In South Africa, lobola is not a new thing; it is part of the requirements that any man who wants to marry a woman must fulfil. But what is this ceremony all about? This article discusses lobola meaning, the history of lobola, as well as its significance. Then, you will also get a sample of how to go about lobola letter writing. In short, all the details that you need to know are contained in this piece.
Lobola is not a new age practice; it has existed for long. A few years ago, in South Africa, the custom became incorporated into the law, and so far, it is now governed under the Recognition of Customary Marriages, 1998 (Act 120 of 1998) (RCMA). Today, before a marriage can be qualified to be under customary law, it must meet specific prerequisites including consensus between the two parties and negotiations according to the customary law.
What is lobola?
Lobola is a word used in Silozi, Zulu, Xhosa, Swazi, and northern and southern Ndebele to either mean bride price or bridewealth. It has to do with the property or cash that a prospective husband gives the head of a potential wife’s family when considering a customary marriage.
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The payment can also come in the form of cattle, and it is made shortly before the marriage. If the prospective husband does not give it, the head of his family can also undertake the process on his behalf.
What is the origin of lobola?
The tradition of lobolo is said to have been in practice since 300 BC, and it was seen as a token of honour paid to a chosen woman who would build the home. Based on the history of lobola, part of the reasons why it was practised was to form an alliance with the other family. Then, lobola can also be seen as a token of appreciation of the efforts of the parents of a bride for raising a woman for the groom.
The generally accepted payment in a lobola, as said earlier, is cows. It was only recently that the monetary equivalent of it is now being considered. How many cows are in a lobola? In determining the number of cows that would be considered as the worth of the new bride, there are some factors that are put into consideration. In those days, if a bride-to-be is still a virgin, the prospective groom would pay more, but if she has a child out of wedlock, the payment automatically reduces.
Besides, a few other factors include the financial means of the prospective spouses, the education level of the prospective bride, and the social status of the bride's family. But then, irrespective of the number of cows or amount that are demanded, there is room for lobola negotiations. This means that the negotiation prowess of the representatives has a lot to do with how many cows or an equivalent cash value that would be paid eventually.
What is the significance of lobola?
The main reason for which lobola is practised is hinged on building relationships between the families of the prospective bride and groom since marriage is beyond a union between two individuals. And the good thing about it all is that the relationship is considered to be a life-long one, which is why in some cases, even after the groom had died, somehow, the widow remains bound to the family of the groom. This is obtainable, especially when children have been born into the marriage.
Another notable significance of lobola is that it validates and authenticates the approval of the parents of both intending couples to get married. In fact, in the past, divorce became a difficult thing to do for couples because of lobola and a reason for this is that before any separation could hold, there would be talks between both families.
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Recently, lobola has also been considered as proof that the groom can support his bride and that the bride has value before both families. Then, lobola is seen as a token of appreciation of the efforts of the parents of a bride for raising a woman for the groom.
In finding out how much a woman is worth, there are different things that are usually put into consideration. Some of the questions that are often asked include the age of the bride-to-be, her highest level of education, as well as her virginity status. Also, they try to find out whether the lady has a child already or not, whether she has a job, car, or a house of her own or not, and at the same time, what the groom earns every month is also put into consideration.
Alternatively, some developers have come up with a lobola calculator app which they designed to help prospective husbands to have an idea of what the value of the woman they intend marrying would be. All that is needed is the stats of the woman, and once it is entered into the calculator, it brings forth her value in rands and also states the number of cows it possibly would cost.
There is an organised process that lobola ceremony follows, and that begins with scheduling a meeting by the groom family with the bride's family. If the groom is to be is accepted, the groom, together with his uncles, would visit the family of the bride. Once there, an entrance price or gift would be presented, and in the absence of the groom, the negotiation would begin. This negotiation may take months before it is finalised, and it is usually between the uncles of both families.
Once the number of cows demanded is named, the bride's family would also state the price of each cow and multiply it by the number of cows in demand (if they are considering money). After that, the groom's representatives would convey the information to the groom that he either has to agree to or beg his uncles to negotiate on his behalf.
What happens after lobola negotiations? The moment the final lobola price is agreed upon, the uncles of the groom would meet with the family of the bride and arrange for the payment. After that is done, the groom becomes a part of the bride's family, and a party would be thrown. Also, the bride would be presented to the family of the groom when they are having the ‘hand-over’ ceremony, and lastly, they would then arrange for the marriage.
What to wear on your lobola day
In those days, the occasion was not a big style affair as the couple sees the white wedding to be the real deal, which makes everyone to reserve his or best until then. But today, it is no longer like that as the trend has changed. People want to give the day its best shot and make it as glamorous as possible. Some even go to the extent of having a uniform at lobola ceremonies.
Everyone is embracing traditional attires, at least, to showcase who they are. So, to give your day a special touch and make the memory resonate in the minds of people, opting for a traditional outfit will definitely not be a bad idea.
How to write a lobola letter
Before the lobola negotiations can be carried out, the family of the groom must write a letter to the bride’s family to formally ask for them to meet. And while writing the letter, their intention must be clearly stated as well as the exact date when the loboba negotiations would commence. Check below for a lobola letter example:
Dear Banga family, we trust that you are all doing well as we are also. Our motive behind writing this letter is to inform you that our son Anthony Mugabe wants to ask for your daughter Grace Zungu's hand in marriage.
Sincerely, we look forward to an improved relationship between our families, and so, traditionally, we would appreciate it if a date can be arranged for both families to meet so that we could send our representatives. We the family of the Mugabes would be honoured to send representatives on Saturday, the 19th of October this year or next Saturday the 26th of October, depending on which is convenient for you.
We are full of expectations to know how much fun can be with the Zungu family. We also hope to get a response as soon as possible to aid our preparation process.
We are the Mugabe family.
Lobola is part of the requirements involved in getting married in South Africa. While the practice has been for long, from what has been said so far, its significance is worth continuing. However, seeing it as a means of extorting others is what prospective husbands now frown at. If the parents of brides-to-be can look beyond the immediate gain that they would make in the process, more men would be encouraged to marry the right way.
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