To Bear a Daughter is to Ensure Future Wealth: An Analysis of the Cultural Practice of Bride Price in Contemporary Mozambique
In Iron Age century, in most African societies, when a young man made up his mind to ask for his bride’s hand, presented a hoe to the family of hers. Since the iron came from surface mining and wood-fired smelting and then had to be shaped by hand, such a metal was valuable and very difficult to get. Consequently, to hand over a hoe was tantamount to gold, for its functionality.
If the groom depicted an inability of doing so, then he spent some time working in bride’s family until her father was pleased with his labour. Bride price, in this regard, gives an impression of being a momentous part of African marriages and lingers to be endorsed and pragmatic across generations.
This paper aims at reflecting on the flexibility and relevance of bride price in contemporary Mozambican society.
Acknowledging that cultural rules are obeyed only when they serve and fulfil their purposes, I propose and urge the society to rethink about the authenticity and originality of the bride price. Further, I instill that the reconsideration of the practice should result in a unanimous agreement of a definite amount of wealth, affordable by almost every groom, to be bestowed on bride’s family. Finally, if the practicality and applicability of this solution is impossible, then the cultural practice in question should definitively be abolished.
Every group of people worldwide has its own specific beliefs, rules, traditions, and ways of operating when it comes to marriage.
Although marriage is a universal institution, they are multiple ways of engaging people into it (qtd. in Nkosi 4). In Africa, because of the multiplicity of ethnics, cultures and traditional beliefs, the institution of marriage has got different terminologies: roora, lobola, ilobolo, and lobolo. Since in Mozambique the most common and most used terms are lobolo and bride price, I variably make use of them throughout this essay.
In this essay I take into consideration the term lobolo to refer to the customary token bestowed by the groom on his bride’s family. Similarly, the term bride price denotes the reciprocity between two families; that is, one family gives a daughter and the other gives an aggregate of wealth. In accordance with Bourdillon, I understand the term culture as the enclosure of every aspect that one society calls to mind its dwellers. These aspects, include languages, behaviour, art, music, dancing, knowledge, ways of operating and thinking, values, beliefs, technology, and leisure (7). Moreover, culture is the identity of a paralleled group of people. I also make use of the term marriage to elucidate the act of recognizing and legalizing the marital sexual relationship between a lady and a gentleman. In addition, marriage is a continuous process of knowing and letting the counterpart be what he or she really is. This is a profound sacrifice and commitment to one another in the marriage.
A lot of study has been done and many scholars have written on this contentious discourse of lobolo. Western scholars, unsympathetically castigate the practice of bride price postulating that the process of monetary transaction is corresponding to the act of buying an object (qtd. in Nkosi 7). As a result, women are taken as though they were slaves or men’s property. A set of African scholars, in response to the western perspective assume that it is of the remarkable importance not to look at lobolo superficially, but as a practice “a deeper cultural meaning” (qtd. in Nkosi 7). Additionally, Mbiti elucidates that the custom of bride price is not a form of buying a woman, but it is a token of gratitude on the part of the bridegroom’s people to those of the bride for their care over her and for allowing her to become his wife” (qtd. in Ng’ang’a 2). The focus, therefore, is not on the transference of the wealth, but one something more than that.
Complementarily, lobolo can never be abolished. Considering the positivity of lobolo, a group of women, blissfully and categorically, announce that, “lobolo is here to stay” (Shope 65). It is the culture and the tradition that they inherited from their forefathers. Hence, they have to carry it on. Further, consolidating the previous idea, women categorize that the practice has a precious connotation, for it holds them in high regard and the entire clan of theirs. “If a large sum of money is paid for you, it really shows that you are loved and merit” (Chabata 13). Finally, another set of scholars infers that the practice of lobolo is no longer relevant, for it has lost its original sense which I will discuss in the following paragraphs (Nkosi 64, Chabata 13 and Matope et al 192). People have made it to digress with its authentic path.
The practice of lobolo was instituted to originally, culturally, and religiously legalize the marriage and marital sexual relationship. Indeed, the following processes of the payments of lobolo legalize the marriage: first payment consist in presenting a hoe or a goat to the bride’s family with the purpose of transferring the women’s rights over sexual regards to the husband (Nkosi 26). The second consist in presenting the cattle to the bride’s family. This has a spiritual connection with ancestors who acknowledge the marriage and, therefore, they have a positive influence on the children that the woman will give forth (Bourdillon 57). These payments are fulfilled along the years as children are born. Failure to these payments, the marriage is considered a casual sexual relationship or prostitution. Further, these two processes also play a role of bringing the two families together and to get to know each other.
Culturally, bride price is one of the ways of portraying the appreciativeness to bride’s family, for patiently bringing her up. The mother carries the fetus into her belly for nine months. So, the groom has to appreciate and thank the family (Nkosi 64). The task of raising up someone is a heavy duty. Therefore, an educated and conscious groom has to depict some thankfulness to the bride’s family, for everything. By giving the cattle or goats or even some money to the bride’s family, the groom depicts his capability and warrant the bride’s family that he is competent of caring for their daughter. In fact, through the transference of those items, the groom assures the bride’s family and the preoccupation is less (Ng’ang’a 2). They believe that their daughter is in safe hands.
As far as the culture is concerned, lobolo fortifies and brings down the index of divorces in the society. Indeed, once a couple is culturally engaged into marriage divorce is virtually unthinkable (qtd. in Ng’ang’a 6, Nkosi 77). Divorce, can only happen if the husband does not sexually satisfy the wife or if he inconspicuously has some extra marital affairs, and consequently, neglects his wife (Bourdillon 66). Furthermore, the couple can only break up if the wife shows an inability to cook, to do the laundry, and to care for the household. Lobolo is to compensate the loss of a productive daughter. As a matter of fact, the wife dedicates herself working in the field and look after the household; she also works for her husband and his family (Bourdillon 37). This follows that what she got from her parents will be beneficial for other people. Therefore, something must be given to her family. Now woman’s productivity is made of education, clothing, feeding, and so on. These are the reasons why Mozambican society keeps the practice of paying bride price to bride’s family.
Yet, even though currently the practice of lobolo seems to be of such an extraordinary importance in some societies, particularly in Mozambique, I think that there is need to redefine it. The society has to come together and either determine a definite amount of wealth that the groom can afford, rather than asking for the groom the amount that is above is capacity or to completely abolish it. This is because of the following reasons: first, the culture is worthy being observed only when it fulfils its purposes; however, bride price has, currently, lost its genuine merit and implication in the society due to the thoroughgoing changes that it is undergoing.
Consequently, it no longer fulfils most of its purposes. Secondly, lobolo has been a commerce since its very beginning. Finally, the practice of lobolo brings about some awkward effects on the society such as domestic violence and marital sexual abuses; it encourages premature marriages that compromise the education and the future of most girls; it promotes gender inequality in the family and disempowerment of women; and it is also inhumanity in the society. I believe that setting a definite amount of wealth to endow in bride’s family or just to abolish the savage custom and ignoble culture of lobolo, should be some of the ways to undertake to sort out the upheavals mentioned above.
Owing to the radical modifications that bride price presently passes through, I think that the practice has to be revised. Most of these drastic changes are on account of the economic crisis. The cattle that the groom gave to the bride’s family have been substituted by a substantial amount of cash. Furthermore, the cattle and or the money enabled bride’s brother to pay their lobolo. Currently, bride’s father uses the money as he pleases (Bourdillon 37). Reached at this level, astonishingly, one would put a question: what spiritual symbolism does the money have in connection with ancestors? And since it is a culture that must be carried on and transmitted from age to the other, why does the bride’s father have to use the money for his own purposes, rather than on the original purpose? These radical changes depict the practicality and flexibility of the culture in walking rhythmically with time; when the environment and the circumstances change, the culture also suffers some modifications and it adapts itself so as to fit in.
Lobolo no longer compensates and exhibits sign of thankfulness to the bride’s family. Bourdillon affirms that lobolo is to compensate bride’s family for the loss of a productive daughter, the girls were well behaved, and virgin (37). The circumstances of our present day are wholly different from those of the past. In the long distant past, the society demanded women to observe such practices. Currently, although parents try by all means to instill morality in their children, the influences from outside distort them. How difficult it is now to come across a virgin! Moreover, status of women and the roles that they now play in the society have tremendously changed. Their primary task is no longer in the fields. Most women are just as empowered as men. Finally, I strappingly believe that to educate and invest in children both academically and morally is the primary errand of parents. Therefore, the purpose of lobolo of compensating and thanking the bride’s family has no a sound and reasonable justification.
The practice of lobolo has failed to fulfil its purposes in terms of safeguarding the family and of decreasing the index of divorces in the society. Once again, the environment played a vital role in this matters to the extent that divorce was approximately nonexistent. Currently, Mozambican societies witness more cases of divorce than ever. For instance, only at Mozambican High Court of Maputo 42 cases of divorce could be registered in a week last year. These were only the reported ones. There is a possibility that the unreported ones were even twice than this. These divorces are brought about by misunderstanding of the essence of marriage and immaturity of the spouses. They also come about due to the difference of religion, sometimes because of selfishness and dichotomy in relationships or extra marital affairs. Sometimes, they come about because of bad influences and various teachings. Some other times, divorces are due to inability of the men to provide the basic needs for the family due to economic crisis. Besides, forced marriage contribute a lot to this problem. Finally, I also think that domestic violence, intolerance, and lack of deeply knowing each other also linger in contemporary society.
Bride price has become the source of commotion and tension between two families. In fact, according to the Mozambican culture, marriage is essentially a peaceful contract between two families” (Bourdillon 52). Presently, admirably, instead of bringing two families together, the practice causes quarrels, pandemonium, and tension between two families. Materialism, mistrust, and the slight modifications ere the main justifications of these problems. The groom, differently from the past, is insisted to endow all the money into bride’s family before the marriage takes place (Bourdillon 38). If the young man demurs a bit in paying the expected token, the father in law-to-be can demand for it or else he can cancel the process of marriage. On the other hand, the delay also depicts the inability of groom regarding in taking care of the bride.
Bride price promotes premature marriages compromising the education and the future of young girls. In the past when there was a bad harvest, a family without enough to live on could relieve the situation by giving a small girl away into marriage and use the bride price to get some food (Bourdillon 61). Unfortunately, this awful habit still lingers in our days. Despite of the legal prohibitions of child marriages, Mozambique still witnesses a lot of them. Nearly one in two girls throughout that country are married off before their 18th birthday. Generally, these young girls are married to people who are much older than them. Premature marriages do not only compromise girls’ education and their future, but also causes some other negative effects such as contraction of HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Furthermore, since the body of the girl is not yet prepared to give forth children, there is a high possibility of mortality. Therefore, premature marriages affect the entire world, for these young girls are the sap of the world.
The practice of lobolo has been a commerce since its very begging. In the long distant past, bride price was paid through a hoe which was expensive by then, hence barely to get. Then it was turned into cattle which was the basis economic order at that time and was an evident sigh of wealth. Now the payments are primarily made in substantial amounts of cash. The average of money for lobolo varies from family to family. Some families beholding the family of the groom exaggerate to the extent of asking for a Merced Benz. Others ask for at least $9000. Considering this amount of money, I think that the practice of lobolo can exclude some people from marrying the people they love. Some put forward that if the girl has money, can stealthy help her lover to pay lobolo for her (Bourdillon 63).
But even this does not make sense at all. It is equivalent to take her without any payments. On top of that amount of money the groom has to fund for the wedding feast and get appropriate cloths for his bride. The young people in Mozambique are currently passing through a lot of upheavals such as political instability, unemployment, and poverty. The economy of the country has not been stable for the past ten years and there is no hope that it will stabilize in near future. Because of this, many people seldom get $2 per day. The question now is this to the society: where does it expect such individuals to provide very high amount of money for lobolo with this kind of economy? It is quite paradoxical for the young men. Because of the inability of marrying whom they love, they end up engaging with someone they do not, because money is what counts and not love as such.
Furthermore, bride price is, to some extent, is the source of domestic violence and marital sexual abuses. The payments of lobolo contribute a lot in this regards. Once a set of women lamented saying, “The payment of lobolo seals the deal. It appears as if the woman has to surrender her sexual rights as well as reproductive rights because the men would have paid lobolo” (Matope et al 198). Once the husband completes paying bride price, he understands that he has the right of claiming sexual relationship in the family whenever he feels like and the wife has no saying in this regard. If she argues to be unwilling and or unwell, then things like “punching, hitting, slapping and throwing things at her, among many other disgusting things” (Matope et al 198) are detected in the family. All of these aspects are completely against human rights. Most of these cases, surreptitiously, pass past us, for they are unreported. This is because of the fear that wives have wanting to preserve their marriages. The fear is, if she reports, divorce may take place. In this case, the husband has the right to claim the bride price he paid to the wife’s family.
In conclusion, this paper first explored the ongoing discussion on cultural practice of lobolo in Mozambique. The discourse fell into two groups: the first discourse is that taking into consideration the importance of bride price, convincingly upholds that it ought to be carried on, the second discourse insists on the loss of the authenticity and originality of the practice, thus becoming irrelevant in contemporary Mozambique. Then it found out that lobolo has now become a source of a lot of awful things in the society such as domestic violence, divorce, marital sexual abuse and premature marriages that bring about a lot of damage on young girls. Above all, due to the changes that the practice is currently passing through, it suggests that the practice has lost its sense. Therefore, the paper suggested that the society should rethink about the relevance of bride price in our time. Further, if possible, the society should unanimously agree on one amount of wealth, affordable by almost every groom, to be bestowed on bride’s family. Of course, those who feel like giving more, they may do so. If this proposal still cannot work, then the practice should be dismissed form the society.