Bride price: to pay or not to pay

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

Pros 

  • Maintaining tradition
  • A man shows his commitment to marry a woman

Cons 

  • 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

Way forward

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?

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4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Suburban Finance
    Dec 12, 2014 @ 12:05:46

    I actually have a Zimbwawean friend and he told me about this lobola thing. I think it’s the culture in other southern Africa countries as well right? He joked about he might not marry since he has to pay for lobola and it’s just really expensive!

    Reply

    • Zambian Lady
      Dec 12, 2014 @ 14:37:37

      As far as I know, lobola is a culture throughout southern Africa. I get your friend’s concern even though he may have been joking – some families ‘charge’ exorbitant fees. It is sad when a daughter is treated as a commodity that can be purchased.

      Reply

  2. surprisebjg
    Dec 11, 2014 @ 08:34:23

    Great unique blog! thank you for sharing this truths! actually in many places around the world I know there is something like lobola but I think it’s something horrible and should be much much better to get rid of it of course! and I think instead of lobola it’s better when a man divorces his wife to pay her a high-fine that she could survive her life without any pressure at least (in money case) especially in poor countries which is usually woman’s are unprotected and not permitted to work to gain their freedom or it would be much much better to educate woman’s and give them good paying jobs like equal to mans.

    Reply

  3. Dilip
    Dec 10, 2014 @ 16:38:59

    I love to read posts on cultural practices of different countries. I learned some interesting practices in your post. Religious practices which now seem outdated always have their roots in wisdom of our ancestors.

    Many thanks!

    Reply

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