Lobola/Lobola in Zulu, Swazi, Xhosa, Silozi and northern and southern Ndebele (Mahadi in Sesotho, Roora in Shona, and Magadi in Setswana, Lovola in Xitsonga), sometimes referred to as either “bride wealth” or as “bride price”, is an African practice that involves providing payment, either in cash or heads of cattle, from the prospective groom’s family to the parents of the prospective bride for customary marriage.
In African culture, the process of marriage begins with Lobolo. It’s a token of appreciation and respect to the parents of the bride and a way of building relations between the two families. It’s only once Lobola has been paid that a couple is considered married.
In the Xhosa culture, failure to pay what has been asked for could lead to the bride’s family practising ‘theleka’: withholding of a future bride by her father from her boyfriend to compel him to pay what is owed.
There is no right amount for Lobola. Amounts are determined by the bride’s family after intense negotiation. The value of the bride is determined by her education, job title or even level of income and whether she has children. Cattle is used as currency, and after agreeing on the number of cattle, families will agree on the price of one cow. The final fixed amount is determined from there.
Lobolo is an expensive practice because, even once it’s been paid, many couples today still desire a traditional white wedding over and above the customary marriage determined by Lobola.
Before the Lobolo negotiations the groom’s family have to write a letter for the bride’s family asking for them to meet, so that they can get the exact date to start the loboba negotiations. After the letter has been approved by the Bride’s family that is when the lobola negotiations will start.
The process of Lobola negotiations can be culturally varied, long and complex, and involves many members from both the bride and the groom’s extended families; normally, this would just be the uncles of the marrying parties, as well as the fathers, where custom allows. The groom is not allowed to participate directly in the actual negotiations. In some cultures women may be present in the negotiations, while some households hold on to a tradition of not allowing women to actively take part in the negotiations. Ivulamlomo is a key process to the negotiation as negotiations cannot begin until this traditional act has been observed.
Often, to dispel any tensions between the families, in modern times a bottle of brandy is placed on the table; however, this is not required nor is the vulamlomo limited to brandy, and it can be traditional sorghum beer or cash. This is usually not drunk; it is simply a gesture to welcome the guest family and make everyone feel more relaxed, and it is known as ivulamlomo, which, literally translated, in isiXhosa and IsiZulu for mouth opener (Sotho; pulamolomo) i.e. price for opening your mouth (to speak) to express the purpose of your visit. It is up to the potential wife’s delegation to decide as to whether to make use of the alcohol or keep it closed.
Lobola cannot and is not usually paid in full in one go, the groom’s delegation will need to come again after the first negotiations to finish paying for their bride to be. Once the Lobola has been paid in full then the next step follows which is called Izibizo, which can happen on the day when lobola negotiations are concluded. This step involves the groom’s delegation giving the bride’s family according to the list that was issued presents, which may include blankets, pinafores, doeks, shawls and three foot pots or grass mats for women and coat, walking stick, hat, beer pots for men. There is then a celebration to mark the occasion, which after marks the marriage not only of the bride and groom but of 2 families as well.
Not adhering to some customs that the bride’s family insist on would cause the grooms family to pay a fine, for instance in the Zulu culture their clan names is something they deem as important for the grooms family to know. Shouting these clan names at the gate before they enter the house on the day of the negotiations is something that the grooms family should prepare themselves to do, if not done they will pay a price of it outside of the actual bride price. Centuries later, this has become less of a prerequisite to know the bride’s family’s clan names but some families are that extra.
Lobola in the Shona and Ndebele Culture.
A man marrying a woman from the Shona or Ndebele culture has to observe Lobola (called roora in Shona). A man is seen to love his partner when he strives to save and pay for lobolo. In the Shona and Ndebele cultures in Zimbabwe, Lobola takes place in a number of stages. At each stage of the ceremony, there are traditions to observe and small amounts to pay. Lobola is not paid at once, but is a culmination of many different amounts. The amount paid is determined during negotiations and is dependent on various factors. If the groom has been saving up in preparation for the marriage, after hints from his beloved of what the lobolo might be, the process can be concluded in two short stages – the first stage, the mouth opener stage or “isivulamlomo”, where the groom is given a chance to state his intentions to marry his beloved after putting money in a woven basket, and the bride’s family tells the grooms family what they want as lobolo. A date is then set, agreeable to both parties, to meet again. At the time of writing, a cow in Zimbabwe costs $500 and the bride’s family can ask for a cash equivalent of the number of cows they want. This is convenient to most families because keeping cattle can be time and labor intensive. The second stage, where the groom’s family present themselves on the agreed date, money is again placed in a woven basket to be allowed to speak and fulfills the bride’s family requests by presenting all of the Lobola.~~~~
The price and ceremony for meeting the in-laws is called “Mbonano” and is entry to the house. This is followed by “Guzvi”, a second price for greeting the in-laws and accompanied by the traditional greeting (special clapping depending on culture, noting that the Shona people are 12 different ethnic groups). Subsequent gifts of cash or food are then placed into a special plate that is used for the occasion. This is either bought or borrowed and has a price and ceremonial reference as well: “Kubvisa ndiro” (the price of buying or borrowing the plate).
Other gifts or prices include “Vhuramuromo” (meaning opening of mouth) for the greeting of the guests, similar to the Xhosa Loloba mvulamlomo. “Dare” for calling of the witnesses to the marriage and “Matsvakirai kuno” for the explanation of “How did you meet my daughter” or “Who told you that I have a daughter?”
Gifts for the mother of the bride then include “Mbereko”, for carrying the bride in a pouch or sling when she was a baby, and “Mafukidzadumbu” for “covering of the belly”; this is alternately translated as “carrying the baby in the womb” or “tucking the baby in with a blanket (when she wakes in the night)”. Among the various stages of the lobolo ceremony, the groom-to-be has to provide outfits for the mother of the bride. These are called “Nhumbi dzaamai” and will traditionally include a blanket alongside a standard outfit, while the outfits for the father are called “Nhumbi dzababa” and will often be a suit of choice to later wear for the European wedding ceremony (if the couple has one).
A special gift for the father of the bride is the “Matekenyandebvu”, to acknowledge him for “the scratching and pulling of the beard” as she sat on his lap, or putting up with the playful antics of his daughter as a child.
This is followed by a small allowance for “Mari inouhongwa nemusihare” (the purchase of household or cooking utensils), and this amount is given to the bride. If there are younger sisters or siblings, she may give them a portion of the money. This money is for all the cooking that will have taken place for the party which the groom will finance after the ceremony is concluded.
Next comes the actual “bride price”. This is called “Rusambo” and although the process described above is referred to or called “roora”, this is the name given to the whole ceremony and all of the gifts, not just the bride price or dowry. Traditionally a gift of cattle, this is most commonly paid in cash, although the amounts will still be representative of fair market price for cattle.
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. Normally this is given in the form of a walking stick.
Grocery items and outfits are at the discretion of the bride’s parents, and will be included and inspected after the Rusambo. Adhering to the stated requirements of the new in-laws is a show of respect from the new son-in-law. It is often advisable to do exactly as stated or better, to ensure smooth relations between the newly united families.
The final stage includes a party financed by the newly acquired groom.
After the gifts are presented, the groom greets the in-laws as a new groom (no longer a prospective groom or stranger, but a member of the family) with the special traditional clapping greeting and is permitted to be a part of the household. In some traditional circumstances, the younger siblings of the new bride may also see the groom as an alternate husband and he may be responsible for their welfare. In the past, the younger sisters could also be offered as alternate wives in the case of death of the bride (older daughter), in similar fashion to ancient (Mosaic) Jewish tradition. This tradition has fast fallen away due to urbanisation, migration and HIV/AIDS (no source provided). Once welcomed to the family, the groom may be given an animal totem depending on the ethnic group he marries into. He would be given a respectful title such as ‘MUKWASHA’ which means son-in-law. Other titles could be ‘babamukuru’ or ‘babamunini’ depending on the relationships in the family (if he marries an older sister, he becomes “babamukuru” to the younger siblings and if he is married to a younger sister, he is “babamunini” to those sisters who are older than his wife).
In certain Shona groups, even after the main ceremony, lobolo still needs to be paid in small amounts after the birth of a child or after 20 years, this is to continually thank and acknowledge the wife’s family.
Is Lobola/Lobolo still relevant
Lobola as an age-old African custom that is as alive today as it was 100 years ago however; certain aspects of it have changed.
Customarily, the Lobola compensation was in cattle as cattle were regarded (still are to some tribes) as crucial mark of wealth in African society. However, numerous contemporary urban couples have altered to using hard cash.
Culture has altered with time, life gets more expensive and love now seems like it is for those with good credit. The custom of Lobola has evolved into an overpriced extortionist cultural practice. Lobola was a cultural practice where a man thanked the parents of his future wife, for raising her from a girl to a woman.
The obsoleteness of this cultural practice has raised a lot of questions as many people starts to question the relevance of it. Although many still believe in the practice of Lobola it has now become more of a symbol to show the coming together of 2 families.
We have emphasised the process of Lobola only from a few tribes perspective most specifically South Africa and its neighbouring country Zimbabwe. This custom is practiced across the African continent with similarities to the above mentioned customs and traditions.
Lobola in TshiVenda is called Mamalo which is unique in how the process starts but the fundamental idea behind the bride price stays the same across many African tribes. If you have had the Lobola experience or would like to share how its done in your country, feel free to share it with us below on the comment section.