“Lobola (“bride price”) is a retired broke father’s last hope to paying off his debts.”~Mokokoma Mokhonoana
As you grow older, you start to become more aware of your own weaknesses and strengths. I’m no exception. Unfortunately, no-one ever warned me that awareness doesn’t mean you can cure your weaknesses. Sometimes it just means you watch yourself succumb to the same weakness repeatedly and give your brain bruises from repeated mental kicks in an effort to snap out of it. One of my many weaknesses is over thinking things and lately I have been thinking about lobola.
Lobola as it is known in South Africa, Roora in Zimbabwe and bride price to all English speakers is not something that one generally thinks about to pass the time, especially when one is not getting married. I blame this entirely on my other’s sister. He and I are from different countries and therefore different cultures but we do have one thing in common. lobola. While I was hanging out with her and the rest of their family a short while ago she absent-mindedly said, “when we go to Zimbabwe to deliver blankets (blankets is a term some use in lieu of lobola), where will we deliver them? Is it near Victoria Falls?” We all laughed and I replied we can plan to go to Victoria Falls next year and get it out of the way and the conversation moved on.
A long time afterwards I realised that I actually don’t know where they, or anyone else for that matter, should take the blankets. You see, ordinarily, all I would need to do is introduce my boyfriend to my parents as “the one” and when the time comes, the parents will deal with each other and direct each other to the right uncle or middleman etc. I would simply wait for instructions on what to do and when. With both my parents deceased I have a rather obvious problem.
From the recesses of memory I remember my mother saying that in the absence of a father, lobola goes to my uncles on my father’s side. That’s interesting. I have only ever met one. Once. When I was very young. I barely remember anything other than his striking resemblance to my father. I have no doubt he remembers as little about me. The other uncles are scattered all over the world and have never met me in person. That’s just one problem.
Problem number 2 is my parents got divorced when I was very young. Despite having the means to, my father didn’t contribute meaningfully, financially or otherwise, to my upbringing. I can confidently say I am the product of my mother’s hard work and personal sacrifice. My father’s contribution may be summed up in Albert Einstein’s quote “I am thankful to those who said NO to me. It’s because of them I did it myself.” Even if he was alive, I would have been a bit uncomfortable with him charging lobola for me. After all, part of the philosophy of lobola is thanking the parents for raising a woman who would become a good wife to the man marrying her. Now imagine my discomfort with the idea of uncles who have never even seen me as an adult woman charging bride price for me. Is culture really enough to entitle them to that?
I have aunts on my mother’s side but they are not culturally entitled to lobola. They would argue strongly that my uncles aren’t either. Throw in the little fact that they have not seen me for at least half a decade and I wonder if that side looks any better?
There is always the possibility of skipping the lobola part all together. My boss, who is English, and a few of my other friends of British/English and Afrikaans origin strongly vote for this course. They can not understand the concept of my man paying lobola to someone who had no hand in my upbringing. “Why don’t you just use the money to start your new home” they ask. Much as I would like to, I find it hard to wrap my mind around the idea of turning my back on this cultural practise. I can. I probably should. But I don’t want to. Does lobola still mean what it used to? Perhaps it is social conditioning or maybe I am just not as post modern as I imagined. However, now I do have a very real headache. I really should only worry about crossing the bridge when I get to it… I know, I know but…..
*gives self a hard mental kick*