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?

“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.

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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