There was a time when I was willing to relinquish my cultural heritage to adopt my husband’s so that our children would be raised solely as a part of his culture. There was a time when doing that made complete sense to me and I would have done it in a heartbeat – not for a lack of an appreciation for my own cultural heritage, but because I subscribed to the patrilineal values of the society in which I was raised.

To this day, in my culture, a man is still required to pay a brideprice, before he can marry. (And just in case you’re wondering; In general, although the bride’s family may quote the price in cows, the payment is received in cash, either upfront or in installments.) But here’s the interesting thing about the way the brideprice works in my culture – it actually isn’t the price of a bride!


No, no. The brideprice does not purchase the bride. Rather, it lays claim to the fruit of her womb as the groom’s purchase. What I’m saying is that, in my culture, the Ndau culture, when the groom makes payment to the bride’s family, it is to “purchase” rights to the children born of her womb.

In fact, as a result of this set-up, in terms of familial relations, the woman is technically left floating in somewhat of a never-never land: She no longer belongs to her parental family, nor does she belong to her husband’s family. From my perspective, she exists only to bear children for her husband’s family name…But I’m about to go on a tangent about how this affects woman’s sense of self-worth and belonging…-_-

Back to the children aspect: Since the children you bear, as a woman, have been purchased by your husband, he has every right to require (regardless of your preferences) that they are raised in his culture. And so, my prospective mother-in-law in college had a talk with me, reminding me that I’d have to renege my Ndau culture when I married her son, and espouse the Ndebele culture in order to raise her grandchildren in her husband’s culture. Back then, I dutifully agreed.

Today I find my innards rebelling against the prospect of suppressing your cultural upbringing so as to raise your own children as though both sets of chromosomes came from their father. Not that I so value being Ndau that it’s something worth fighting for. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The reality, though, is that I am Ndau, whether my spouse likes it or not – it’s a part of who I am (and a part of me that I happen to like (for better or worse) and hope he does too).

It only seems fair to me that a man who loves you enough to marry you, should love you enough to see you in his children. Shouldn’t he be ok with the fact that huge chunks of who you are, as the children’s mother, will show up in them? And especially since you’ll be raising them alongside him, shouldn’t he expect to see, at least pieces of your culture reflected in them?

The alternative is that a man is only looking for the most viable female to bear and rear his children as he desires – which would reduce women to child-bearing and rearing factories. That a man expects his wife to suppress significant portions of who she is…as though there were aspects of her identity that he can not/will not accept – can you think what that does to a woman?

So though I never thought the day would come when I’d say this, but… If a man thinks paying lobola (“brideprice”) means he now owns our children and has the exclusive right to decide how he wants me to rear them, irrespective of my opinion and in spite of my identity, then I’d rather he does not put a penny down. This aspect of the lobola, I cannot stomach.

4 Replies to “rejecting the cows”

  1. Embrace my sister
    The truth is culturally you always belong to your people
    MaNcube always remains maNcube
    But our children have identity too
    They have a father who took responsibility
    Its not as bad as it sounds

  2. I’m down with lobola in general, mukoma. And I think one of its strengths is that a man takes responsibility for his children! But why couldn’t that still be the case and the children embrace both their mother’s and father’s heritage? This probably flies in the face of our current patrilineal hegemony but I see no other reason why the children couldn’t learn both Ndebele and Ndau, so to speak, you know

  3. I thought children automatically always learned the language of their mother (especially if that’s the language of the environment as well), since she’s the one who teaches them how to speak. I didn’t know there were cultures were that didn’t happen.

  4. yep, I think as a matter of course, children speak their mother’s language (hence, mother-tongue) since she is usually the primary care-giver. Hence, if a child is to learn the father’s language (which would be important for the child to be part of their father’s culture – since language is a purveyor of culture…), it behooves the mother to teach the child. And where the mother is of a different culture…there’s the issue…
    The more I think about it, the matter is rooted in patrilineal ascendency – to which I don’t think I’m opposed overall, but I’m just not sure about how it plays out in this particular instance.

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