The sun emerged from the jagged hill tops, washing the acreage of pasture land with a golden fluorescence. Topless maidens make a beeline following a path to a cluster of mud huts, while balancing clay pots of water on their heads with graceful equipoise. Their waists sway in balletic rythm and fluid elegance. Arriving at the compound they gingerly place the clay pots on a portico that runs around one of the mud huts. They enter the maidens quarters whispering and giggling. Amongst them is a particularly gung-ho bride-to-be. The groom and his family would shortly arrive to offer dowry for the bride. A dream sheltered in the hearts of many blossoming girls.
The compound is a hive of industry. Naked children chase each other, the elderly women sit under the cool shade of the avocado tree as they peel off the nettlesome skin of pumpkin leaves, the men and young boys are seated in a conclave on an anthill behind the homestead speaking in hushed tones, the younger girls sweep the yard while the bride-to-be and her sisters prepare for the big day. They smear cow fat on their taut skin and adorn themselves with waist beads. A distance clupping of hands can be heard and everyone knowingly look at each other. The groom’s representative knelt on one knee, several feet outside the homestead and clupping his hands with great gusto (clapping with cupped hands). A sign that the groom and his entourage where nearby. Everyone in response clups in unison. A clear message that the groom and his kinfolk are welcome. The men begin to head for the main and biggest hut, followed by the womenfolk, and finally the bride. The father beams at his daughter. The family is truly burgeoning.
Distant whistles can be heard, bleating of goats and and lowing of cows, the sound of wealth. The groom has arrived...
The lobola marriage ceremony is one of our longest standing tradition in Southern Africa. The bastion of African heritage, practiced hundreds of years back while the white people where still beating each other with clubs in the caves. Modern day lobola dynamics have changed contrary to the earlier depiction. Homogeneous in it’s character but suffering from dilution by globalization and other factors. The topic of traditional marriage ceremonies is the crux of many discussions on social media. The present practice of lobola has influenced a lot of resentment from millennials. It was quite an alarming moment when I read a tweet that suggested that the whole tradition should be abolished.
In the beginning, lobola ceremony was an event that brought two families together. The dowry was an offer made by the groom to the bride and her family as a token of appreciation. (As she would take up his name and bear children for his lineage.) Dowry came in form of livestock, food or farming tools. After the proceedings, they would celebrate, drink and make merry. Of course there are blemishes that reinforce patriarchal norms but to eradicate it completely would be a crime against our identity as Africans. First of all, Africa has become an anchor for several third world countries. As people struggle to stay above combative poverty, lobola has been commercialized. We have lost the pith rudimentary to the origins and driven by an aghast greed for money. Bride price has become too steep that it has robbed a lot of young men of any hopes of getting married. Fogged by an overwhelming desire to get rich fast, the tradition of lobola has lost its meaning.
Lobola has become a contingency plan, a reimbursement for the money used to pay for their daughter’s education. Others want capital to start a business. All for the wrong reasons which have persuaded a lot of young people to co-habitate or secretly have a court wedding because bride price has become a thing too far fetched. Families are supposed to support children who want to get married by providing progressive lenience that advocates for a successful marriage ceremony. Lobola should no deter two people who want to start a life together. Furthermore the groom is expected to fund the white Western wedding. A Dog eat dog construct: capitalism is killing our culture.
An ordinary Zimbabwean earns less than $5k Zim dollar, an average of $200 American dollars. Bride price minimum is $5-10k USD. So, for a young man starting out, where the hell is he going to get that amount of money even if he tried to save? Listen, a young lady was set to get married and the date for lobola negotiations was finalized. On the day, the father of the girl looked intently at the groom’s representatives and asked, “How much in total did you bring?” The representatives were taken back because it was out of the normal nature of the proceedings. Unsure of it all, one of them answered, “40k Rands sir.” The father smiled and smacked the table, “Good, keep that money for the white wedding, instead let’s plan for it and set the date. Return with your money and save it.” Rare. I call it financial and emotional intelligence.
The thing is, our people have began to use the amount of bride price as a barometer to measure the value of a woman. Mothers boast about their daughter’s high bride price, molding a regressive social ethos. To completely lose the plot are husbands who think they bought a wife. A man pays 15k USD will go home believing that he has acquired an asset. Nevermind that slavery was abolished 250years ago, peak misogyny can flare the brain to think that wives can be bought. Forging entitlement and maniacal thinking that has led to mental, emotional and physical abuse of women by husbands.
Women have reached a point of helping their men to pay for lobola, which steals all the aesthetics of the process. Let’s just get it over and done with, kumbaya. A once Beautiful tradition has become a dreadful disquieting task. The concept of lobola oiling the capitalist machine is imperatively true to a certain bias. As much as we fight the negative effects of modern day African culture we can sit back and reflect on the positives.
Many other lobola ceremonies have been a success. The event has advanced with civilization and time. The maidens do not run around topless in waist beads and laminated in sticky cow fat. They wear elegant African print dresses while the groom comes in a matching dashiki. The excitement is almost tangible and the bride’s family hires caterers for the event. The clupping of the groom’s representatives echoes in the house and the family welcomes them with their own clupping. Someone said what is your take on lobola as a feminist? I laughed and said, let the men feel important for a day. Hot air balloons fly too but they will come down.
Done with affinity and compassion the lobola tradition can live on. Our culture is an important part of us as Africans, it is our identity, our roots. We can preserve as much of our heritage as we can. There is no higher mentality to develop than empathy. That is our starting point. Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi did not die for us to lose parts of what defines us. To the culture!