Are Traditional African Weddings Demonic and Unchristian?

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?

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51 Comments

  1. This is indeed fascinating. Thanks for informing me of a subject I knew little of till now. I think sometimes Christians get very hung up on details without looking at the true picture. I highly respect your point-of-view here.

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  2. Wow this is true my friend. You know i also believe that in Africa there is a tendency to uphold the shut or western tradition over the local culture because sometimes other things outside of marriage and lobola practice’s end up being done in a paganistic manner. So because the white wedding is done in a church there is tendency to be live that it has been sanctified by the lord, but I always like a friend of mine once said, it doesn’t mean that if something has the name Christian in front of it it is holy, this is true. From what you share, it doesn’t mean that if a Christian white wedding is held INA church then it is better than a tradition which was there before white wedsings, however I will say a lot of the practice’s you mention, like the white sheets do not necessarily stand nowadays as people are becoming more accustomed to a modern world, therefore I would say that, God plans always prevail despite people having done things their way. Whether it be lobola or church wedding. In the midst of that GOD has his children who understand how to value Him from the heart, trust me, there is more adultery out here in the world than ina lobola situation, so christianity is not about hindrances but being in Christ in all that we do, when hindrances come in. It becomes a mere religion, in the old it said you shall not! When Jesus Came it became you shall! Those who say is not Christian tend to think the youbshall not way, and this who say both can work together for the lord are you shall..the church is the house of the lord, although our bodies are the temples, the church were the wedding is held is mstill a good way to have wedding. What matters is to do it in fear of God more than in fear of practice, for the sake of upholding tradition, the mjewish leaders were so Good at that, Jesus on the other hand was different. He did things with a good purpose in his heart. Let people decide~sorry for such along comment

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    1. Thanks for the comment, my brother. I once witnessed a brother ostracized in church because he only paid lobola and did not have a white wedding. The question of traditional weddings and white weddings can help us as believers go back to the word and understand the purpose of marriage. The first event recorded in the Bible is a wedding, when we hear Adam’s poetic marriage vows in Genesis and the last event is the promise of a loving groom to a purified bride in the book of Revelation. This implies after the cross, the only remaining shadow is weddings.

      So, when we prepare for a wedding we need to keep that in mind, we are participating in a divine shadow an act of worship and surrender to the Lordship of God. With that attitude lobola ceases to be a burden, but an expression of honoring the Cross. You realize you are participating something bigger than yourself. Can we say the same with white wedding? After participating in several white weddings, I noticed how detached the process becomes from honoring God and becomes more of pleasing people. But, paying lobola is often laid back and offers a lot of reflection.

      Just me thinking, what will happen if we make our marriage officers mediators? As the lobola is paid they state the significance of each event in light of the word. Wouldn’t that help the couple to see Christ in their marriage. Right now with the present attitude and teaching, traditional marriages are a scar on the Christian conscience. It’s one thing we do to please the parent of the bride, but loathing everything as we are told it is demonic.

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      1. Indeed that would be great way to minister the word, to a couple getting married by getting the mediators to uphold Christ…it would be better way to counsel for marriages in the traditional scene, I am not married myself by I did witness my sisters lobola, so I have rough idea what happens, good perspective

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        1. It worked for me. I did not want the article to get to long. You know they are some stuff that are done which are definitely demonic (but if you check with the elderly they will tell you they never had those during their time). Going with my pastor helped to navigate this straits. Fortunately, most of the people in my wife’s family are believers.

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        2. I can imagine how your family felt having someone external to the family mediate your marriage, they usually like to have it internal, done by someone from within family, how did you handle that?

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    1. You are welcome. I am glad you found it interesting. I pray this will help us to keep our eyes on Christ and let all the clatter fall off, to reveal the glorious bride He prepared for Himself.

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  3. I completely agree with your view that the lobola is much more accurate to the times of the Bible.
    I disagree with a lot of the Christian traditions today and I’m hoping to post soon why I will not be getting a marriage license when I get married.

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    1. Thank you for the kind words. We only need to learn from Christ and understand the purpose of marriage in God’s plan. Doing so will help us find the treasure Christ hid in such a wonderful institute.

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    1. It is, I still remember seeing my bride in her local dress. We were only allowed to see each other after everything has been finalized. The waiting helped to spice up the day. A flirting sight of her as she prepared meals or moved around was precious. I guess she moved around and talked a lot that day just to make sure I hear her voice.

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  4. Once again, you make wonderful points. A fascinating read that gets one thinking.

    I have a question for you. In his book Divorce and Remarriage, David Instone-Brewer writes about the ‘bride price’ practices of the Ancient Near East (ANE), whether it be Assyrian or Babylonian, comparing it with ancient Biblical practices. He makes the point that the family also gave a dowry to the bride, and that this dowry was the wife’s. According to archaeological records, it seems that marriage contracts dictated that, in case of divorce, the dowry went with the wife. In essence, the dowry provided stability for the young family, and provided financial security to the wife in case of divorce. I see that lobola is equivalent to the “bride price” practice, but what about the practice of dowry? Is there an African equivalent?

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    1. It was the same, until it became twisted. Normally, the wife would go with the kids and the dowry was for their upkeep. But greed became the tradition and that tradition was twisted.

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  5. Man, every time I read your blog I learn something! Sometimes I can’t believe you are writing about something I think no one has ever thought about besides me!

    Personally, I view marriage as something more between the actual couple and their families than the community–not that the community has no interest in it. But as a Christian who has not subscribed 100% to American Christian wedding tradition, I have certainly caught some flack… and I have asked people before, “Where do you get your beliefs?” The Bible talks about marriage, but it does not lay down nearly so many rules as a lot of pastors like to.

    I was sort of upset when I became Catholic and I needed to have my marriage ‘convalidated’ by the church. My husband and I had only been married in a civil service, so I know many people think there’s no God in it. But I say if I make a promise, no matter what it is or where I make it, it is before God! What I am getting at is I think it is more spiritual. God knows if you are truly married! I do agree with what you did in not staying with your wife immediately in order not to cause others to stumble… but this can only be done to some degree. At some point, people must let go of all of these ‘Christian obligations’ and things that really are not rooted in the Word.

    That’s my two cents. You asked! Haha!

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    1. I remember saying that point at Bible College, the other lecturer who was waiting in hallway heard me. Before he started his class he had to openly rebuke me. It was kind of funny because he had no scripture to back the rebuttal.

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  6. As usual, great thoughts. I would just like pull out more of the eschatological element you hinted at. You paid the lobola to your wife’s family and waited months to marry her. This can signify the act of Christ paying the dowry for the Church through His sacrifice on the cross. The payment is made. We are His, but we still await the wedding celebration at His return!

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    1. I had overlooked that. After paying the dowry, the groom will leave without the bride. After a short while, when a house has been prepared and everything is set, the bride then goes with the groom. But this differed with places some took the groom after offering the dowry.

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  7. I have a question, only because I don’t know – is labola considered legally binding by the government? I know that, in a western ceremony, usually signing the marriage license/certificate is part of the process. Even so, the legal part can be done without the “show part.” Beyond that, I would think that any ceremony or even no ceremony would be acceptable. The point of the marriage is (a) the legality of it and (b) declaring one’s commitment in front of witnesses for accountability and celebration.

    I think we hold onto certain ways of doing things because, well…we do like our rituals and it’s part of “speaking the same language” through the practice of common rituals. It’s one of the building blocks of cultural society and identity.

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    1. In Zimbabwe, lobola is protected under traditional marriage act. So, it is legally binding. However, unlike marriage licensing before a marriage officer, the spouses are not penalized by the law for infidelity. But if it happens the marriage officer is present at the payment of lobola then the couple may be licensed. Otherwise, they wait for the white wedding or go to the courts to formalize the union.

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    2. For accountability, usually at the payment of lobola, the groom brings a group of people he respects and is willing to listen too. In the old times this team comprised of uncles, one’s father’s brothers, very close relatives and two or more friends. The family of the bride will be present and the whole community where she grew up will be present, to witness the marriage.

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    1. When I was about to get married, I did some research on Christian weddings, I did not find any hits. I hope believers will begin to question some practices which do not edify the body or even glorify God.

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      1. Your article is interesting and informative. As you say, it’s important we try to formulate and live by a “Christian culture”, not African, not American, not Italian. The traditions of one country or culture are not superior, just different.

        But traditional western Christian weddings are also rich in symbolism. http://christianity.about.com/od/weddingceremony/a/weddingtraditions.htm

        The fact that many “Christians” follow these western traditions, without true faith or adherence is another matter. I’m sure this happens with traditional African weddings too. Nonetheless, these symbolisms remain. And are valuable tools for pointing to Christ in the marriage, if we are attentive enough to heed them. Christ is always speaking, in and through all things.

        The traditional weddings of your nation, or of China, or of the Ukraine are not inferior. However, neither are they superior. I think it’s more a question of learning to embrace and celebrate diversity!

        Please be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. I also see great correlation between the western wedding traditions and the Scripture. And between the wedding vows and the promise Ruth made to her mother-in-law. They are both vows of love, loyalty, and fidelty. And point to Christ’s covenant with his church.

        There is great beauty in diversity!

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  8. Hi, your blog was amazing! Great detail with parallels to the Word. As we honor God in thought and deed, the manner in which we pledge ourselves in matrimony before Him and man becomes the finery on His precious gift. I look forward to spending time looking through your site.

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  9. Here in the West, huge sums are spent on the wedding itself. At least with your system of lobola, the money is kept in the family and, I gather, used for the benefit of the family. In addition, the couple have usually been living together openly for some time. I think a valid wedding is one that the community agrees is official, regardless of its form. You were truly married when you fulfilled the customs of your society. That you do not want others who are in ignorance to stumble and are waiting for the church ceremony to set up house only redounds to your credit.

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  10. I have been to many many western weddings and felt that only one or two actually honored God. All others were totally superficial (a good descriptive word, thanks for using it) and most of those marriages did not last. We have lost complete sight of what marriage is meant to be, starting with its very ceremony. Thank you for another wonderful blog.

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