How did Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert became the standard Christian wedding in Africa? In 1840, when the monarch of Britain chose to wear a white gown for her wedding instead of the colorful garments worn during that time, she had no idea she had started a new Christian tradition. Today, a white gown represent sexual purity. What started as a fashion statement, a description of taste, has been slapped with Christian symbolism and now represent sexual purity.
Christology in Traditional African Weddings
Five years ago, I enrolled at a Bible School in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. One of the classes I took was on Marriage Counseling. I enjoyed the class because the lecturer was not authoritarian, rather he promoted students to seek answers from the word through personal Bible study. To foster that attitude, he always gave tricky, soul searching questions.
“What makes a wedding Christian? Is it paying lobola or the church wedding?”
FYI. Paying lobola is not writing checks to the gods of Ebola, but offering a herd of cattle and a set sum of money, among other things to the parents of the bride. In recent years, feminist organizations and modernists have attacked lobola as antediluvian, uncivilized and demeaning as it reduce women to merchandize. They further argue lobola is the reason why African men are abusive. Personally, I paid lobola to show my in-laws how much I appreciate what they did in raising my wife and as a mark of my commitment to marriage.
I sat quietly, listening to my classmates as they all agreed an authentic Christian wedding was a white wedding. They all contended traditional wedding was not Christian and should be shunned. A true Christian wedding is conducted in Church before a minister of God and witnessed by fellow believers, they all said.
“Who was the marriage officer for Adam and Eve, Isaac and Rebekah or Jacob and Rachel?”
No one answered me. The lecturer noticed I was on to something and asked me to continue.
“The problem we have with Christianity in Zimbabwe is we have adopted western practices and demonized local traditions. I strongly believe our traditional marriage is more Christian than the white wedding.”
“Can you explain further” My assertion had taken aback the learned pastor.
“In a traditional wedding, it is not a one day event, but takes a long time as the groom consults with his in-laws about lobola. Initially, the groom speaks to the in-laws through a mediator which is reminiscent of the ministry of John the Baptist. The mediator is told of the lobola requirements and reminds us of the ransom Christ paid on the Cross. On the wedding day, the groom pays the lobola before all the relatives of the bride and members of the community.
“A feast ensues and as night approaches the bride and groom are given a room where white bedding is used. The next morning, elderly women collect the bedding and if there is blood the celebrations intensify. Nothing gives pride to a family than knowing their daughter was a virgin when she got married. All these practices represents both Christology and eschatology.”
No, Pastor I am not an adulterer, I paid lobola
A few months before, I had gone to my in-laws and paid lobola. One of my classmates knew that and asked why I was not living with my wife if we are married. In the current Christian weddings, the groom pays lobola then wed at church a few months later. During this time the bride and groom are not considered married by the church. I was not considered married, so I was not staying with my wife.
“In God’s eyes, what I did in Ndambe, Beitbridge was enough and was a true Christian wedding. If I start living with my wife before the church wedding, people of little faith will think I am shacking. I am only doing this for my wife and all those who think a white wedding is holier and sanctified than a traditional wedding. I would not want my marriage to be a stumbling block to fellow believers.”
Like any other practice, lobola has been distorted and twisted by opportunists and greedy folks. My grandfather gave a hoe as lobola, but some people pay five figures and hundreds of cattle. During droughts and tough times vulnerable families have been extorted and forced to give their babies as wives in exchange of food. Hence, the argument lobola reduce women to commodities. However, should we through away the dirty water with the baby or the cattle with the dung?
Despite building great schools and hospitals and bringing Bibles to Africa, missionaries established western practices as more Christian than their traditional counterparts. As a result, a white wedding shroud with mythological and idolatrous practices has been adopted as the gold standard in Christian marriage. Regrettably, those who only paid lobola and are living together are often looked down upon and considered to be living in adultery/fornication.
After paying lobola at the in-laws, the married couple goes off to celebrations with the groom’s family. The wife is accompanied by her aunt and trusted friend. These two would help her in any chores she does. Think of the Holy Spirit. By this time, the husband would have built a house for his new family and his father would have apportioned him a piece of land.
With such a succinct picture of the church and Christ portrayed in the traditional wedding, you begin to wonder why African believers opt for a white wedding. What do you think?