Stages in a Zulu Wedding: Lobola

As we head towards the month of love we thought that we’d continue our theme of a Zulu wedding. Last week we wrote about how lobola has been the butt of a few jokes recently, but in reality it’s probably one of the Zulu traditions that’s the most widely practiced today, with many other customs having fallen by the wayside as urbanisation take place and peoples lives become more modern.

While many critics are wary of the practice, lobola does serve a number of purposes. At its core is the idea of forming a bond between two families, through the exchange of gifts. The process of loboloa also introduces the idea of the marriage to the families’ ancestors and shows the respect that the bride’s family have for the young woman. In practical terms the payment of lobola proves that a man will be able to provide for his family, and discourages divorce; in theory a husband would be more willing to try to sort things out if something of monetary value has been exchanged, as would the wife and her family. The lobola negotiation also shows that families have agreed to the marriage of the son and daughter – it is a sign of approval of marriage by the families. Traditionally if lobola was not paid it showed that the families did not approve of the marriage.

Lobola negotiations always take place at the family home of the bride. When the groom’s delegates arrive at the bride’s house they will stand outside the gate and introduce themselves by shouting out their clan names. The bride’s family will remain in the yard, pretending to not hear anything. When the bride’s family thinks that they have shouted enough, they will send a young boy to attend to them at the gate. The groom’s family must pay money in order to enter the gate, and are then shown where to sit. They will pay more money to call the bride’s father to the negotiations, who they are told is up a tree and needs money to coax him down. During this process, the groom’s family does all the talking; imvulamlomo must be paid to the bride’s family for them to start talking.

Generally speaking it is the groom’s male relatives who do the negotiations – the groom is not present. An idombo is chosen to represent the interests of the groom. The elected spokesperson for the bride’s family tells the idombo what is required for the dowry. If the price is considered too high, the women will go outside to speak to the bride’s mother to try to get her to convince her husband to agree to a more reasonable price – the mother is not allowed inside the room where the negotiations are taking place – if she enters the room a fine must be paid.

Lobola negotiations typically start at ten cows, and then move up or down depending on a number of things. For example, the status of the bride’s family might mean that more cows are asked for, or if the bride has children out of wedlock, the number of cows will reduce. Once a price in cows has been agreed on preparations for the wedding can begin, but first the groom’s family will ask the bride to stay with them for a month so that they can asses whether she is a suitable wife for their son. During this time, the makoti is required to wake up early before her in-laws to do the house chores. As a sign of respect she is not allowed to see her father-in-law and must hide whenever he comes into the house.

When the assessment period is over, her soon to be mother-in-law sends the bride back home with a folded blanket tied with a rope to give to her mother. When her mother unfolds it, a hole in the blanket means that she has passed the test. The groom’s family then returns to make payment for the lobola and a wedding day is decided on*.

* Lobola is often paid in instalments. It might even be the case that the wedding take place before lobola has been paid in full

Note: Lobola is considered separate to izibizo, which will be the topic of a future discussion on Ulwazi

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10 thoughts on “Stages in a Zulu Wedding: Lobola”

  1. i would like to know the procedures from umcelo, lobolo, all the in betweens and their definition right to the wedding.

  2. i would like to know the procedures from umcelo, lobolo, all the in betweens and their definition right to the wedding. as im a colored guy

  3. Good afternoon. May you please breakdown the process of a complete Lobola (Traditional Wedding) in IsiZulu and also indicate when can one tell if indeed lobola has been and done and you can now be called umakoti.


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