As modern women continue to fight with zeal for gender parity, the debate around the commodification of lobola continues to ensue unabatedly.
Lobolo or Lobola in Zulu, Xhosa and Ndebele;(is 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.
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.
Cultures worldwide have adopted the practice of lobola as a token of appreciation given unto the family of the bride in order to ask her hand in marriage formally and at the same time to thank them for her upbringing. This means that the bride and groom may marry and be granted blessings by both their families and live together and their families essentially become one.
Contrasting perspectives continues to remain topical when it comes lobola regardless whether its from a biblical, legal or personal perspective.
Nowhere in the Bible, and in particular the first five books, do we ever find mention of the Israelites being commanded by God to pay a bride price. There are only two instances in Scripture and they occur before the Law was given, and even within these instances they are never specifically stated to be a customary bride price.
In Genesis 24, a nose ring and bracelets of gold and silver were given to Rebekah by Abraham’s servant so that Rebekah could become Isaac’s wife.
Contextually, the giving of these gold and silver ornaments for Isaac’s wife was more along the lines of a diplomatic gift, rather than a bride price.
In an article in the Christian magazine, Joy, there is a call to “do away with Lobola”.
The magazine describes Lobola as “unbiblical”. The article examines often used biblical justifications that African Christians use to endorse Lobola.
These include, Genesis 24, Abraham and Isaac’s gifts to Rebekah‟s family and Genesis 29, Jacob working for Laban. Joy states that since Christians live under grace and not law, cultural practices of the Israelites in the Old Testament should not be seen as examples or requirements of faith.
The magazine concludes that Lobola is “against Christian principles” and “the issue can often cause contention and division within a church, and therefore in an effort to maintain unity should be done away with among our brothers and sisters in the Christian community”.
In Genesis 29, Jacob had to work for Laban the father of Rachel for 14 years before he could marry her. Laban though, in the Biblical context seems a selfish and greedy man, whose conduct is not one to be followed, especially in his deceitful dealings with Jacob concerning his two daughters.
These payments from Jacob at best, were to impress or appease man. In contrast, in Genesis 2, the first wife that man ever received was from God when the Lord formed Eve for Adam and brought her to him.
“The Lord did not demand payment for Eve but gave her to Adam freely. The conclusion we can draw from this is that the Lord gives freely and lovingly of His blessings but man is corrupt in his dealings with others. Compare Psalm 145 with Psalm 94,” concluded the magazine.
The debate around the commodification of lobola continues to feature prominently among gender activists and human rights lawyers.
One such lawyer is Norman Tjombe who laid bare his objections towards the practice.
“I have fundamental objections to the paying of lobola. Not only is it demeaning of women, who are “purchased” from her parents or family, but it perpetuates the impression that the woman now belongs to the person who purchased her,” Tjombe noted.
Lobola, Tjombe said, encourages the abuse of the wife as she is not more than any of the other property of the husband, and it makes it difficult for wives to terminate otherwise destructive and violent marriages.
He added: “It should be mentioned that lobola or the lack thereof, does not affect the validity of the marriage.
Marriages would still be valid even if lobola has not been paid.”
And whilst it is entirely a personal choice for the intended marriage couple whether lobola should be paid, he said, I find it offensive to the dignity and autonomy of the women, who are reduced to nothing more than a cow or a goat.
From the horse’s mouth
Despite perceptions in the modern world that lobola is a way of purchasing a wife, a young Namibian who is about to get married, Standard Bank as its Manager of Economic and Market Research Mally Likukela, recently underwent a lobola ceremony and he believes lobola is a cultural practices that has been passed down from generation to generation by our forefathers as a sign or token of appreciation to the parents or guardians of the lady that is to become your wife.
“As is common practices, every system can be abused and so is lobola, some individual elements have taken it and abused it to make it commercial, but it’s not intended to be a commercial transaction.
In other communities, they use a different word or practice – such as wedding ring or gifts to the parents of the bride,” Likukela notes as he speaks profoundly of the cultural practice that many love to hate,
An economist by profession, Likukela asserted that lobola has nothing to do with human right infringement. According to him, women who have gotten into marriages without fully going through the African betrothal way, are at more risk of being abused or having their rights infringed.
“When you pay lobola, you assure the parents of your bride that you are a real gentlemen and that you will honor and protect her with all of who you are,” he added.
Likukela, who is due to wed his fiancée in three months’ time, attributed most marital problems to the lack of knowledge and culture.
He further added: “I would want all my children to pay lobola to the parents of their brides. It’s the right thing to do. People who do not understand the concept of lobola seem to think it is about purchasing a wife.
“There is no such thing as buying a wife when it comes to lobola. Those who call it a sale, as though one goes to Mr Price to pick a woman for the right price, are completely mistaken as to what this is all about. The original intention of lobola was to create a bond between the two families – that of the bride and of the groom.”
Likukela narrated his experience when he recently underwent the lobola ceremony.
“I had the most wonderful experience at my recently concluded lobola ceremony, in fact most people thought it was a traditional wedding, it was not, it was just the lobola ceremony. It made me feel real and manly. I had an opportunity to truly be an African man.”
“Imagine being surrounded by the entire village and being asked to affirm your true love to their daughter. Imagine an army of village man surrounding you in support of what you are doing, it was amazing.”
The lobola ceremony can take anything from half a day to a full day, as was the case for Likukela. But he feels the entire experience and the interaction makes the whole process seems short and enjoyable.
“But all that matters is at the end of it all. You walk away with your beautiful wife hand in hand and everyone knows that you have taken her in the most respectful way ever.
I can’t wait for the big day, scheduled on the 21st December 2016 in the mighty Zambezi region,” said the soon-to-be groom.
By Mathias Haufiku