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The Lobola Practice And Its Effect On Women

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Marriage is a universal institution where a couple is officially united and becomes a family. While the marriage institution is universal, its practice differs between cultures. These differences are quite significant in a country like South Africa where customary (including, but not limited to, African) marriage has been lawfully disregarded in favour of civil/Christian (Western) marriages in the past. One of the major differences between “Western” and “African” marriages would be that African marriages involve the practice of Lobola or bride wealth. The Assignment will discuss further the Lobola practise and look at its influence on women.

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The Lobola Practise

For the past centuries of European involvement in Southern Africa, Lobola has been interpreted by western observers in different ways; the bride wealth systems varied and even where they are structurally similar, their individual functions and meanings cannot be read as identical. Lobola arguably serves multiple purposes within the Southern African society, both material (in terms of distribution of both productive and consumable resources), symbolic also the transition to adulthood and establishing the nature of relationships between people. In courtship and in selection for marriage such factors as rank, wealth, and economic efficiency enter into the estimate of the integral desirability and value of one mate for the other.

Functions of Lobola

Functionalism is known as one of the prominent school of thought used better grasp the concept of culture and society including its many aspects. In essence, society is viewed holistically with its part interdependent.

Material Function

Through lobola a household can secure both production and reproduction as cattle is offered in exchange for a woman’s hand in marriage. Lobola now serves as means whereby elders are able to claim on the next generation, specifically the earnings of potential sons-in-laws. Insisting on high lobola provides for comfortable subsistence or in the event of default, affords entitlement to a daughter’s children.

Lineage Functions

It is often said that African marriage unites families and not just individuals as they create a bond between these families through Lobola. Lobola is seen as transfer of a woman from her family to her husband’s family where she will be part of that lineage, producing heirs and future generations so the name of that family may live on. However, since commercialisation in the late 19th century lobola has become more an individual transaction between two men, the groom’s parents are no longer fully involved in the process or transaction. Besides being a transfer of wealth between two families/ lineage, lobola serves as to strengthen the integrity of the household unit as an effective structure of supports and dependency. It brings about the absolute transfer of rights in a woman’s family to her husband’s family, therefore it may be seen as a payment for children lineage. In Lesotho, it is said that the child belongs to the cattle (ngoana ke oa likhomo) and in Zimbabwe they say a cattle beget children.

Identity Function

Lobola has long served to symbolise the transition to adulthood, the existence of a marriage and many other aspects of social identity and relationships, Lobola is now acquiring a new symbolic importance in relation to the construction of cultural identity as an example of re-traditionalism.

The payment of bride wealth is something that creates obligations on the part of women to repay and to reach the norm of reciprocity. Across much of sub Saharan Africa, the payment of bride wealth lies at the centre of the marriage contract. Bride wealth payment is a tradition that has not been forgotten as it is still practise even today in most countries in Africa, across families of different class and in both rural and urban areas. The tribe or state which is primarily associated with protection and defense is also the group which takes cognizance of marriage law and family organization, which has its collective financial systems, and which at times organizes nutritive exploits on a large scale. When a man and woman are going to get married, both families negotiate a bride wealth payment that includes variety of goods such as livestock, money and or household goods. When the negotiated price or amount has been completely paid to the woman’s family, the rights and control associated with marriage are transferred to the man as he is then the head of his family. He has the authority to lead his wife and family as he wishes.

Symbolic Meaning (for individual and society)

Focusing more on the Xhosa tribe, Lobola was seen as a fundamental element to the Xhosa marriage during the process the cattle was transferred to the bride’s family, the number of cattle and the timing of their delivery were matters of long negotiations. As a result the woman’s relatives would demand additional cattle from time to time in order to increase the pressure if it was felt there was unnecessary dilatoriness, the women might be called home and detained until additional cattle were forthcoming. African marriage was primarily a joining of two families rather than a matter between two individuals.

Historically, marriages were arranged by the families and wishes of young people or individuals were not of much value, slightly things began to evolve even though arranged marriages still occur in other cultures. The majority of cultures have been exposed to awareness on this practise and thus have taken into consideration the needs of individuals and their freedom. Young people are again transforming the meaning of lobola. Through their valuing of ‘culture’, combined with economic rationalist discourse, the meanings students attach to lobola tend to place women in less powerful positions relative to. People decide to get married at their own desires to so and are not easily influenced by their parents and families. The economic dependence of young people caused most to agree to the arrangements made for them. Without the payment of cattle, the father or his family could not claim parental rights to the children, a son did not have claim to inherit.

Bride Wealth as an Oppression

The agreeing of the females to this arrangements meant that they obey and respect their father and don’t want to disgrace the family name because they were less consulted about the on-going of this arrangement as much as the males who intended to marry the females because they had a freedom of choice to choose their own brides and expect to get them as long as bride wealth is paid.

So the woman has an effect not because it increases a woman’s dependence on her male partner, but it obligates her. Bride wealth payment creates constraints over married women regardless of her income and education level. Increasing a woman’s income may reduce her dependence but it does nothing to reduce her socially accepted behaviour or obligations resulting from bride wealth. The sense of obligation felt by women when bride wealth has been paid it is also enforced by society. Therefore if the payment of bride wealth affects the woman’s normative obligations and if male violence is a means through which men enforce those obligations then we can say that the bride wealth has some effect on the approval of men’s violence. When the bride wealth has been fully paid, we can expect people react less negatively to violence caused by the male partner than if the bride wealth has not been paid. This is because now the women is seen as the property of the man and the man’s violence is more likely to been seen appropriate and a s a way of enforcing the woman’s normative obligations if he has paid the bride wealth.


Lobola is still largely an ongoing practise among the various African cultures. It solidifies the bond between two families and it is seen as more than two people’s union. It also creates a sense of power for the man as he is responsible for his own household. A woman is obligated to abide by the rules set by the man as he is head of the house.

15 July 2020

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