In Shona custom, the son takes over after the death of the father as head of the family and this automatically means taking over everything — the good, the bad and the ugly, debts, credits and much more little traditional garbage the father would have left.
This article was inspired by a marriage ceremony I attended recently, and got the shock of my life when after the departure of the groom and his emissary, there was drama as the mother and the eldest child and only son in the family went for each other’s throats in a dogfight for the bride price (mari yerusambo).
This then got my mind racing as to who really is entitled to this money?
Everything had gone well until then, the family uncles had to share as it were the bride price.
This particular family is Manyika and in their sub-custom there is no money paid to the mother, but because culture is dynamic, inter-marriages and globalisation have brought cultural fusion so the little Manyika culture has adopted the money paid to the mother practice from most likely the Karanga and Zezuru customs.
Now back to the marriage story, the mother had by the way received this part of her lot.
She, fortunately or unfortunately, wanted the whole chunk for the bride money to herself, but the boy-father would have none of it.
The elders who were there had decided that the boy-father should get the bride price as the head of the household, which was something like 40% of what was available. The mother only because she still had kids that are were university would get 60% but traditionally, she was not supposed to get anything from the bride price.
The tricky part is if her husband were alive — they most likely would have agreed on some kind of use of the money, that is if the husband was the understanding type but if he were the old-fashioned type, then there was no way the woman would have gotten a cent except maybe something to buy salt with and the grinding mill money.
Half of the women at the function agreed with the idea of giving the son a 40% share, but half of them were vehemently in disagreement.
Remember this was a function that was composed of what politicians would call Zimbabweans from all walks of life.
There were teachers, doctors, businessmen and laypeople like myself and oh, sorry, a lady lawyer for good measure!
The bride actually went to the extent of crying because apparently the brother never helped in educating her so she saw no reason why he should benefit.
Those against the son benefiting felt the wife, as the surviving parent, should have had the final say as to how the money was to be spent, but then came the sticky part: If the bride were to fail to produce children or die before she did this, the boy-father was supposed to provide another bride or, in the worst case scenario, the bride gets possessed by some unknown spirit and murders someone or gets into some kind of trouble that would require the attention of the father, the boy-father would be expected to take up these duties and or — obligations with the precision of a real father.
How then is he supposed to do this if in the beginning of this union he was not given the respect accorded a real father?
You would certainly not expect someone to accept the bad parts of a union when you deny him the niceties that come with it. A lot of dead fathers must be turning in their graves surely.
A traditionalist, Sekuru Mandeya, says because no woman wants to be inherited these days for one reason or another but mainly due to the Aids pandemic, the aunt takes over as family political figurehead in order to preside over any matters that befall the family either good or bad issues.
The aunt would then take charge of the bride price and with the assistance of the family, male elders should make sure the son receives his share while the mother also receives part of the bride price money because in the first place, this money was supposed to be spent within this household.
“Women no longer want to be inherited by their husbands’ brothers, but this does not mean that women should become head of families as it has caused the destruction of the family unit, diseases, street kids and a lot of divorces,” said Sekuru Mandeya.
A student pastor Benard Madera of the Terbernacle of Grace Church says: “When people marry, they follow the traditional ways, but we must understand this is relative to place and area.
“There are certain aspects of the Manyika custom that you may not find in the Karanga custom and vice-versa, but that does not take away the fact culture is dynamic and can adapt and adopt foreign cultural aspects.”
Madera says: “The Bible talks about bride price in different forms like Jacob slaving away at Laban’s for 14 years to get two wives, but the bottom line is the patriarch did not work for Laban’s wife but for the head of the house Laban. This tells us that generations might change, but there are things that do not change whether you are a Christian or traditionalist.”
He also pointed out that society is patriarchal because religion is patriarchal in nature whether Islam, Hindu, or Islam. All religions regard the male being as superior to the female being.
Madera however said Christians believe in equality of men and women. That is why the same flesh doctrine and the two are inseparable so the son may not be a partner with the mother after the father’s death.
Now in this age of gender equality and this entire capitalist storm about women empowerment, how is the family supposed to juggle around this traditional quiz? Remember the sarapavana uncle or aunt is in this instance not even considered in this equation because fortunately he/she is not the “greedy” type.
He/she does not need the money.
In this marriage ceremony, the mother was given all the money but the mayhem had just begun — the uncles on the maternal side were sucked in. They told their sister in no uncertain terms they did not want any problems because this was a dead man’s money hence she was playing with fire and amid threats of excommunication.
The poor widow relented and in the end gave the boy-father 40% of the bride price, but not before she was told she would not get such a privilege next time as there are two more girls in the family who are at university and yet to join the nuptial path our ancestors followed.
Now the question is who is entitled to the bride price (lobola) money in the event the father of the bridegroom is no longer around?
This should be answered in the context of the equality of the mother and father in terms of rights to the child visa-a vis the traditional understanding that children belong to the paternal side of the family while there is a belief that in other cultures like the Malawian Chewa, children belong to the maternal side of the family.
This presents a riddle that shows how complicated African culture is and the enormity of the problem policymakers and researchers have of trying to integrate African culture into the growing global culture.
Richard Chidza is a journalism and communications student.
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