Article written by Tracy Ndlovu
Is Lobola a gift or price? Is it Biblical?
It finds its origin in Zulu and Xhosa languages. Unique to southern Africa and refers to an old age custom where a man pays the family of his soon-to-be-wife for her hand in marriage. Other countries have similar customs where they use different words to describe the practice for example, (mahandi in Sesotho and enjuugano in Uganda).
It is sometimes translated as bride price and a solemn practice that might end up being a source of scandal if not properly respected. Lobola is determined extremely formally done by serious counsel from relatives particularly the men and the parties involved. These negotiations do not allow the bride to be present and she completely has no voice in this process. The practice goes back centuries, the way it is practiced today has little resemblance to its original purpose or function in African society, (Scheidler, 2014).
What does the bible say about Lobola?
As with many issues that concern us these days, we do not have any specific instruction or directive from the Bible about it. However, we do have some verses that might shed light on this subject. We obviously know that there was no such practice involved in the very first marriage between Adam and Eve, (Gen 2:18-24).
The first reference is when Abraham was seeking a wife for his son, (Gen 24). In this story, we find that there is no mention of bride-price, only gifts, also notice that the gifts were given after the agreement. Because the nature of gifts is that it is determined by the giver and not the receiver. Abraham’s servant determined what to give, while Lobola is determined by the receiver which we do not see taking place in Rebecca’s case, but we do see in today’s Lobola.
The second reference is when Jacob worked for 7 years to marry Rachel, (Gen 29). Here, Jacob too determined how many years to work as a gift for Rachel, Laban never determined the years.
What does this mean?
Based on the two stories, it seems the culture in the bible was more gifts of appreciation for allowing the marriage to take place, rather than a price.
It is neither specifically forbidden nor, is it promoted in the bible. However, in modern times it is more of a price than a gift and it is being abused. Most people would argue saying, “we have to charge more because we spent a lot of money raising our child’, but do you not think the man’s parents or guardians also spent a lot of money raising him? It’s sad because some of these engaged couples with the men unable to pay the given huge price end up delaying the wedding and fall into sexual sin before marriage with intention that when they have a child together then the charge will reduce because he will just have to pay for the damage and get the woman and child, which sometimes does not work out for them.
It should be practiced as a ceremonial token rather than a deliberating sum of money that sets the newlyweds up for failure. It should rather be used to benefit the couple getting married to help them set up their new household as it was originally intended. In our African society, it would be difficult for a young person to try and challenge or adjust parental authorities in such issues. Parents have the greater power to change or even redeem this practice, and maybe begin new traditions that are honorable before God and man.
This article is not intended to condemn my Christian brothers and sisters who have already been married through Lobola being paid, instead, it is to encourage couples to remember the difficulties they may have gone through and help other Christians to avoid marriage practices that are not commanded by the Lord.