Should Christians Pay Lobola? Yes, This Is Why

What is lobola? Lobola is the sum property paid by a man to his fiancée’s family in fulfillment of customary marriage requirements. Traditionally, a suitor paid lobola using a hoe or offered to work the fields of his in-laws for a year. Nowadays, people pay lobola using cash and cattle.

Why Do We Pay Lobola?

I did not buy my wife with three goats and cow- I paid lobola. Roora in Shona, mahadi or magadi in seSotho. I did an honorable thing despite what most misguided feminists and progressive might claim.

Every dollar I paid did not reduce my beautiful wife into a useless accessory. No, lobola didn’t turn her into a cheap commodity. It was a romantic declaration of my undying love for her before her family, friends, and community.

I did not buy a $15,000 ring, fell to my knees and whisper, “Will you marry me?” I only did what my father did, what my father’s father did and what I expect my son to do one day.  I traveled to a remote village in Beitbridge where my wife grew up and paid lobola.

No, Surprise is not a bag of sorghum, corn or groundnuts traded at a farmer’s market. She is far more precious than a thousand tons of gold, rubies or diamonds. She is simply the apple of my eye, the sunshine of my rainy days, and the virgin smile when the clouds are dark.

“I knew you truly love me the day when you came to pay lobola. I knew you were committed to love,” Surprise later told me.

Lobola is part of who we’re as Africans. It’s a cherished inheritance that declares to the world how valuable women are before us. Sleeping with a girl without paying lobola is disrespectful and dishonors the parents that raised the girl. I chose not to embarrass my wife’s family before the community.

Do You Have To Pay Lobola?

I first met Surprise at church, and it was love at first glance. At least for me. I had just graduated from college, and she had just enrolled in college.

Our story.

One Sunday afternoon, after the main service, I sat in the church waiting for the youth meeting to start. I saw a beautiful girl entering the church. Her steps resonated with confidence and self-determination.

“You can tell what kind of a woman a girl is by how she walks,” Mother always said, she would continue, “You see that girl, she is confident and didn’t l doesn’t look confused. A girl should radiate confidence.”

Of course, that advice wasn’t meant for me, but my sister. A ChiShona is proverb says, panorairwa mwana wamambo muranda terera – when the prince is given advice a servant should listen. An honorable servant walks in princely wisdom, so I listened when Mother advised my sister.

Mother had weird theories about confidence. I remember hearing her telling my brother that he should buy formal shoes. Reason. A man is as good as his shoes. If a man can’t take care of his own shoes, then he is a confused and unorganized buffoon.

My mother passed away when I was only sixteen. At twenty-four, I was an adjunct professor at a local university. I bought two pairs of professional black leather shoes, a couple of formal pants and shirts. I took Mom’s advice seriously.

But, there was one problem. I did not want people at church to know I was a college graduate. And let alone an adjunct professor (we call them part-time lecturer in Zimbabwe).

So, I created a front. No, sleek leather shoes or formal dressing to church. I only wore sandals, T-shirts, and cargo or hunting pants. A close friend and I took videos of our church service. Most people assumed I was a photographer.

When Surprise came along, like everyone else she assumed I was a photographer. We started dating nine months after I first met her. For several months, she did not know I was an adjunct professor.

She loved me for who I am. That, my friend, is the kind of woman you can break the bank to pay lobola!

What are the steps taken in paying lobola?

Should Christians Pay Lobola? Yes, This Is Why

Does avoiding lobola make you progressive?

“You are dating someone you don’t know what they do in life,” my wife’s friends laughed at her, “You do not eat love in marriage. You also need security.”

She was in love. Surprise accepted me for who I was. She did not mind whether I was a struggling photographer, a college student or an adjunct professor. Not marrying that kind of girl would have been foolish.

Step 1: Find a trustworthy go-between (dombo)

I did not waste any time. Soon after Surprise and I started dating, I enlisted my youth pastor as my dombo. A dombo is supposed to be someone who knows the groom well. And importantly, he should have good people skills. Pastor Joseph Mutemani was the right man for the job.

Step 2: Send your dombo for inquiries

I had never been married before, so I stressed myself about how I was going to raise my lobola. “Edmond, you should stop worrying. You don’t know how much Surprise’s family is going to charge you. Send your dombo to inquire.” My wise neighbor, Pastor Sibanda advised. I sent Pastor Mutemani to inform Surprise’s family that I was dating her. And to set dates for our traditional marriage.

Step 3: Be a man, save for the bride price

I had a well-paying job at a local university, but I had to save. Each month, I set aside a fraction of my income for my bride price. The current economy in most African countries doesn’t permit saving anymore. But lobola has to be paid, and the in-laws have to understand. A good dombo like Pastor Mutemani would know what to say in such scenarios.

Step 4: Go and pay your lobola

In less than six months after Surprise and I started dating, I went to her village to pay my lobola. They are many dangers associated with long relationships. I didn’t want to date for a long time.

I went through all these stressful steps because I wanted to honor my mother-in-law for raising Surprise right. Most of the women I know taught their daughters to check what a boy’s job is before they commit to marriage. That’s why I love my mother-in-law. The least I could do to honor her was to pay lobola.

Is Lobola Oppressive to Women?

Most people in the West consider lobola a primitive, sexist and degrading practice. All the leading news outlets in the US celebrated when a homosexuality rights group called Planting Peace mocked lobola. When embattled Rowan County clerk, Kim Davis left jail, she was greeted by a billboard sponsored by Planting Peace, that read;

Dear Kim Davis, the fact that you can’t sell your daughter for three goats and a cow means we’ve already redefined marriage.

The greatest deception of perceived progress is undermining tradition of ascribing wrong meaning to it. Considering lobola as buying and selling ignores the original intent of the tradition. Lobola has a tripartite objective – honor, commitment, and communion. These three things make lobola the most biblical practice in marriage.

Through lobola, I honored my mother-in-law in front of her family, friends, and community. Every penny I gave declared before her that she is a good mother. This was my little way of showing my gratitude for her parenting skills and commitment. I showed the world that she raised her daughter well.

When the dombo gave my in-laws lobola, he testified to my commitment. He told them how hard I have worked to make everything possible. Pastor Mutemani showed them my love for Surprise was not in word only, but in deeds. He did not lie; I still love Surprise even more.

On the day when lobola is paid friends, family and the community of invited to witness the occasion. Surprise’s family slaughtered some chicken, a goat and a cow for the celebrations. It was a big feast, and everyone celebrated with my mother-in-law. Lobola brought people together, and it created a new family. The Sanganyado family and the Ndou are now one big happy family.

https://twitter.com/VaSanganyado/status/647830538737184768

Even some church organizations fail to understand the importance and soteriological shadow of lobola. For example, the Mormons critically condemn lobola describing it as a negative African culture that undermines the gospel.

Another negative cultural tradition is the practice of lobola, or bride price, which seriously interferes with young men and women keeping the commandments of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. When a young returned missionary must purchase his bride from her father by a payment so large that it takes many years to accumulate, he is unable to marry or cannot do so until he is middle-aged. This conflicts with the gospel plan for sexual purity outside marriage, for marriage, and for child rearing. Priesthood leaders should teach parents to discontinue this practice, and young people should follow the Lord’s pattern of marriage in the holy temple without waiting for the payment of a bride price.

Should a Christian pay lobola? I will rephrase the question. Should a Christian man honor his in-laws, demonstrate a commitment to his wife and create communion between families and community? I am a Christian, and I paid lobola. I value honor, dedication and fellowship more than opinions of liberals, feminists or even my wallet.

Eliezer paid Rebecca’s lobola on behalf of Isaac. ‘Isaac’s servant tying the bracelet on Rebecca’s arm‘ by Benjamin West.

Is Lobola in the Bible?

Many people often ask if bride price is in the Bible. Giving a quick answer to that question is dangerous. God didn’t sanction all the practices in Bible. The prevalence of lobola or lobola-like practices in the Bible doesn’t say that you have to pay lobola.

There are several similarities between the biblical practice of bride price and the African custom of lobola.

1. The groom’s family pays lobola

Unlike the European dowry, in lobola, the groom is the one who pays the bride price. Abraham paid the bride price for his son Isaac.

2. Tending the fields was acceptable bride price payment method
In Shona culture, there’s kutema hugariri, a practice where a poor groom work on the farm as payment for bride price. Jacob’s bride price to Laban was 14 years of hard work. 
3. How much is lobola
Reading Isaac’s bride price list shouldn’t shock you. Abraham was wealthy. He had a personal his army. My grandmother always said during her time people paid lobola using a hoe. Yes, one hoe was enough. The current objections against lobola arise because of the greed of some in-laws. Historically, only kings paid exorbitant bride price as a show of their riches.

Soteriological Significance of Lobola Practices

In eschatology, the church is represented as a bride with Christ being the groom. You and I are the bride of Christ. The immaculate conception of Christ signified the beginning of the royal betrothal. John the Baptist even called himself Christ’s dombo.

Christ paid the ultimate lobola by laying down his life on the Cross. Christ did not pay using three goats and a cow, but his blood. He demonstrated honor, commitment, and communion so that like my wife we can all say,

“When I look at the Cross, I know that Christ truly loves me.”

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38 Comments

  1. “For God so loved the world that He gave…” The payment of bride price in the African community is an honourable thing to do. As you mentioned it shows everyone that the girl is valued enough that someone is willing to go the extra length to provide these items as a token of his love and appreciation.
    When I got married, we had the traditional engagement first where several items including money was presented to my parents as a way of requesting my hand in marriage. The money is usually given back to the groom’s family to say that the daughter isn’t for sale more often than not.
    Recently, my husband’s parents went on a visit to my parents and they went along with lots of gift items. I teased my husband that my parents in law have come back to thank my family for giving them a jewel of inestimable value after 10 years. It made me feel good!
    It’s part of our culture and it was part of the culure in bible times.
    When your marriage takes place before many people with all the traditional ceremonies involved, you actually consider it well before you think of getting a divorce.
    I do not believe it is primitive, it’s indeed a thing of honour.

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    1. That’s true even in my culture, the bride price is kind of a piggy bank for the children who will be conceived by the couple. They are for taking care for the kids in case of calamity. Moreover, the family of the bride would have spent more preparing for the day, slaughtering cows to feed the village etc.

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  2. I have heard of these sorts of marriage practices but very far removed from my own North American (U.S.) culture. Thank you for “unwrapping” your culture’s practice so beautifully! It was enjoyable and informative reading at once, giving a truly biblical picture of marriage and metaphor for salvation through a cultural tradition.

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    1. Thanks Jacqueline. The culture of bride price is common in Sub Saharan Africa. However, the practice is now being attacked by some Christian organizations and women’s rights groups. Of course, they are some greedy parents who end up reducing their daughters to commodities. But, that is a fringe group and in most cases the law protects the groom from such people, at least in some countries.

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  3. Edmond, thank you for giving us a context for lobala, and for explaining so clearly the true meaning. We Christians should remember that the bride price paid for each of us was even higher!

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  4. Wow. Love this post. As a women, it would be so nice for this to still be a tradition in the USA. Marriage, it is sad to say, has lost it’s way in America! Marriage is a covenant with God first between two people. Two people publicly giving themselves to each other, under the spear-head of Christ. The tradition of going before a family with your committed action already in play, a man of God/character who is standing before the family to give a testimony of your repeated commitment to this point, you tangibly pledging this commitment in front her family, friends and village people, is moving. Then in return the Brides family spends the rest of the day welcoming you in, receiving your pledge by preparing a meal and inviting the village to celebrate. What a wonderful Engagement Day – in prompt to (on the spot, unprepared event, no one has time to plan)! I know that Surprise felt like a Queen! I feel like one for her. You know a mans heart is in the right place at this point. If this was the tradition, I know a lot of marriages would never happen and for good reason.
    The whole engagement and the celebration of. the wedding, and the reception following the wedding, is one big self serving event. One that usually put the family in debt and that takes away from the actual purpose of the celebration. You can look at the divorce rate in America and see that the extravagant celebration isn’t working and neither is the commitment.
    Marriage is – A Covenant with God. God plainly describes this in the Bible. Ephesians 5:21-33.
    In America the entire process of a man and a women joining together has become so morphed that it doesn’t stand for anything. Divorce is rampant! Maybe we should take a few lessons from the village people in Beitbridge, Ndambe, or Zimbabwe! Love your story and thanks for sharing it. I vote for Paying Lobola!

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  5. Marriage is about showing honor and commitment not only to your bride, but to her family as well. I had never heard of Lobola before and I am delighted that you shared your experience and perspective. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Elihu for the comment. Lobola/dowry/bride price is a common practice in Sub Saharan Africa, but the tradition is now under attack. The main culprits being greed and sometimes Christianity. Through greed some parents are reducing their daughters into commodities. Hence the problem of child marriages and insane bride prices.

      Like the quote from the LDS show, some religious groups consider lobola a bad practice. Unfortunately, they base the argument on behaviors that find their roots in sin. Instead of addressing the sin, they choose to blame lobola.

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      1. That’s unfortunate. Isn’t it sad how people can twist a good thing into something ugly?

        America has twisted marriage into something ugly too. Your story is very touching and it sounds like you & your wife had a great start. God be with you and thank you again for enlightening me with your stories from Africa. I love learning!

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    1. Even in my country, it is actually scary to live with a woman without paying bride price. It is even worse because even the society does not recognize your relationship. It is often considered to be fornication by most Christian churches.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your tradition with us and giving us a better understanding. I have quite a new respect for the concept of labola.
    God bless you and your family awesomely in Jesus’ Name!
    (By the way, Mormonism actually is a cult that was started in my country [The United States of America] by someone who sold fake artifacts named Joseph Smith. The fact that so many still follow this stuff blows my mind. They need Jesus’ Deliverance.)

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  7. Edmond, thank you for educating us about the heart of lobola. The values of honour, commitment and communion are important ones. I guess some groups link this practice with others that are extremely oppressive to women and their gender-image and their sexual fulfillment. However, we can all learn from each other the things that help form respectful marriages and healthy communities. I appreciated the focus you had on honouring your mother-in-law and her commitment and achievements in parenting Surprise into a confident, self-determined partner. Fathering and mothering are consuming, and often unrecognized, artforms. Thank you for sharing the delightful proverb: ‘When the prince is given advice, a servant should listen. Am honourable servant walks in princely wisdom.’ Shalom.

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  8. It is lovely to read about your courtship and marriage. I agree that the practice of lobola is biblical and one that honours women. One can compare it with the dowry in the Indian sub-continent, where the bride’s family has to pay a large sum or provide many household goods to the groom and his family. This has resulted in girls being seen as an expensive burden on their families, with many selective abortions of female unborn children. There is also a problem with ‘dowry killings’, where women are murdered after their marriage by their husband or his family because they did not bring in enough dowry.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this. I loved reading your beautiful perspective on this custom. I come from a completely different culture, and I often have no idea why we do what we do. What a different world this would be if everyone knew the purpose behind the actions they blindly do because “that’s what everyone else does”. My husband paid for me too, but to a jewelry store. I still look at my ring as a symbol of his love, but I now look so much deeper than how big or small my diamond is. This concept of lobola is much deeper too. It’s refreshing to see it through your eyes. I pray more people will stop judging and criticizing, and instead focus on purposeful living.

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  10. Lobola involves a whole lot of unclean things that the bible go against. Why should Christians I mean the uncompromising Christians go through what God hates? What does a christian have to do with traditions? Vanity all of this is vanity. The gift part I never understood why there should be gifts for great great grand fathers who died a long time.mmm if someone could show me a scripture that says
    Lobola must be paid id b glad. M a female and m in DAT argument my family wants lobola and I do not have a price tag. I refuse to be introduced to my fiances ancestors.I bow not to any nor smeared with an animals blood on my face to b their daughter. Gof is enough for me he payed lobola for me

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    1. Thanks Hlengiwe for the comment. My wife is a Christian and so is her family. Amalobolo I gave never went to a dead ancestor or anything like that. It was my token of appreciation of how they raised their child. You know that as Christians we’re the body of Christ and the imagery the Bible gives of our relationship with Jesus is that of a bride and the groom. John the Baptist is even given as a type of the friend of the groom. Our meeting with Christ in the heavenlies is shown as the final wedding.

      How did Christ get the bride? He paid a price at the Cross redeeming us in the process. This the picture of lobola. In this post, I even gave a handful of scriptures in which a type of lobola was paid by the suitor. There’s no scripture that says God hates lobola.

      Preaching is a tradition, singing is a tradition, praying is a tradition, fasting is a tradition and every other spiritual discipline are traditions. The Bible condemns human traditions. Just like prayer, Christ condemned human traditions that were incorporated in prayer not prayer itself. We should condemn practices incorporated in lobola not lobola itself.

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      1. Hi Sanganyado,

        So my question is don’t Christianity say that one mustn’t slaughter because God gave his only son who died for Christians?

        So if Jesus died for all these practices why should Christians carry on with this lobola practice. Shouldn’t it also die out like the slaughtering of animals? In essences that’s what you are saying correct me if I’m wrong.

        So why must traditions be broken to suit ones selfishness? Do Christians understand what are amadlosi (ancestors) to the black human race?

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  11. In my part of the world (Nigeria), the paying of bride price is a highly esteemed practice. The good part is that it is also Biblical. So even Christians practice it too.

    It represents commitment on the part of the would-be husband to the family of the girl he wants to marry. And once accepted by the parents of the bride, it shows they are consenting to giving out their daughter in marriage to the man. It can also be rejected if the parents feel that they are not in support of the marriage.

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  12. The receiving of bride price doesn’t amount to selling your daughter as some ignorant people think. No body can pay for a good wife. In fact, in some cultures here, a bride price can be as small as five Naira (an equivalent of 0.05 cent). It is a token; its value is in its symbolism not in the actual amount paid.

    As a lady, you are not even properly married until your bride price has been paid to your family. As a man, you cannot really call a woman your wife until you have paid her bride price. It is that significant.
    Those who criticise the practice should seek to understand it rather ignorantly condemn it.

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  13. Hi guys this is very interesting as I have my own views on Christianity I’m glad you guys followed cultural practices ( well a part of cultural practices ) either ways we shouldn’t lose how roots.

    My feelings towards Christianity when it comes to cultural believes go deep in the sense that self proclaimed Christians will follow any cultural practice that has monetary value to it. Let me break this down to everyone:

    “Lobola-like” practices are mentioned in the old testament, but so is slaughtering.

    In the new testament I have not found any mention of “Lobola-like” practices.

    With these two statements being said what im trying to say is that, so a christian will say to you “yes lobola is part of our cultural practices so you as the groom must pay lobola,but wait we won’t be able to slaughter because the bible prohibits us from doing so.”

    If we view the lobola practices there are steps and procedures from the payment to slaughtering to the exchange of gifts.

    Are now Christians chopping and changing cultural beliefs to suit their greed so are they and using the bible to protect their greed.

    This I question because by no means am I a christian  I’m a traditionalist and I have my reasons(which is not the reason I’m here so let’s not question that) I’m going to marry into a christian family. I adore this lady but feel as though this practice of Lobola will complications.

    Why must I pay the lobola but the right procedures are not followed to join the families.

    If Christians say it in the old testament so is slaughtering does that mean slaughtering is the right thing to do at this moment.

    Do Christian practices follow the old testament or the new testament if both isn’t that a contradiction because the new testament is meant to be the best practices of Christianity(we did this before now I brought my son on earth to do the following so do follow my son’s practices)

    Hey guys I stand to be corrected these are my views. I know lil about Christianity just what I’ve been told.

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    1. Thanks Sithe for your comment. As an advocate of lobola, I do not benefit monetarily from it. I am a father of two boys. I paid lobola because I didn’t have a dad to do that for me. I will pay for my trip sons’ lobola.

      The lobola most practiced now by advocates traditional African marriages is totally different from less than a century ago. Greed has corrupted lobola. So to blame Christians for getting rid of some practices in lobola is unfair. Most of the practices considered part of traditional lobola were incorporated through greed. So, a God fearing believer should get rid of practices that do not glorify God.

      I do not advocate for lobola because it’s there in the Old Testament. That will be twisting the Scriptures. Rather I advocate for lobola because it is a reminder of the first and second coming of Jesus. There’s no verse in New Testament that rejects lobola. It was a customary practice, if it was done with in the Old Testament it would have been mentioned, just as the slaughtering were mentioned.

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