My last post on Shona culture seemed to attract a lot of interest so I’ve decided to do another one on my Shona culture. This one will be on roora aka lobola aka dowry.
Lobola is a tradition that has been ongoing for centuries. It is a token of appreciation. The husband-to-be gives money and cows among other gifts to the girl’s family as a way to say thank you for their daughter, for raising her up and to say sorry, I’ll be taking away your helper but let these cows and money ease your pain and suffering. (insert sarcastic smiley here). The thing about lobola is no matter how much the man is charged, he must NOT pay all of it. He is supposed to pay part of it and he’ll keep paying it off over a couple of years. If he pays all of the money, he appears arrogant and rude.
My friend and I decided to come up with a formula for lobola according to what we have seen…
Private school = x
University = y
University out of the country = 2y
Being employed = z
Being employed at a bank or telecomms company or beverage company etc = 2z
Having a car (company car or not) = a
Owning her own place = b
Loss of future income = c
So in my case, my family should charge (x+2y (I was in Cape Town, South Africa and I plan on going overseas for my masters) + 2z (I work at a bank) +a +b (a & b, by the time I get married, I will have a car and a charming one bedroom apartment) + c.
So at this rate, my potential a future husband is looking at a lot of green!
My one friend says he would prefer that the girl’s family just come out and tell him point-blank “listen, John Doe, we know you are rich. You have businesses all over that doing very well and as such we will be charging you $20 000. Why? Because we know you can afford it.”
I respect the origins of lobola. It is supposed to bring the two families together. It is an appreciation ceremony but ever since the introduction of the US dollar in Zimbabwe, lobola has lost its authenticity. People now use lobola as a get rich quick scheme. I’ve had friends break down and weep because their families were charging their potential husbands so much money. I feel lobola has lost its true meaning. It is not supposed to feel like an auction where parents are selling off their daughters. The thing is, after the lobola negotiations are done, this girl still needs to go and start a life with this man and if you take all his savings, how are they going to start a HAPPY life together? I think feelings of resentment may foster.
Personally, I would rather have a gift giving ceremony. Not because I do not respect tradition but because lobola in this 21st century is being abused and misused. I trust my brothers and I know they will not charge exorbitant amounts for me but I can’t help but be scared. There is always that one uncle who just derails plans! He comes there vakaomesa musoro (he’s stubborn) and just throws a spanner into the works. One of my sister-in-laws is Sotho. When she was getting married to my brother, we had a gift giving ceremony. That was the traditional aspect of the wedding. We bought African pieces such as sculpted elephants, walking sticks, tswanda (reed baskets) and other traditional Zimbabwean stuff. They in turn gave us blankets, their traditional dresses and some ethnic materials. The families involved don’t ask for what gifts they want. The other family decides what to get them and the people receiving the gifts are limited to the bride and grooms siblings, parents, grandparents and maybe one or two aunts from either side. I had never taken part in a gift giving ceremony but I appreciated it. I got to meet my in-laws and there was never that feeling of resentment that they over charged us for their daughter.
I’ve heard of incidences where the girl’s family charge a lot of money for their daughter and they refuse to review their ask that some grooms come with ALL the money, pay every cent, inform the girl’s family when the white wedding will take place and usually they demand to leave with the girl as soon as the negotiations are complete. Traditionally, the girl is supposed to stay with her family and only leave her home once the white wedding is done. And a son-in-law is NOT supposed to pay all the money they ask for on that day. He is supposed to spread it out over a couple of years.
If I was a man and I had to pay for my wife like I’m paying for a cow at an auction, best believe I’m not going to happy about it. If her family then approach me in future when they need help, I’ll probably be disinterested and might not even help.
There is a saying in Shona, mukwasha muonde, haaperi kudyiwa. It means that a son-in-law is like a tree that bears fruit. One never stops eating from it. That being said, let’s hope families can respect this custom and stop trying to get rich! Families need to review where lobola comes from and what it truly means.
Oh and if my prince charming is reading this, you saw the formula, you better start saving up 🙂
- Lobola : Price tag or Tradition (sdotzwane.wordpress.com)