Should Christian parents ask for Lobola – the bride price or dowry paid in many cultures across Africa? Should any Christians even participate in this traditional practice? Pastor Ndaba Mazabane suggests that while all cultures have good elements, every single one is in need of redemption. No culture is perfect.
Pastor Ndaba urges parents to stay true to the original spirit of Lobola: “a sign of appreciation” to the family. If you catch yourself calculating how much you spent on her education, how much she can earn in a year, or what other things contribute to her price – you need to step back. Beware of making lobola a transactional, money-making business.
See below for a lightly edited transcript of this #AskAnAfricanPastor video with Pastor Ndaba Mazabane in South Africa:
The Roots of Lobola
Pastor Ndaba: “Well, the question of lobola sometimes can be very controversial. Lobola is part of the African way of negotiating the marriage. Sometimes when it is translated it doesn’t come out as it’s supposed to. Sometimes they use it as a dowry or sometimes they talk about bride price as if you are selling something; there is a transaction. But I think in its innocence, lobola was meant to be a way for the couple who are marrying into a particular family to show appreciation. To show love for the family. To show love for your wife-to-be was to negotiate this… call it a ‘price’ for now, for lack of a better word. So, more than anything else, it is a sign of appreciation.
In its innocence lobola was meant to be a way for the couple who are marrying into a particular family to show appreciation.
A Cultural Practice Perverted
Lobola was also a sign of honouring. Recognising that your wife-to-be comes from a family; was raised by that particular family. But unfortunately as things evolve cultures get to be perverted, or at least cultural activities can easily be perverted. They can also be misconstrued. Of late, it is said that this is more of a transactional money-making business. It is really saddening to see that because in the olden days that was really not necessarily the idea.
Does the Bible talk about Lobola?
Now, the big question is when someone starts questioning and saying “Well, it is not in the scripture. Why should I do it?” Obviously there is no verse and chapter in the scripture that talks about lobola. There are some few inferences that you can find. For example, if you look in the Old Testament there would have been examples such as when Jacob went to stay with Laban and had to work to show appreciation before he could marry Laban’s daughters. I mean, it’s just an example that shows that there was an element of appreciation at one level – much as Laban was not a good father-in-law in terms of how he treated Jacob. But the principle was there.
Can we Redeem the Culture of Lobola?
I think for us as Christians its very important to say there are certain things that are cultural that can be redeemed.
So, I think it is important to recognise this. For me, it is to take what is good in a culture. Okay? And I think for us as Christians its very important to say there are certain things that are cultural that can be redeemed. I often talk about redeeming our cultures: take what is good and use it for the benefit and for the goodness of whatever it is that you are facing. So, I would encourage young Christians who are preparing to get married, not necessarily to fight this whole thing because it is not clearly stated in scriptures, but to begin to use what would have been the cultural preference.
Like I said at the top of this talk: see it as an opportunity for you to appreciate the parents of your future spouse. Where you are saying, “I’d really like to honour you for raising up my future wife.” So that is probably one way to say it. Of course, there is no verse or chapter for that, it is just showing your love.
Should Christian Parents Ask for Lobola?
Now, there is also a question that goes with that. Should Christian parents really follow this kind of a cultural practice of having to ask for lobola? Well, I don’t know if there’s any law that necessarily bars one, but if you go back to what I’ve said earlier on, if this is done in terms of the essence of what the culture was. Meaning, in terms of saying it’s an appreciation that can be shown. I see no reason or I could not fault any parent who wants to ask for lobola.
in terms of saying it’s an appreciation that can be shown… I could not fault any parent who wants to ask for lobola.
HOW and WHY You Ask for Lobola is Critical
Now, I think the biggest thing today is the kind of lobola negotiations that are going around. And sometimes the bidding that goes with it! In negotiations, sometimes it’s way over the top. In particular if you look at it where parents are saying, “Well, I raised my children. I sent them to university. They are professional and therefore I’m going to put the buy here.” I mean, I think once once those kind of things get to become a factor, sometimes they can make it very difficult.
Couples who want to get married can find it very difficult. Because you start working late, for years for example, and obviously your are trying to raise money and all of those things. But you find lobola is so high, you can’t even afford it! Then it really makes things very sour and very bitter at times and will maybe even disrupt those kind of marriages.
even if your daughter was well-educated and is a professional. Be a Christian, be loving, remembering that by so doing you’re also going to gain a son-in-law
So my encouragement for parents, really, is to avoid making this a transactional, money-making business. But rather be considerate even if your daughter was well-educated and is a professional. Be a Christian, be loving, remembering that by so doing you’re also going to gain a son-in-law in that kind of arrangement.