FOR two consecutive weekends I have been fortunate to have been part of dare in marriage negotiations, kuroodza.
This has been courtesy of an invitation from mbuya vangu, my mother’s cousin.
Mbuya vangu, like my mother, is a grandchild of VaMakoni who was daughter of Chingaira, yes Chingaira of the legendary anti-colonial resistance. She was married to a son of a prominent fighter in wars of maDzviti in Shurugwi, Makwara.
VaMakoni’s daughter, my maternal grandmother, and mbuya’s tete, married royally into the Mukarakate of the Mangwende dynasty of Murehwa.
I hope I have not lost you in the relationships!
In short mbuya vangu, my mother’s cousin, had a cultured and privileged upbringing. That later in life she briefly became a coloured is a story for another day.
Back to the lobola negotiations.
Mbuya was marrying off her two granddaughters (culturally my sisters) from her first daughter, my late mainini (as in small mother). The first marriage negotiations for Fungai went without incident. Dare consisted of me, my sekuru (cousin) who chaired the proceedings, sekuru (brother to mbuya), Fungai’s father, his brothers and their muzukuru.
There were also, in support, women both from Fungai’s and Mbuya’s sides.
About 9,000 Rands changed hands in cash and twice that in IOUs. Soon after, myself, my cousin sekuru and mbuya retreated to Mbuya’s bedroom to take stock of the income and secure it.
Mbuya then gave us 100 Rands to give to the delegation from Fungai’s father as their share of mari yedare. Yes, 100 Rands is all they got.
They had not paid lobola for Fungai’s mother and had left Fungai to be raised by her mother and Mbuya. They knew of this outcome beforehand, but all the same came to give cultural and spiritual support to their daughter. I was touched.
The following week we were back at the same address and this time it was Josephine, Fungai’s younger sister, but from a different father. Josephine’s father had also not paid lobola. He had briefly stayed with Josephine, but by far the greater upbringing was in the hands of Mbuya.
Mbuya had the same representatives.
Josephine’s father is late, but her father’s brothers and sister (tete) came.
Unlike in the previous week, the marrying party declined the cash option for mombe yeumai. This time US$2,500 changed hands and a similar amount in IOUs.
We did the same retreat to Mbuya’s bedroom. Mbuya gave us US$300 to give to Josephine’s fathers.
This was not readily accepted by Josephine’s fathers. They insisted that cultural protocol demanded that ndiro with the entire roora be symbolically passed to them. They would then offer it to their ancestral spirits, take a token and return the rest to Mbuya in acknowledgement of their omissions and the role Mbuya had played in Josephine’s upbringing.
A fierce discussion ensued but eventually Josephine’s fathers relented. It was now time for me to bid my farewell to Mbuya. I recounted to her misgivings from Josephine’s fathers. She just smiled and said, “Too late!”
You could sense the coloured and royal influence in the victory smile.
That night I struggled to sleep as I debated on the role roora plays in our culture and family unions. During negotiations, I was very uneasy with the commercial character of the process.
Also intriguing was vakuwasha’s insistence on mombe yeumai inotsika. And lastly was why real men like the two delegations of fathers would be found wanting when it came to own lobola and maintenance issues?
Later in the evening, I came to peace with the roora commercial misgivings. Had roora not always been a commercial enterprise?
Paying lobola is called kubvisa pfuma, giving (or parting with) wealth. Roora is wealth and its quantum must be consistent with wealth! In old times pfuma/roora consisted of cattle, mapadza (symbolic iron hoes) and machira (imported cloth). Cattle were prized assets. My own paternal grandmother was married for danga of 20 cattle. This was indicative of a rich agricultural community.
However, colonial land policies and enforced livestock destocking meant that the now average danga of six to ten beasts would not support lobola danga of 20 beasts paid for my ambuya. So in marriage negotiations the option to pay danga as cash became fashionable. So marriage was always about wealth creation. Girl children meant wealth.
That today’s pfuma, at US$2 000 - US$5 000 is considered decent, could be indicative of years of impoverishment under colonial rule. Impoverishment that now make us argue that lobola was just symbolic and danga can be as little as five beasts at US$100 each. Lobola was wealth and nothing less. As our wealth parameters have shifted, it should also shift.
But if we want to make it symbolic now let’s not hide behind culture. Let the symbolic argument be premised on issues like gender equality. Asi kwaPekeshe motosunga dzisimbe!
Concerning mombe yeumai the routine request for this is ill advised. Worse is the trend to convert this into cash.
Mombe yeumai culturally represents three key issues. It is the pfihwa for the new family. It ties the son- in-law to his in-laws and their in-laws. (Inobviswa nemukwasha, yochengetwa natezvara vake, iri yamadzitezvara avo).
This is well played out during madiro ceremonies where the three families are well represented in the feasting. Mombe yeumai was the only cattle asset that women could keep in marriage. It is about empowering your mother-in-law. She could convert some of the beasts into cash or help tutsano meet own lobola obligations.
Now as many families no longer have cattle kraals could this still be valid as a tool of empowering mother- in-law? In our belief the most powerful ancestors that protect us are the maternal ones. Mudzimu wamai ukadambura mbereko (if maternal spirits let go) spells disaster. To keep these spirits happy and attentive there is need to follow the mombe yeumai protocol to the letter. To demand or to give mombe yeumai is to acknowledge this spiritual symbolism.
My view is that those that participate in mombe yeumai transactions need to appreciate wholesomely the weight of the matter. Otherwise they are safer converting it into mombe yamai.
My experiences point to a culture lacking direction in its transition. And the humiliation I felt for the fathers should be a lesson for all would be bulls out there. If you mess up with someone’s daughter own up and pay for your sins. Culture has ways of catching up with you.
And why show love to your daughter on her marriage day when you were running away from buying her porridge or paying her school fees?