call them the dot.com generation. They are the ones who are bringing more harm to our culture trying to imitate what they see on television. “said Chisamba

Additionally, many men have raised their alarm over the exorbitant prices that are now being charged.

On Twitter, a hashtag #LobolaMustFall trended in South Africa and Zimbabwe, a indication that a portion of social media users do not agree with the prices being set for lobola.

Many of them argue that what was once a union between two families has been converted into a commercial transaction.

Lesley Muparutsa, a 28-year-old bachelor believes that lobola in its present state serves economic gratification purposes only.

He says;“It is painful to hear black people still want this culture of lobola to continue while many African people struggle to make ends meet.

“The lobola was initiated by white man and yet black people fell for it and made it part of their custom. The first people in the bible are Adam and Eve and Adam did not pay any lobola to God for the wife and so on for many generations until Jacob.”

” People in the olden days lived by hunting and we don’t see lobola up until the white man who initiated it as gifts to the bride’s family. Are we so blind to see that lobola is taking that little money we have instead of using that money to start small business for our kids.” Said Muparutsa.

These so called exorbitant prices are something that history Professor Jabulani Maphalala, who is a former lecturer at the University of Zululand, has argued should never be the case.

Maphalala estimated that at least 60% African black couples were opting to “live in sin” because it is simply too expensive to go through the process of marriage.

“Lobola, the bride price traditionally paid with cattle in the African cultures, has over the years increased to exorbitant amounts which has led many couples to opt to cohabit as they consider the stringent economic environment .”

Maphalala said the tradition of ilobolo, which dates back to 300 BC, was paid as a “token of honour to a woman who was chosen to build the home”,and not buying a woman as it is these days.

Maphalala added that there was no set price or amount of cows set for lobolal,( meaning a man paid what he desired .

“In our black culture, people could get married after a goat was produced or without even paying anything. It used to be acceptable for the families of the couple to sit down and agree that the wedding could go ahead,’ said Proffesor Maphalala.

He said it was Theophilus Shepstone, a British South African statesman, who took it upon himself to set what the “bride price” should be in 1859.

“Shepstone decided that each cow should be worth k100.11 Eleven cows for an average woman, 15 for a chief’s daughter and 30 cows for a king’s daughter.

“This goes against an African proverb that says ‘umuntu akathengwa’ [a person is not sold or for sale].” said Maphalala.

However, Geoffrey Mabika who paid lobola in September last year believes the tide is changing in regards to trends that characterize lobola.

He believes what is happening in lobola nowadays is just a reflection of the mindset of the global society.

“The true meaning and definition of culture is, Culture is a way of life.

“Simply meaning every day you experience and the manner you go about experiencing that moment forms part of your culture.So the problem with “lobola” and systems like such that were created hundreds, if not thousands of years ago , is they were created by a people/person who felt it was conducive for whatever reasons within the context of “life” at that time and space.

“We all know time is not a constant, it forever evolves and changes everything that we knew yesterday, today and tomorrow.So one cannot logically expect us to use rules and regulations used by a people a thousand years regressed in knowledge.

“We are a thousand years progressed into better understanding the world around us. Trends are changing.” he said.

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