Traditional leader, Aeneas Chigwedere defines lobola as a form of marriage payment to build relationships and to demonstrate the ability of a man to take care of his family. Chigwedere, in his book Lobola: Pros and Cons (1982), explains the practice thus: the bride’s family receives payment in the form of goods, money, livestock to compensate for the pain the parents of the bride went through in raising their daughter and the children that she would bear into the husbands family.
NB- I’m describing the the issue of Lobola and Bride Price from the perspective of Southern Africans in the diaspora. If you want to read about the current climate surrounding bride price in Zimbabwe, read the above article by Nqobani Ndlovu.
Up until I was 21 I hated the idea of Lobola. To me it felt like it was paying a family for a bride and in turn making her a mere possession. I hate the idea of women being objectified and the sentiment that a woman’s worth can be decided by her breeding, education and general appearance made me uncomfortable.
When I was 21 I was in the middle of my most and only serious relationship to date with C from my Why Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Made Me Angry post. We’d been dating for about a year and a half and naturally the subject of marriage came up. He’d dated a Zimbabwean girl before me albeit not as seriously but his black friends were primarily Zimbabwean and Nigerian- two cultures among many across the world that practise lobola. When I explained to him that if he planned to marry me he’d have to negotiate a payment to my family as a token of my value he was reasonably confused. He asked if i expected him to pay and i said no. I mean duh FEMINIST! Right? I’ve heard so many instances of men demanding their bride price back because the bride didn’t meet certain expectations, like taking a faulty TV back to Currys and asking for a refund. Like in this article:
So,there’s no way I’d want him to ‘pay’ for me right?
Around the same time my Uncle explained to C and I about the origins of Lobola. He said that way back when, a guy would approach a girl if he could and convince her to run away to his family home then send message through an uncle to the girl’s family that he intends to marry her. The other way he could get the girl to come home with him was to throw her over his shoulder and convince her under duress??? (Kidnapping????). He then went on to explain how in this day and age bride price isn’t always a necessity and unless the bride wants it to go on then it won’t happen. This addition of consent solely from the bride made me open my mind to the idea of Lobola.
I feel that the practise can be abused by opportunistic family members looking for a little money on the side such as the cases I of distant Uncles making outrageous demands for cars etc. It can also be used by poor families who “sell” their daughters to get by. They’ve even been cases where Mothers have been murdered because a disgruntled family member felt like he didn’t get his fair share.
However, in my case I want whichever unfortunate soul that falls in love with me and who i equally want to be shackled to for the rest of my life to pay my bride price. I feel like paying it to my family isn’t about paying for me. It’s about showing my family how much he values/loves me.
I was arguing with my best friend (a boy) about this. He says it’s unnecessary ,weird and archaic. I say it’s beautiful,symbolic and the fact that consent from the bride is necessary to even begin the negotiations under the Recognition of Customary Marriages, 1998 (in Zimbabwe) makes it more defensible.
He also said I should be ashamed to force my future husband into paying for me. I used my relationship with C as an example of what a lot of people are doing before they get married- cohabitating.
When two people cohabitate for a long period of time like C and I, there’s little or no difference when compared to a married couple living together. You share everything. So when he said i should be ashamed for making C pay for me I asked him what he was paying for. When you cohabitate, in a case like ours (white guy in his 20s dating an African girl in her 20s), you tend to find yourself falling into the roles of a married couple. I made sure the house was in order, laundry, cleaning, dealing with the landlord etc and he worked more i.e brought home the bacon . I asked my best friend what C was paying for. Since he already had me doing all the things a wife would for free. ( Apart from babies I don’t play thaaat)
He had the cow, he was drinking the milk and it was mooing away happy and content without paying a penny.
In my opinion Lobola and it’s negotiations in the right hands can be a beautiful uniting of two families. As well as honoring tradition, it’s a token that your love isn’t something you want to hide away and let’s be honest, after the formalities are done, we get to have two weddings= two parties=two big reasons to get litty
I would love to hear about my reader’s experience with Lobola, please comment your thoughts and opinions.