By Paballo Thekiso –
Last week Paballo Thekiso started our journey of understanding lobola, and asked the question if culture can co-exist alongside Christianity especially with the Lobola process?
This week he invites us into his own personal lobola journey…
Both my wife and I are from the Batswana ethnic group which hail mostly from the North West province, and with this one would expect that we do things the same, but this is not the case. Though we share lots of cultural similarities and how we deal with lobola, we also approach it differently. I come from a religious but deeply rooted cultural family while my wife comes from a more modern family background with zero cultural beliefs, and therefore both families had to compromise. I grew up watching movies with sweet romantic scenes where a man goes on one knee and proposes and like many people, I had been looking forward to my turn to do the same. But my culture says I must first finish the lobola process before introducing Western ways and for me, I still wanted the element of surprise on my woman’s face when I got down on one knee, and doing it after negotiations somehow wasn’t going to cut it for me. So, I came up with a plan that would cause the processes to run parallel.
I arranged for the letter to be sent to her house the same day I proposed to her. I made sure that the mom called all the uncles to inform them about the letter and once I had confirmation that all knew, I went on one knee. I also made sure that Refilwe was far away from home and far away from her cellphone in case a relative tried to call her to congratulate her. Yes, this was still not fully welcomed by all the elders but at least they could forgive me quickly, since the letter was already there. To avoid many months of negotiations, I convinced my uncles to request a date not far off so that the process could go quickly. I also wanted to try avoid Thabo* and Mpho’s* money dilemma. My mother and her mother spoke on the phone prior to negotiations and gave an indication of how much lobola would be. Obviously I had already told my mom how much I could afford so she put that on the table.
Then came the discussions about the traditional wedding.
This is a process that happens over two days. First comes the welcoming of the groom at the bride’s house, followed by the welcoming of the bride to the groom’s family. According to culture, this process had to happen before the white wedding or else our elders would not recognise our union.
As Christians, my wife and I believe our union was recognised by God the day a pastor blessed us, prayed over us, we exchanged rings and vows and he pronounced us husband and wife at a church in front of witnesses. So three days before the traditional celebrations, we had our blessings from a pastor so that, come the traditional wedding, we were already husband and wife in front of elders, but more importantly, in front of God.
Leading up to the wedding, as per my family’s culture, we were asked to take part in a few cultural activities. Let me explain these activities. Firstly, a sheep had to be slaughtered and our marriage had to be dedicated to the ancestors. How this happened was that both my wife and I had to be present, and as blood flowed from the sheep, my dad or one of the elders would start speaking and giving praise to the ancestors. Secondly, we had to go to the graveyard and visit about five graves, where my parents or uncles would ‘tell and dedicate’ our marriage to those we visited. The belief is that the dead are a link to God because they are already with God so they can speak on our behalf.
But now, both ‘activities’ went against our Christian belief so with respect, like many other cultural things they asked us to leading up to the wedding, we asked to be excused and not take part and as per our meeting agreement, no one forced us.
But once that meat was nicely cooked we were first in the queue because we believe nothing we put in our mouths can defile us. (Matthew 15:11)
Before the traditional wedding, we had a meeting with the elders, and this we consider a privilege as it never happens in many cultures. An understanding was reached between us and our parents that it would only be through compromise and mutual respect that this wedding would go ahead smoothly. Did this however mean that our parents should not go ahead with their cultural stuff? Nope, it meant that we should not be forced to be present or made to do things we did not want to do.
There are many beautiful things about Lobola and culture that keep us unique and rooted as black Tswana people and my wife and I will keep these and hopefully introduce them to our children.
So where to from here?
If you read this article and you feel demotivated with the long process – don’t be. Lobola is a beautiful process that, if done well and creatively, it is a beautiful experience that brings two families together and sets up some really good relationships with the new extended family.
In case you are wondering what my stance on lobola is, mine is simple: Yes, I support lobola and think it should still be practiced in this modern age. More specifically, as a Christian, I believe culture and Christianity can co-exist but only through serious compromise and deep mutual respect for each other’s beliefs and preferences.
* Not their real names