02 October 2007


Ever heard of “labola”?

Labola is the African cultural practice of a young man “buying” his wife from her family.

When a young couple decides they want to be married, the male familial elders of the potential groom go to the potential bride’s family to “negotiate” a price for her hand in marriage.

Once a price has been settled upon, the potential groom goes about trying to raise that money, which can be quite a large sum. One friend of ours has been quoted R60,000 (almost $10,000). This is a ridiculous amount, especially since our friend earns about $1500 a year.

So, he attempts to find a way around the issue and does one of three things…he leaves the girl (least likely). He quietly gives up hope to marry her and attempts consummation anyway, without any of the formal commitment. He promises to raise the funds while attempting (usually feebly) to deny the urge to impregnate her to try and force the potential bride’s family’s hand in lowering the price.

What labola ultimately leads to is an increased number of illegitimate pregnancies (since he can’t afford to marry her but wants the benefits anyway). It leads to an increased prevalence of HIV/AIDS, since young people engage in sexual relations more often outside of the realm of marriage (again hampered by labola) without firm commitments to each other – so when a big fight comes up, there is no marriage to stay in and the couple splits only to reenact the entire scene again with new partners.

Labola was a pastoral idea set up to compensate a family for a daughter, who would leave the family and join her husband, meaning that her birth family does not get any of the benefits of her labor, which means she costs a lot to raise and provides nothing back in long-term benefits. So, the husband would pay the family, both for raising her to that point and to compensate for her future absence.

An outdated idea had migrated into the cities of modern Africa and has only helped to spread the scourge that is killing so many.

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