Lobola (or ‘bride price’ for the lack of a better English term) is a tradition that has been a part of many African cultures for centuries, and it is still important and recognised by many families today – even those who do not engage in any other traditional practices. While the way lobola is conducted has evolved along with the advancement of modern times, the symbolism and purpose behind it remains the same.
So when I read about the launch of an app developed in Nigeria called the Bride Price App, the entire idea just didn’t sit right with me.
The purpose of lobola remains largely misunderstood by many people of different races and cultures, including black Africans. Many see it as a bride being sold or traded off by her family to her future husband’s family and as a way for the husband to claim ownership of the bride. While many families and men unfortunately have distorted it to be that today, it’s a completely misinformed perception.
The true purpose of lobola is to build a relationship between the two families and it is way for the groom’s family to present lobola as a gift and a token of their appreciation to the bride’s family. The only reason money is used today is because it has replaced cattle, which is what was used historically, because in this day and age, few Africans have a kraal in their backyard to put a herd of cattle in, especially in urban areas.
You cannot ask for a refund for something you did not purchase. What the bride’s family decides to use the lobola for is completely up to them. Some use it to pay for a number of things for the upcoming wedding, some use it to buy gifts for their girl child who is about to get married and some use it to pay for household expenses, the reasons vary from family to family. No husband or family can demand their lobola back should the relationship between bride and groom sour for any reason whatsoever. Lobola negotiations can be cancelled, should anything occur during the process, but once it has been done and the two are married, it’s final.
The problem with an app like the Bride Price App is that it degrades this tradition and supports the distorted perception that lobola is purchasing a bride. It basically equates African brides to objects whose worth can be estimated through the simple click of a button and lobola as a simple tradition with no meaning.
The app itself is pretty straightforward. You open it up and are greeted by the tagline “Find the true value of your bride price and that of your friends and enemies”, to me, this indicates that a woman’s worth can be measured. Also, the fact that you can calculate your “enemie’s” worth just feels to me like an encouragement of the uneccessary rivarly and sizing up that often goes on between women who are jealous of and don’t like each other (which benefits neither party).
Your bride price is calculated according to all your physical qualities: short, tall, slim, chubby, skin tone (which is another hot debate currently being used to damage the self esteem of black women all over the world), facial quality, how your teeth look, accent, where you live and so on. These are the negative things that women, and particularly black women, have to go up against on a daily basis. We are constantly bombarded with images and perceptions of what a beautiful black African woman looks like and so when we look in the mirror, we don’t see ourselves as beautiful. To imply that one’s bride price becomes higher simply because they look and sound better than the next girl is an insult.
Also, if this app was developed by a white person, it would immediately be called out as racist, but because a black Nigerian created it, it’s OK? I don’t think so. And the fact that there’s a disclaimer at the bottom saying the whole thing is just a joke doesn’t make it OK either.
If black Africans are going to degrade their own culture and women and act as if it’s OK, then they’re no better than any sexist male or racist person out there. There is simply no excusing or explaining away such. If we want our African traditions, our women and our black skin to be respected, we should start first by respecting it ourselves.
[Main image – Shutterstock]