MARRIAGE – IS IT TIME TO CHANGE OUR CUSTOMS?
Going to the wedding
One of the joys of being able to live in a foreign country is to learn of their customs. At times those who are guests to a foreign country are surprised and sometimes amused at what they learn about their various customs. For instance, marriage is a wonderful thing; a man and a woman see one another, hold hands, hearts flutter, minds see nothing but bliss, all rationale become submersed with the overwhelming desire to be joined in matrimony. So far this story seems reasonable and, in most cases, it is. However, being a guest in South Africa we have had the occasion to converse with several couples who are in the process of trying to get married which here, if they abide by their ancient customs, is not where they go to the courthouse, get a marriage license, find a preacher and say “I do.” In many parts of South Africa, the process is much more complex and would cause many raised in a western culture to decide celibacy is bliss.
Mother and daughter
In South Africa there is a custom called “Labolo” that is associated with their marriages.
Lobolo or Lobola (sometimes translated as bride price) is a traditional Southern African custom whereby the man pays the family of his fiancée for her hand in marriage. The custom is aimed at bringing the two families together, fostering mutual respect, and indicating that the man is capable of supporting his wife financially and emotionally.
This one is really nice, can we trade straight across?
Traditionally, the lobola payment was in cattle as cattle were the primary source of wealth in African society. However, most modern urban couples have switched to using cash. The process of lobola negotiations can be long and complex, and involves many members from both the bride's and the groom's extended families. Often, to dispel any tensions between the families, a bottle of brandy is placed on the table. This is usually not drunk; it is simply a gesture to welcome the guest family and make everyone feel more relaxed. One individual we spoke to was convinced that the prospective in-laws not only enticed his brother to partake but also spiked it as he ended up paying 20 cows as his lobolo. This greatly infuriated him as he felt the woman was not anywhere near that amount. However, he may have been interested in the woman’s sister and did not want to pay that amount.
Sure hope I don’t have to give the whole herd away
Lobola may have some unintended negative effects. It may create a financial barrier for some young men looking to take a bride. It is common for a couple that are emotionally ready to commit to each other to stay unmarried if they do not have the financial resources to satisfy the impeding traditional ritual. For those who do have the financial means, the issue can be lobolo's opportunity cost. Young men who are in the wealth-creation stage of life may feel that their future is better secured if they invest their money elsewhere to receive significant financial returns.
Lobola is seen by some as an extravagance that has little relevance in a society where young Africans are trying to lift themselves out of inherited poverty. However, the tradition is adhered to as strongly as ever, and in families where tradition and intention override greed, lobolo can be a great way of showing commitment between families, not just between the bride and groom. Many traditional marriages utilize a cash-based lobolo; this can be then followed by a European-style wedding ceremony, where the lobolo funds are used to pay for expenses. In this way, any outlaid costs are returned to the payer in another form, preserving tradition, honor and finances.
Come buy your lobolo festivity food
In addition to the lobolo paid for the bride, there are gifts of clothing to the parents of the bride, grocery items and cash to be used for food and other expenses. Gifts will include an outfit for the mother of the bride, an outfit for the father, which will often be a suit of choice.
The new groom will also pay for "Munongedzi wedanga", a stick used for driving the cattle into the corral. If the cattle are cash equivalents, the stick will also be its cash equivalent.
As with any tradition or cultural custom, lobola may be misinterpreted or misunderstood by those who view it from an outside perspective. It can also be open to misuse or abuse (as any man-made tradition can) and common sense must prevail to ensure that both families are happy with the arrangements.
To the wedding we will goSurprisingly, African customary law has advocates even among modern, educated women in South Africa, many of whom believe that it provides them protection without hindering them in any significant way. Payment of the lobolo, however, means that the bride is paid for, and a divorce is not usually granted unless the bride’s family can repay the amount. Often, the lack of the means for repayment may force women to stay in unhappy or abusive marriages.
Mother, Mother-in-Law and Daughter smoking peace pipe – the lobolo was good
What a great day this is – I can’t believe it is finally over.