The African custom of LOBOLA or ILOBOLO


Lobola (also called Lobolo or Ilobolo) is a term used to define an African traditional custom (similar to the Asian dowry) whereby the groom-to-be's family hand gifts or money to the bride-to-be's family, before marriage. It is used as a starting point to the process of marriage. It can be compared to "asking for the girl's hand in marriage."

Why is money paid/given to the bride-to-be's family?

Why pay for the bride? Is it similar to bying her?

Traditionally/in the past, women used to be financially dependent on men, and lobola was one way of ensuring or checking that the man was financially able to take care of a family.

Different tribes view/regard Lobola differently. For some, it serves as compensation to the bride's family, because traditionally, once married, she belonged to the husband's family. It also compensates for the giving up of one's maiden name to assume the husband's last name/surname.

More and more African men regard it as a thank you gift to the girl's/fiancee's family, for having raised her well, taught her well and for just allowing him to marry her.

Does the practice still have a place in modern society?

In my opinion, provided the two people that are getting ready for marriage are able to define this custom well, and agree about the purpose of giving money to the girl's family, it still is an honourable custom.

The problem arises when some misunderstanding men would use the fact that they did pay lobola, as an excuse to abuse and oppress their wives. Fortunately, most modern African men understand why they are doing it and don't even think of abandoning it.

Some families of the brides would demand unfair sums of money from the groom's family, thus creating a negative perception that lobola is in fact "the price attached to the bride" or that it reflects the "value of the bride".

My grandmother puts it nicely; take a couple of lines from her book: "you can never attach monetary value to a person; and even if I were to do that, nobody would ever afford that person. Lobola is about goodwill and a new relationship/friendship between the two families. It is not how much the groom is able to give, it is whether he showed enough interest in the girl to initiate/suggest a meeting between the two families."

I wish we can all come to understand the custom a little better and stop criticising; and/or trying to "recover the costs of raising our girls." Women have no price attached to them, they are no objects and giving money to a woman's family has absolutely nothing to do with "buying" her.

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