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Culture can be defined as “peoples’ culture, in its broadest sense, is a complete way of life designed by a people in their collective endeavour to live harmoniously with one another and also come to terms with their total environment” (Lecture notes,2013:70). This quote further explains that this term of culture rules people who fit in with this concept. Due to their being such a diverse world, there is also many diverse cultures which is yet to be explored. However this essay will be focusing on the African culture which these people are associated within the African continent (Lecture notes,2013:70). More specifically the ethnic group within this vast African continent will be the Zulu speaking people in terms of ilobolo (Lecture notes,2013:74). The expense of lobolo was later organized when the first edition of the “Natal Code of Zulu Law” (South African Law Commission,1988) was declared in 1878 and then modified in 1891. The most important piece of information was the prearrangement of 11 ilobolo cattle to be delivered to the brides family (Welsh,1971). This essay will be explaining lobola with the various different stages in detail as well as stating whether this custom is still relevant in today’s society or not.

Initially in a household a man and women’s first wish is to have a son who will be the eldest in terms of carrying the family’s name, however, if a girl is born first there would be no continuation of upholding the family’s name and thus the main focus is about showing how much money the family has as well as developing a long-term relationship with another family of which the girl marries into. In the past, the father of the daughter would want his daughter to get married into another family that had wealth i.e. families that offered many cattle rather than being poor. Thus, the father would know that his child would not suffer of starvation or hunger. Initially this procedure of lobolo dealt with any amount of cattle which could be paid to the girls family, however, a re-examination by Sir Theophilus Shepstone took advantage of this tradition and secured a number of 11 cattle to be given and thus 11 cattle is dealt with lobolo (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). Historically some fathers preferred on collecting all 11 cattle before the wedding ceremony can proceed, however, some fathers were prepared to “offer” their daughters to the boy who wants to marry the girl on acceptance of some of the cattle’s head whilst other fathers made a verbal assurance of lobolo which could be paid in time (Hunter, 2010:56). 1
Lobolo is basically about the cattle, where each cow holds a certain value and this cattle is paid by the father and mother of the boy to the parents of the girl in exchange for their daughter (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). Depending on how rich or poor the boy’s family is determines the lobolo (Lecture Notes, 2013:79) as cattle is a symbol of superiority and to the ancestors(Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet) and with this, the brides family will have a piece of mind knowing that their daughter will not starve. In rural areas people weren’t to strict in terms of paying lobolo before marriage but in the more urban areas where the form of payment of lobolo had to be paid before marriage. Thus lead to a “push” of paying lobolo and if the man could not afford it, the couple would have to wait (Moeno,1977).

Ilobolo stems from two families. The brides-to-be mother, is the first to know about two men from the grooms-to-be family which will come to the girls house where the father is unaware of these two men coming. On a specific day the two men from the grooms-to-be side will pitch very early at the brides-to-be house one morning of which the father will know by then looking at the men, where these men shout at the gate “we came here to join families”. Even during this time, the father will call the neighbours and extended family members to join. In addition a further explanation of the cows of the grooms family in terms of the cows colour, gender and side will be said outside of the house where a repetition of what was said outside would have to be done inside the house as well (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). The two men from the grooms family have to pay in money terms so that the father of the bride can start talking. Once then the father will call all the girls in the house and ask the men from the boy’s side which girl they are talking about. When the girl is pointed at the father will ask questions such as if she knows them, what is their surname and where about they are from (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). In the Zulu culture older generations must finish the negotiations till the end and while this process is going on the bride-to-be and groom-to-be have no say (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet).

In certain instances families feel that there is no need to pay lobolo either because the two people that want to get married feel as if they might not be married for very long 2 or due to the two people being together for a long period of time. However, marriages do not last for very long if lobola is not done correctly as there is a certain way of slaughtering the animal (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). Within the African culture, this tradition of lobola must be approved by the ancestors. A further approval of these numerous ceremonials is where either a goat/cow is slaughtered and the bile of the animal is given to the bride-to-be or groom-to-be. For example the father of the bride and other men within the family (this shows a sign of approval) will go to the boys house to the animal (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). The boys family will give the animal, whether a goat/cow, to the girls father where the slaughtering will happen outside inn the grooms premises of where the bile of the animal will get placed and put into a “balloon look alike structure” which will get pined to the father around the chest area. The significance of slaughtering is to accept the boy as the new son-in-law of the brides family he is wishing to enter and this ritual must be done otherwise the marriage will fail and there will be no blessings from the ancestors to the families of the bride and groom. However, this procedure will vary depending on the location (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet).

There is two very controversial sides to lobolo as certain individuals feel that this custom should be eliminated due to lobolo being to focused on materialism thus losing the sense of this tradition as the main focus is about the bonding of two families (Dlanga,2010,Internet). And on the other hand some individuals also state that this custom holds an important significance in the African culture, which rituals must be performed, who are fighting to save this custom irrespective even if they know that people are transforming into becoming more westernized which has been stated above. However, both sides are valid (Dlanga,2010,Internet). Lobolo is problematic in today’s times due to the fact that people have no solid knowledge of what lobolo actually is or reasons as to why it or was a form of tradition. Lobolo is worth much more than being a plain custom but instead people should communicate about lobolo in a setting and not in a quarantine environment (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). According to a social Anthropologist Absalom Vilakazi (Vilakazi,1962), in the past the lobolo tradition precedes colonialism where a fixed transaction was arrived at due to finding a conclusion between families (Umsamo 3
African Tradition,2011,Internet). People who have found it difficult to recognize the present purpose and role of this tradition, still identify with lobolo in terms of containing a very powerful cultural value in terms of conducting a correct Zulu wedding (De Haas, 1987:10). A much as this tradition is vitally necessary in the Zulu culture, a decrease of this upcoming tradition will be faced with problems such as generational alteration (De Haas, 1987:17). and financial change (De Haas, 1987:32).

Due to the force of the development of modernization as well as numerous socio-economic factors, this has lead to the disruption and revolution of the lobolo tradition (Umsamo African Tradition,2011,Internet). According to Shope (2006:68), young women of today have understood that in today’s time it is extremely difficult to pay for lobolo as firstly the monetary value of cattle has increased and secondly a mans power to pay for lobolo, even if the money value of the cow has not increased, but has reduced. Shope further states that lobolo has been linked with a business trade in a sense where families use the custom for “material advancement” (2006,68). Although investigations have shown a recognized variation in wedding patterns amongst South Africans whose culture focuses on ilobolo, however, there is still a practise of this tradition still being done (Garenne et al, 2001:280). In specific African countries there is a high rate of unemployment and thus with lobolo the men of marriageable age in specific are finding it very difficult to pay in the lobolo custom (Casale et al,
2004:994). With the falling of Apartheid, individuals now have a better chance of educating themselves and due to this, there is a high hope of the young African nation to become the soul bread winners in their household (Campell,1992). On the other hand a percentage of Zulu people still do follow in the customs of lobolo (Burman & Van der Wertt,1993:117).

In conclusion there are two very opposing movements of ilobolo that has been discussed in this literature. On the one instance there is issues that relate to the reason as why individuals do not continue with the custom of ilobolo and on the other instance there is an important significance of this custom in weddings as it is being re-evaluated in the African culture. Overall this custom still continues with the people who follow tradition with the concept of bonding two families together, providing the 4 approval and communicating with their families ancestors and with the people who have moved into the modern era there has been a decline in this practise.

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Reference
Burman, S and van der Werff, N. (1993) Rethinking customary law on bridewealth, Social Dynamics, 19 (2): 111-127.

Campbell C (1992) “Learning to kill? Masculinity, the family and violence in Natal”, Journal of Southern African Studies 18 (3): 614-628.

Casela, D. Muller, C. and D, Posel. (2004) Two million net new jobs: A reconsideration of the rise in employment in South Africa, 1995 - 2003, South African Journal of Economics, 72, 5: 978 - 1002.

De Haas, M. (1987) Is there anything more to say about lobolo?, African Studies, 46 (1): 33-55.

Dlanga, K. (2010) To lobola or not to lobola? [Internet]. Cape Town, Digital and media communication. Available from: http://http://www.news24.com/Columnists/Khaya-Dlanga/To-lobola-or-not-to-lobola-20101103 Accessed 5 April 2013.

Garenne M, S Tollman, K Kahn, T Collins T and S Ngwenya. (2001)
Understanding marital and premarital fertility in rural South Africa, Journal of Southern African Studies, 27 (2): 277-290.

Hunter, M. (2010) Love in the time of AIDS. Pietermaritzburg, University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

Lecture Notes, 2013.

Moeno, N. S. (1977) Illegitimacy in an African urban township in South Africa: an ethnographic note, African Studies 36, 43-57.

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Rudwick, S and Posel, D. (2011) Marriage and ilobolo [bridewealth] in contemporary Zulu society. Unpublished manuscript. Available from: http://sds.ukzn.ac.za/files/WP%2060-Posel%20&%20Rudwick.pdf Accessed 1 April 2013.

Shope, J. H. (2006) Lobola is here to stay’: rural black women and the contradictory meanings of lobolo in post-apartheid South Africa, Agenda 6: 64 – 72.

South African Law Commission. (1988) Harmonization of the common law and the indigenous law – Report on Customary Marriage. Johannesburg: University of the Witwatersrand.

Umsamo African Institute. (2011) The African Dictionary [Internet]. Pietermaritzburg. Available from: http://umsamo.com/wpp/?p=230 Accessed 23 March 2013.

Vilakazi A (1962) Zulu transformations. Pietermaritzburg: University of Natal Press.

Welsh, D. (1971) The roots of segregation: Native policy in colonial Natal, 1845-1910. Cape Town: Oxford University Press.

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