Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I do!

For this blog post only lets assume that I believe in the institution of marriage. Which also means I believe in a lifetime soul- mate; when two become one, the apple of my eye, someone who completes me. Indeed, for this post only, I believe in love ever after.

I have a few friends who worry that when Mr Right proposes; I will be auctioned to his family. My family will settle on thousands of Rand’s (add to that an Aston Martin and a mansion in Houghton) and that shall guarantee my services as the best wife ever! My family will be sent a receipt and there will be no refunds. The tradition of lobola as such, has become a contentious issue.

Lobola/ mahadi/ bride price are all terms which describe the custom in which the brides family is given cows or money by the grooms family for the young lady’s hand in marriage.  I was tempted to say “in exchange for the brides hand in marriage” but I fear many will get stuck on the word “exchange” when in fact the focus is really on bringing the two families together and ensuring that the couple has a comfortable start in their marriage.

Formal negotiations regarding the appropriate “toll” that the groom should pay take place over several days. The groom’s parents as well as his uncles conduct the negotiations. Originally, lobola was paid in cows but in modern times, cows are symbolic of the amount that will be paid in money. The monetary value of at least ten cows authorises the couple to wed. As described by Zukiswa Pikoli: “Lengthy lobola negotiations constitute a respectful, yet comically animated game of cat and mouse (or in Africa we would say a game of catch between a mighty lion and a graceful gazelle). The bride’s family is thus able to determine the sincerity of the groom’s marriage proposal”.

We cannot ignore the financial factor. As my friends’ mother once said “you don’t want to start by arguing about who is going to pay the water bill or who bought the last piece of bread ”.  The groom must be able to prove that he will be able to provide a stable home for the lass. This does not mean that the bride may put her feet up and resort to her skills as a Chardonnay Queen (definition: a trophy wife who turns to the bottle for something more stimulating than waiting for your husband to return from work). More likely than not, the money agreed upon will go towards assisting the couple in establishing a new life with a positive bank balance. In addition, the other element is the gratitude from the groom and his family towards the brides’ family for raising such a gem. Although the girl was not raised solely to be a good wife he and his family must acknowledge that the combination of brains and beauty is hard to find.

For most families, it is the first time they get to connect with each other. In respect for our parents most African youths don’t bring home the guy or girl their dating until they are sure that he or she is the one. To bring home every mistake you date is an insult and an indirect confession that you’re not shy with the opposite sex.

The process is without a doubt open to abuse. If you are not able to describe what the custom means to you and your future partner, I would suggest you take some time to think about it. This custom is characterised by respect, dignity, unity and eventually joy and celebration. Stay away from marriage if you view it as an opportunity to extort money from the very people you’ll be asking to settle your water bill when things go wrong.

An exorbitantly high bride price is a commitment to slavery. You will in some way or another have to pay for that Aston Martin you eagerly received. If you look at the true nature of lobola you will recognise the principles of trust, loyalty, respect and unity that should be echoed in our society.

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  1. Got a bit of a concern to raise with the idea that lobola is to prove that the husband CAN afford to take care of his wife. Had this talk with some of the fellas over a few breweskies this weekend. I'm no expert in exactly how much a cow costs but for arguments say let us assume its a grand for each. That means for 10 cows we got 10grand down just for lobola. Then, unlike a funeral, the couple still has to make provisions for the "2" weddings at the grooms and brides village, and feed people they have never even met. Lets say after all this strain the two newlyweds dont have jack, lets forget the honeymoon, the house, the furniture etc. This is the reason why most marriages go to the pits. You start a marriage broke and spend the next few years trying to make ends meet. Slowly but surely all this stress causes tension between the couple and things go south. ...and this poor fellow; no money back policy. Kinda sad when you think about it. Guess we are just designed to floss by nature but I swear; 1 church wedding, 30 people invited, I pick my lobola and your daughter will be happy and provided for, FOR LIFE... If I'm wrong lemme know.

  2. Dear Truth be Told, thank you for your interest and comment.

    I was trying to move away from the patriarchal debate hence my focus on family integration and respect. The pleasure of being educated and living in a relatively democratic society is that we are able to define and change cultural norms.

    Firstly, to define lobola as proof that a man can support you is a step back into the 1960's. The role of women has changed- we are homemakers as well as career leaders and I think tradition acknowledges these changes.

    Secondly, as mentioned in the post "More likely than not, the money agreed upon will go towards assisting the couple in establishing a new life with a positive bank balance". This includes the traditional and church wedding. If the brides’ parents keep the money for renovations on their house- it's really a concern about the parents than it is about the custom itself.

    Thirdly, unless you’re from a monarchy of some sort, you are not obligated to invite every distant relative and acquaintance you've met since your birth. I have many issues with the institution of marriage and the falsity surrounding the wedding but your traditional wedding could be a lunch with close family and friends and your church wedding could have 30 guests (I support that).

    “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” -Harold Wilson