Bride price is the money or items given to the family of a bride-to-be by a man interested in marrying her. Bride price is known as lobola in Zambia and I will refer to it as that in this post. I do not like the word ‘price’ as it may imply that the bride is worth some monetary value. As we all know, a human being’s life can not be measured in money terms.
Lobola in matrilineal society
Traditionally in this society, the lobola is very low e.g. a plate containing a few beads and a very small amount of money. The lobola is just a symbol of a man’s commitment to marry the woman. The lobola is low because:
- The man will not have custody of the children if there is a divorce
- The woman’s family will be able to refund the man his lobola in case he demands for it after divorce. After all, it’s a very small amount.
Lobola in patrilineal society
Here, the man pays through his nose. In one Zambian tribe, he has to pay a lot of herds of cattle. If he does not have cattle or the woman’s parents live in town, he has to pay a lot of money in lieu of the cattle. The man takes custody of the children when the marriage ends.
Pros and cons of either type of lobola
- Maintaining tradition
- A man shows his commitment to marry a woman
- Some families get greedy and demand too much lobola, even if they are matrilineal
- Some men mistreat their wives as they say they paid a lot for them. They view lobola as buying a wife
- Arranged marriages can be forced on a young girl so that the family gets some money
- Children may be mistreated by the side of family they do not ‘belong’ to. This is devastating for children as they do not understand why their grandparents, aunties and uncles hate them but love their cousins
- Sometimes women are forced by their families to stay in abusive marriages as they can not afford or do not want to return the high lobola
I would argue that the culture of lobola should continue but (and this is a big but) the amounts should be minimal and only be symbolical.
The tradition of lobola has been around since time immemorial, so it would take a lot sensitization for citizens to accept reduced lobola. Those who are guilty of marrying off their young daughters for the sake of lobola should be punished as they are encouraging paedophilia. The older so-called grooms should also be punished to deter others from doing the same. Some years ago, a friend told me that her chief annulled marriages involving young girls and made the parents to tend a field as punishment. This crop was then given to vulnerable people in the village upon harvest.
I realize that the lobola issue can not change overnight since it is not a stand alone subject, but affects other aspects of our cultures as well. However, we have to start somewhere.
What do you think of lobola? Would it be better to get rid of it or should amounts only be minimal?