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Lobola ins and out

THE traditional custom of lobola, also known as “roora”, may sometimes be misunderstood by western eyes but in African culture, it is a ritual that helps to bring two families closer together, writes Octayvia Nance.

Lobola negotiation is an age-old tradition where a man pays the family of his fiance for her hand in marriage.

Archdeacon and priest of St Stephen’s church  Tom – said the primary purpose of lobola was to build relations between the respective families as marriage was more than a union between two individuals.

“The custom is aimed at bringing the two families together, developing mutual respect, and showing that a woman’s future husband is capable of financially supporting his wife,” Tom said.

“It demonstrates how much the girl is valued by both sides. It marks respectability, worthiness and appreciation.

“Therefore, as a valued person at marriage, the girl is not stolen but given away, under mutual agreement between the two families. It’s not a buying or selling transaction as it may be understood by other cultures. The gift of lobola raises the value attached to her both as a person and as a wife.”

Methodist church leader Bishop Musi Losaba said paying the lobola showed commitment and love on the part of the bridegroom.

“It is a token of thanks and appreciation on the groom’s part to the family of the bride for their care over her and for allowing her to become his wife,” Losaba said.

“It is a public declaration that the marriage is genuine and, in the past, because of lobola, the husband and wife could not easily separate and divorce. There was always discussion with the family members before marital separation and that’s why back in the olden days, this made marriage more binding.

“The lobola negotiation also shows that families have agreed to the marriage of the son and daughter – it is a sign of approval of marriage by the families. Traditionally, if lobola was not paid, it showed that the family did not approve of the marriage.”

 Zion Christian Church member Mike Zaka, who has been married for 40 years, explained the process: “Traditionally, a man who wants to marry a woman would schedule a meeting with his future wife’s family. His intentions are made clear and if it is accepted, negotiations can begin. The size of lobola varies considerably depending on the relative wealth and status of the families, the advantage to gain from the marriage link, and the desirability of the bride.

“Once the lobola is finalised the marriage can take place.

“On an appointed day the bride’s family will bring her to the groom’s house, in the middle of celebrations in which animals are slaughtered as a sacrifice to the ancestors, inviting them to bless the occasion and introducing the bride to them.

“There are no formal invitations for this event, rather whoever wishes to, can participate in the celebrations, often leading to very large crowds.

“Many years ago the lobola payment was in cattle as cattle were the primary symbol of wealth in African society.

“However, today modern couples have switched to using cash,” Zaka said.

Some families even use electronic transfers and credit cards as a form of payment.

“The bride’s family can ask for a cash equivalent of the number of cows they want.

“There is a Xhosa saying, ‘one never stops paying lobola’, which means the family link is the important part of lobola, a union that must be constantly renewed by visiting one’s in-laws, inviting them round, and in general maintaining very good familial relationships.”