Monday, May 20, 2013

Lobola, a Common Practice between Families of the Bride and Groom by Vivienne Diane Neal

I am hooked on Generations, a popular soap opera that comes out of South Africa. The drama centers on men and women from diverse social and economic backgrounds and deals with love, romance, relationships, power, greed, money, and all the good stuff that human beings face on a daily basis.

Awhile back, one of the storylines focused on two characters, Sibusiso, a successful businessperson, and Ntombi, an independent and no-nonsense journalist who are planning to tie the knot. The bride’s father is a well-respected leader in his community. The couple had to participate in Lobola, which is a century old custom practiced in many African countries and is similar to a dowry observed in various Asian societies.

The Lobola process is sometimes baffling to many contemporary couples since they must follow certain protocols. The families may have known each other or lived side by side for many years, but they do not know each other on the level of the Lobola exchange. Since parents are not acquainted with each other at the height of the seriousness and sanctity of marriage, all discussions between them must be in writing and not by telephone, email, or via a swift visit.

Because the extended family is an important element in the African culture, especially in the institution of marriage, relatives, typically uncles of the groom perform the negotiations and not the groom’s prospective parents.

An impressive observance with dignity is involved when the negotiating "sides" from the families come together. The tension between the two parties involved in the negotiations is often broken by a bottle of brandy placed on a table. Even though the bottle may be unopened, it indicates the least amount of anxiety and an acceptance of the guests.

The talks can take a couple of days and will usually center on the number of cattle paid as the bride price. There is a current variation to this theme.  Commonly, it is not cattle but the talk of money. Cattle are symbolic and represent certain amounts of money. Once the bride price or Lobola is established, the dialogues are formally over. Still, before the actual wedding, the following of certain rules is mandatory. The young couple cannot meet until the actual wedding ceremony.

Lobola is still popular because it promotes harmony between the married couples and their families and upholds a sense of dignity and support, which can aid the marriage and encourages a harmonious union.

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