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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
'Paying for a wife'
Steve Vickers moved from Britain to Zimbabwe in 1993. Three years later he married Tellmore, a Zimbabwean. He recalls his experiences of the traditional marriage ceremony where lobola was paid.

Steve Vickers, wife and daughter
Steve feels the bride price has become over commercialised
Although the idea of "paying" for a wife was completely alien to me as a Westerner, I was keen to show respect for Tellmore's Shona culture.

But it was not an easy thing for me to do, and I was worried as to whether I would have enough money to enable us to go home together that day as a happy couple!

Even more nerve-wracking was the fact that as the prospective husband, I was not allowed to play any part in the lobola negotiations - a process that is long and complicated.

Go between

Firstly, one of Tellmore's aunts had to meet me a few weeks before to decide whether I would make a suitable husband.

Having got her seal of approval, we had to find a 'munyai' - a go-between who was a friend or relative of my prospective in-laws and who would talk on my behalf.

My part was to wait patiently at his house while the discussions went ahead.

I stayed there for hours worrying that the munyai would return with bad news.

He eventually came back with a sheet of figures for me to approve.

Six cows

The main payment known as rusambo was quite reasonable, while the six cows that were agreed on were to be paid in the coming years.

We are proud as men to show our in-laws that we are materially able to support our new family.
Chuma Onyekuru, US

There were a lot of extras, which included a fine for forgetting to bring a plate on which the money would be placed, and matekenyandebvu, a charge for the times when Tellmore had tickled her father's beard as a baby!

The total to be paid on the day amounted to $500, just about the exact amount of cash that I had in my pocket.

I was working as a teacher at the time, and it amounted to roughly two month's wages.

l was then allowed to enter the house and we began eating the mafihlongo - groceries that I had bought for the celebrations - and a wonderful relationship with my new in-laws began.

However, we encountered some problems when we went back several years later to settle the bill for the six cows.

As my wife's family live in an urban area, the cash equivalent of the cows was to be paid, but the country's inflation problems had begun by then.

The fee agreed at the time would barely buy a kilogramme of beef, let alone a whole cow.

We managed to find a compromise.

Over commercialised

Steve Vickers and wife, Tellmore
Like most Zimbabwean women, Tellmore has high regard for lobola

As the money involved in traditional marriages is intended to be largely symbolic, I do feel that the practice has become somewhat over-commercialised.

Nonetheless, while Western values are continuing to take a hold, lobola remains one of Zimbabwe's strongest traditions.

My wife values it highly, and almost all Zimbabwean women want lobola to be charged when they marry.

Well, it played a great part in building family relationships, but it's certainly something I'd never want to go through again!



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