Bride Price – An Alternative View Point

The question of participating in lobola is a very controversial one with many of our westernized MALE Africans standing for its complete eradication. For many who do not know this, lobola is equivalent to bride price. This is when a suitor goes to ask for a girls hand in marriage, a price is negotiated and then is paid. In many cases, the money is returned because both families are more concerned about the symbols. This practice has its basis in respect for both sides of the family.

Now many will scream, “oh gosh, another system of female oppression in Africa!!” and will go ahead to cite cases, in which when men paid the bride price, they went ahead to abuse their wives. Others will cite that when money is paid, ownership of the woman automatically moves from the father to her new husband. Others will go on further to cite cases in which fathers placed exorbitant prices on their daughters in order to make some money off her. I agree, these are all important issues that could arise as a result of lobola. Even though I disagree that lobola leads to abuse, I believe that it is man’s psychological need to CONTROL that leads to abuse. But let me offer another alternative view point on lobola.

First, we all have to understand that Africa is NOW more capitalistic than socialistic in its set up. With the introduction of commercialization of almost every facet of an Africans life, systems which were considered sacred and were used for community building have been tarnished and its original purpose has been laid to waste. One of these systems is lobola. In the past, the negotiating point for BOTH families was not the money that was brought in, rather it was the connections that happens when these two families come together as one. As such, there were full investigative systems in place to ensure that when these two people come together, each side will not unknowingly take on problems that they know nothing about. Money was not used, rather materials that had certain symbolic aspects were used. For example, kola nut which many understand to symbolize long life. Males at that time before they became cheap skates, (sorry I had to put that there), understood that by putting down these materials , they were saying thank you to these girl’s parents for raising her up. It was a form of appreciation and acknowledgment that this woman did not come from the streets. It also has to be understood that with lobola, this woman picks up some form of protection from both their communities because she is now seen as some one’s wife and as such she has access to certain aspects of community life.

As educated African adults in the diaspora, I think it is important that we make informed decisions about what cultural practices we choose to keep rather than stating that all African culture is bad. Moreover, we can choose alternative ways of modifying certain cultures to fit the new African. For example, in Sierra Leone, the girl gets the money rather than her family which she uses to buy her wedding gown. In some other cultures, the money is negotiated but is either never taken or is returned. Some set the price at 2 dollars which is close to nothing because they are more interested in their daughters happiness than the price. Of course the man has to be worthy of this sacrifice.

I have to be quite frank when I say that it is complete B.S when an educated African woman says she can be forced to marry someone just because he paid some form of dowry. NO! The wonderful aspect about education, being upwardly mobile as well as independent is that she has the leeway to walk away and make her own choices and still survive with or without family support. All she has to deal with is societal pressure which generally goes away in time. Of course, some will ask, what of the uneducated African woman that is tied to her father’s compound. Traditionally, spaces have been created within cultures in which women have a say.

In conclusion, I support lobola, completely because I believe in the symbolisms behind the lobola system which is one of respect. Until, a different system is brought in that has the same meaning and import, I do not think that this should be changed. I will end by saying, if the pot ain’t broke don’t try to fix it.

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