Bride “price”: Pay back whose money?

Ndiri mukaranga saka ndinodhura.[1] It’s a statement, not a question. I hail from the south-eastern part of Zimbabwe, just south of the majestic Great Zimbabwe that my forebears are said to have built and apparently that’s kind of a big deal. It’s a stereotype, but one that seems here to stay. Even if I weren’t mukaranga; with my Master’s degree, well coifed afro, perfected faux-respectable greeting clap & slight tilt of the head, classroom Shona and ability to cook a stew like you’ve never eaten before, in the minds of some of my relatives my roora is hovering somewhere close to unaffordable. According to these two Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.46.06 PMtongue-in-cheek “brideprice/lobola calculators” (one from Nigeria, the other from South Africa), I wouldn’t go for a song either. Misogyny disguised as culture and humour.

Quoi de neuf?

But roora is not a humorous issue. Far from! Belittling it – through crass humour – and misusing it for personal gain is what has made certain people (excuse me while I feign surprise that the two apps above were developed by men) make a guffawing spectacle of roora. Stories of people’s roora Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.43.00 PMexperiences are varied. Some bring tears to my eyes and others shock, horror and exasperated gasps. I’ve never laughed at a roora story.

Roora is part of my culture and I believe its proper practice should be held dear… The problem, however, is that with each passing year, the meaning of roora and its significance in our societies and culture wanes.

Not because roora is the problem, but people are.

Like with most facets of our culture, from tsika (societal conventions), worship (of your own ancestors or that of the Galileans) to dress and language, people reinvent, reinterpret and oftentimes taint in their misconstruction. Sometimes people even go as far as importing into culture things that do not form part of the society’s norms and mores, simply because it suits them without regard for other members of that society.

I’ve heard greedy extended paternal family raise points about how they deserve so much for raising a woman like me who would fetch so much at market. That my mother, with my father’s support, almost exclusively raised me is an inconvenient truth they choose to ignore. I pretend not to hear these folk who wait for roora for their bonuses and instead side eye them at every turn. It is them that make me want to elope, not because I have qualms with roora. In fact, if it weren’t for the wily profiteers, this piece would take an entirely different angle…

Wazvara mukadzi wazvara murume: You bear a daughter; you also gain a son 

I broached the subject of roora with my mom the other day. I had previously written my thoughts on it,[2] but wanted to make sure that what I wrote then and am writing now was rooted in fact and not conjecture. She explained what roora is and what it should really be about, using several karanga proverbs (tsumo) to explain. I was glad, in many respects, that what I had always thought is what was. A part of me was also jubilant that I could now rebuke those greedy relatives seeking to make a quick buck off the roora of daughters they did not care to raise. I could. I might. I shall.

Given that people have misconstrued roora and/or abused it for financial gain, I find it imperative to remind readers of what it is I am speaking about.

So what is roora?

Roora (or lobola/brideprice/dowry) is a negotiation in good faith, not the auction of a child to another child’s family for marriage. I will not delve into the specific elements of roora, suffice to say that it is not intended to be monetary compensation to the wife’s family for “rearing” her, as if she were a cow ready for slaughter. Instead, roora can be summarised as a token of appreciation to the wife’s family. Importantly, roora can be paid in kind.

In times of old, roora was “paid” by giving a hoe (for you with your slanguage, I mean badza, not what some of you call Maxine, with her red shoes on, going to the disco with her perfect gentleman) to the prospective wife’s family. This wasn’t just any hoe though. It had to be ornate. It had to be valuable. Naturally, not all men and their families could afford such a gift, so under custom the prospective husband aitema ugariri (tr: till the land for his bride’s family until her family was satisfied, and he and his bride could sprint off into the dusty sunset to their marital home). My significant other better practice his farming! *removes tongue from cheek*

Cattle1Today, cattle are given in place of a hoe. How many head of cattle should be negotiated and should not be outside the means of the husband’s family. The negotiation should not be for profit and must be in good faith. If a big wedding feast is planned, then some of the cattle should be intended for this purpose. The other will help till the land. The significant beast given as roora remains the childbearing cow (mombe yehu mai) because this is, put simply, the gift that should keep on giving.

The second, and rather key, point is to respond to the question of why roora exists and why it is important. The very process of roora – from proposal, appointing a mutually respected and desired munyai (go-between/liaison), assembling the two families, arranging the roora through staged negotiations in good faith, to the actual marriage (not just the wedding day, the whole 9 yards of marriage) – is about bringing families together.Roora

Importantly, to ensure that the two families remain linked, traditionally, as I have come to learn, one must not finish paying off roora (perhaps, unless he intends to part ways with his wife!). Thus the husband’s family continually “pays” bits and pieces of the roora to the wife’s family. A cow this year, a blanket next, several good deeds along the way. Not big things, rather small gestures and tokens of appreciation throughout the marriage. As my people say “mukwasha muonde, hauperi kudyiwa” (The son-in-law is a fig tree, he never stops being consumed.)

Thus, at the heart of two people marrying is the notion that marriage unites families. Two become one, and so forth.

So in giving his wife’s family agreed upon roora, a husband cements the unity of his family with hers.

I cannot overstate this: What is given should not be so expensive a gift that it is beyond the husband’s family’s financial means and/or overdraft.

The future wife is not livestock.

She is not property.

As a groom, you must not ponder how you shall use your wife once “bought.” No. Indeed, roora should not be seen as a greenlight to abuse and subvert women as if they are paid for pieces of furniture or kitchen appliances.

Where we (continue to) go wrong: Makare edu takaarasepiko?

How roora is practiced today is a far cry from what it really is and what it was intended to do. So much so that whenever the subject comes up, it becomes about “Buying a wife” and insults are frequently hurled. Some go as far as to call it an antiquated ritual that devalues women (while giving them a monetary price tag). Indeed, roora has been abused to a point where its current manifestation deviates significantly from what was initially imagined. It is so commercialised, that it barely reflects its original intentions.


The abuse of the tradition, often by greedy patriarchs, is what makes it increasingly problematic. Only today do you hear of exorbitant “fees” and talk of “Our child has a Masters in such and such from such and such a university with facebrick walls” so she is “worth” 500 head of cattle, a whiskey and a Breitling. Only today.

Perhaps it is capitalism’s fault, perhaps it is just green-eyed greed… whatever it is, this modern adulterated take on roora is one of the many reasons eloping on the beach somewhere or in mushuche kwaChivi is ever so desirable

In the words of prolific philosopher and musician, Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi, “Kusvikira riinhi tichitiza mumvuri wedu?” (until when will we run away from our own shadows?). I will run away from my shadow for as long as my shadow misses the point.

It is time we rethink how we have destroyed good practices like roora and made them into cultural monstrosities.

While I sip my tea, are you ladies still calling your boyfriends “daddy”?

{Sidenote & cheeky disclaimer: While some practices are common amongst people who occupy similar spaces and whose geographical proximity contributes to shared experiences, a universal Zimbabwean (and by extension southern African) culture, in my mind, simply does not exist. In fact, within cordoned off spaces like the nationstate, a plethora of peoples exist and live under sometimes convergent, but often different norms and mores. The “culture” of the Karanga in Nemavuzhe is unlike that of the Zezuru in Buhera. Indeed, even within the “same” group there are differences… The Zulu in Matatiele and the Zulu in Hluhluwe are not one and the same. The reality is people like neat labels for neat boxes, so people and their cultures are clumped for convenience.}

[1] Lit tr: I am a karanga woman, therefore I am expensive

[2] I borrow extensively from my earlier piece

Ottilia Anna Maunganidze


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