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Lobola 101: It’s A Family Thing

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Lobola is a traditional African custom that is practised in at least seven southern African countries and some parts of East Africa. Lobola is a dowry/ bride price that a groom pays to the bride’s family for the right or privilege to marry their daughter. The negotiation and payment of Lobola is an integral part of Shona culture and tradition. In Shona society, the payment of Lobola – the main part of which is called roora – is the basis of marriage and family obligations. There is general consensus on what Lobola entails in Zimbabwe and in other African countries.

The purpose of Lobola according to Shona culture is for ‘Kuwaka hukama” which loosely translates to ‘building relations’. Lobola is meant to facilitate the creation of a bond the two families – that of the bride and grooms. Before a price is set, family members from each side sit down to agree on a suitable price. A strong emphasis on the family unit is shown in the negotiation process, because it requires so many family members from both sides to sit in on the discussions. After several meetings the two sets of relatives leave with a sense of familiarity of the people they will soon call family.

Lobola is actually a process – not a one-off thing. Our elders used to say, mukuwasha muonde, hauperi kukohwewa, ‘the son in law is like a fig tree, you keep harvesting.’ Traditionally it was therefore considered a sign of disrespect for the groom to pay it all off at once. In fact he was never supposed to finish paying thus ensuring he always had cause to continue interacting with his new in laws. And that was our ancestors fail safe mechanism to ensure that a bond remained between the two families.

The payment of Lobola is also supposed to be a form of tribute paid to the parents of the girl for raising a bride for the groom as well as for the sons and daughters she will bear for him. In fact, a storyline is usually built into it to make it exciting. The story goes like this: “the man scouted and stole the girl from the unsuspecting parents. The parents have since found out and are fuming. They will let their daughter go, since she likes her captor, but the man has to pay, quite literally. The man obliges and pays for his sin. A big party is then thrown, and they all live happily ever after as one family.” It’s actually a beautiful thing.
In some interpretations of Lobola it is also used as a sort of litmus test by the bride’s family to ascertain the future husband’s ability to financially support his bride-to-be.

In pre colonial times, long before the white man came, Lobola, was paid by use of a hoe made from iron smelted in the Hwedza mountains by the Mbire people. That was long before Zimbabwe was colonised by the British. In those days, people from all over the country moved from one place to the other, trading in gold, copper, iron ore and other minerals. Smelted iron was used to make hoes, axes and spears. When a man failed to present a hoe, or badza, as lobola in marriage, he asked for kutema ugariri, meaning he would stay and work for his bride until the father-in-law was satisfied with his labour.

There is a school of thought that argues that Lobola became somewhat commercialised during the colonial era. That after colonialism the method of payment evolved into cattle which had already been a sign of wealth amongst many indigenous African communities. The same cattle would serve as Lobola when the bride’s brothers and cousins got married, following the system of chipanda. It was an exchange of cows in marriage from one family to the other, back and forth, depending on the number of daughters and sons. That way, wealth was nicely redistributed in the community.

Nowadays most Lobola payments are made in the form of cash, groceries and clothes for the bride’s family. Although in a throwback to the days when cattle were the preferred payment method some innovative techies in Zimbabwe have set up a Remote Livestock Marketing System (RLMS),a start-up that allows trade of livestock online. The website offers a platform for them to pay their Lobola cattle via RLMS. It offers a selection of cattle on display on the site, from which a prospective groom can choose. Also, If there is no space in the in-laws’ residence for the cattle, not to worry. Each animal you choose and buy can be ear tagged, branded, entered into a national database, kept at one of their partner farms, looked after. It’s a perfect union of the old and the new ways.

Unfortunately the concept of Lobola is often misconstrued by those alien to the cultural nuances as the process of ‘purchasing’ a wife. But even when Lobola has been negotiated and is paid for the bride’s family still have a say in how their daughter is treated by their in-law. They can in times of serious marital problems intervene and make decisions. So purchasing doesn’t really apply because the groom does not gain ownership of the bride as he is still accountable to his in laws.

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with the concept of Lobola. It’s of the very few aspects our Shona culture that most of us still hold on to. It’s part of our identity as a people. The practice only becomes bad when it is abused for commercial purposes or when men treat women badly because Lobola was paid for them.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Pretender

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Some time ago a child hood friend of mines wife asked me why I was single. My response was an instinctive “I get bored easily” and I quickly followed that up by laughing rather uncomfortably at my own response. Days later, sitting alone with my thoughts I found myself querying myself as to why I had given her that particular answer amongst all the many possible answers I could have offered up. Did I believe the answer that I gave her? That when it came to relationships perhaps I had some sort of ADD? Or was this just another lie I was telling myself. And maybe I was afraid to dig deeper and really look at myself and really analyse why my previous relationships have failed. Anyway I didn’t end up thinking about it for too long and carried on just doing me., Or maybe because I actually do have ADD.

More recently another friend I grew up with asked me to accompany him to go visit his soon to be new in laws. He wanted to initiate the process of negotiating Lobola. Lobola is a dowry/ bride price that a groom pays to the bride’s family when he marries their daughter. Traditionally this was in the form of cows, but nowadays it’s usually in the form of a cash amount that is set by the bride’s family. As such the concept of Lobola is often misconstrued by those alien to the cultural nuances as the process of purchasing a wife. It’s not. The purpose of Lobola according to Shona culture is for ‘Kuwaka hukama” which loosely translates to ‘building relations’. Lobola is meant to facilitate the creation of a bond the two families – that of the bride and grooms. When not abused it’s a great custom. Anyway on this occasion my friend asked me to accompany to go see the girl’s aunt. The Tete as the aunt is known in Shona who would act as the go between him and the bride’s family. She would also give us advice on what was expected of him when the Lobola discussions took place. All in all that visit gave me further insight into the whole process of Lobola, something I will discuss in more detail in a future post.

What I want to discuss today though is how that visit brought me back to that unresolved question on why I was single and even more so that despite all the relationships I have had I have never got to the stage where I even considered Lobola. As such I never made a conscious effort to understand it properly. I just knew of it. I think this is indicative of my lack of impetus when it comes to making long term commitments like getting married. But as more and more of friends are getting married and I find myself in the minority I have actively begun to inform myself so I can have a better understanding and ultimately forge my own path. Whatever that is. It is this that made go back to trying to understand for myself why I don’t seem to have the same urgency that my friends seem to have about settling down. Why made friends wife asked me why I was single.

I think there is some element of truth in my instinctive response that ‘I get bored easily’. I love the process of getting to know someone, revelling in the possibilities that lay ahead. But when it comes to actually going the distance I always seem to come up some way short. One of the reasons for this is that sometimes when I have found myself in the middle of that boundary defining ‘what are we’ conversation I haven’t always carried out my due diligence. It’s often been a case of not having strong enough reasons not to go into a relationship as opposed to having the right motivations to enter into one. Plus I don’t like sharing and monogamy settles that. Because I want that person to myself I sometimes end up in a relationship that I haven’t really thought through. In that way I have always sabotaged myself and it’s no surprise that I haven’t been able to go the distance.

The longest relationship I have ever had ended over four years ago. We dated for almost three years, although the last year we spent breaking up and making up more times than I care to remember. Compared to my other relationships this one I can confidently say I tried to make this one work. We both stuck around through the ups and downs. We tried to deal with our differences and disagreements maturely. It is probably the most grown up relationship I have ever had. A relationship in which I didn’t always feel like call it quits anytime there was trouble in paradise. But as meaningful and grown up as that relationship was I never completely opened up to her. I was committed but for some reason I kept my guard up, never fully letting her get to know all of me. In doing so I cheated both us from fully exploring the potential of that relationship. And even though I kept my guard up I left her to believe that I was an open book and she knew me completely.

So after two years of dating when she pressed me on what my long term plans were and whether I was part of them I buckled. Because I hadn’t fully opened up to her I was afraid she didn’t fully know me. Thinking she did know me (because that is what I left her to believe) she gave me ultimatum to give an outline of plans for our future within 6 months. And so began the slow and protracted end to our relationship. At one stage I tried to explain my hesitation to her. I remember that what she said hurt the most wasn’t that I didn’t completely share the core of who I was with her. It was that I sold her a dream. I left her to believe that she knew all of me. She rightly pointed out that it would have been better not to sell her the idea that I was an open book. “You made it your thing, that you were totally open” she said. She would have been perfectly Ok with me sharing whatever I struggled to share with her whenever I was ready if I hadn’t sold her onto the idea she already knew all of me. She said I was a pretender. Those words have haunted me ever since.

In the aftermath of that relationship I never really took the time to get to the bottom of why I couldn’t be open with her. I just knew that going forward I didn’t want to be called a pretender ever again. The question of why I couldn’t be open with her is one I am not sure I have a conclusive answer for even after all these years. I am tempted to say that maybe part of me knew that we had no long term future no matter how hard I tried to convince myself otherwise. And why that rather meek explanation?

Just based on all the relationships I have had I have noticed a trend with the breakdown of all my relationships. Issues that have remained unresolved going back to the first major fight have always turned to be deciding factors in all those break ups. So using that logic I probably knew from our first fight that we didn’t have a long term future and maybe that is why I never fully opened up to her. In my misguided efforts to make it work I inadvertently made sure that it would never work.

 
 

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Put That Woman First

My parent’s relationship is the blueprint from which I have tried to mold all the relationships I have had so far. Albeit with a far lesser degree of success than they have managed over the 32 years that they have been together. In my eyes, my parents are the dream team of the marriage game. This is not to imply that theirs has been a perfect marriage – no marriage is. And that is probably the most important thing I have learned. Theirs is an imperfectly perfect union. They are each other biggest fans. They continue to consistently make sacrifices for each other. They have an innate understanding of each other strengths and flaws. They complement each other. And even more significantly they are the very best of friends.

My parents do almost everything together. They spend as much time as they can together. They are open and transparent with each other and whatever their differences they have always presented a united front to me and the rest of the world. They even have a joint bank account! Having had my fair share of relationships I am fully aware of the level of trust and openness that is a prerequisite for such a decision. Most of us won’t even allow anyone we are in a relationship anywhere near our phones, let alone our bank accounts.

As a team, my parents each had their assigned role when it came to raising us, their kids and they both did it exceedingly well. I am a living testament to that. Growing up I naively assumed that this was the modus operandi in most marriages and families. It is only in my teens that I actively started noticing how this was not always the case. That some of my school mates came from either abusive, single parent or ‘broken’ homes. How often one parent had to shoulder all the responsibility and play both roles that my own parents shared between them. That only served to magnify the gratitude I continue to have for my parents. Everything I am is direct result of the sacrifices they have both made. And I become more and more preoccupied with the purpose of my life I have begun to look more and more at their example and to try and learn as much as I can from it.

Being a man I have looked more specifically looked to my dad for guidance as I try to navigate my way into manhood and what it means to me. A lesson I have learned from my dad and his relationship with my mum is about putting your significant other first. This manifest itself best by you able to find happiness in your partners happy.

The best example of this come from when I started working my first professional job in Melbourne. My parents flew over to visit and take what was to be their first holiday alone for the first time since they had had me. Detouring through they arrived in Melbourne two love birds crazy in love with each other. This is probably the first I actually looked at them as two people just truly, madly and deeply in love even after all the years. During that visit I realised that they were not just my mum and dad. They were soul mates.

Whilst I ran the rat race during the week they indulged themselves taking in the sights and going on dates. It was only on weekends that I got to spend time with them and even then I felt like I was the third wheel. On one particular weekend I decided to take them shopping. I remember I bought my dad this really nice suit that he absolutely adored but on that day in that particular mall my mum couldn’t find anything that was to her taste. So she went home empty handed. What happened as we made our way home and for most of that evening will always stay with me. My dad was visibly upset and disenchanted.

Later that night I worked up the nerve to ask him why he had been in such a foul mood, his response surprised me. This guy was even more disappointed than my mum was that she hadn’t been able to find anything during our shopping trip. I was pretty certain he loved the suit he had got, but he couldn’t get himself to appreciate it because his wife hadn’t been able to get anything on that day. When my mum caught wind of the reason for his sourness , she told him to stop being silly and reminded him that she still had time to get something she actually wanted. To which my dad responded ‘ You know I can never be truly happy if you are not happy. You are my happy.’

It might seem like it was a trivial matter, but in that moment my dad taught me an important lesson. Always put your woman first.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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