Sunday, 15 November 2009

Daughter Number One’s labola

Roz Cryer, née Rosamund Mary Randall, lives with her husband Paul in KwaZulu Natal. They got married on 10 July 2004 and the final part of the ceremony, which took place in our house in Richmond, is described in the words I then spoke. I tell this story to explain why I have an interest in South African history which will manifest itself in the presentation I am having to give at our tutorial on Tuesday.

In that part of South Africa where Paul comes from, arranging a marriage is a long and complex business. In Zulu society an uncle of the would-be groom goes to an uncle of the would-be bride to start the process of finding out what the labola will be. Labola is the amount, usually payable in cows, which a groom must pay to the bride's father before a marriage can take place.

The first stage of the process is establishing what preliminary goods the bride's father wishes to receive before he reveals what Iabola he is seeking. There will be a number of things on this list of goods, but almost always it will include a phutu [maize meal porridge] pot: you can see over there the pot which has been given as part of the current proceedings.

Once the goods have been given, then the real business of horse-trading (or, rather, cow trading) begins. A delegation of uncles and brothers of the groom meet a group of uncles and brothers of the bride to learn what labola is sought. A typical labola is 11 cows: for a princess it is 19 cows.

In this case, because of the distance between Durban and Richmond, the parties agreed that negotiations would be carried out by e-mail between the principals. I accordingly let Paul know that, although Roz is not of course an actual Zulu princess, as far as I am concerned she is worth the same as one, and that Paul would therefore have to give me 19 cows in order to be allowed to marry my daughter.

The e-mail I received back frankly astounded me. Far from accepting with alacrity the hand of our Sweet Lass Of Richmond Hill, he came back with a derisory counter-offer. Firstly, Paul said that, because Roz doesn't know how to brew beer, her worth is halved to 9 cows. Then, because Roz would refuse to allow him to have more than one wife, her worth is reduced to 4 goats. Then, because Roz knows nothing about farming, her worth is reduced to a single chicken. Finally, because Roz is likely to answer him back the whole time, he feels her worth to be no more than a Kentucky Fried Chicked drumstick and a Diet Coke.

My problem at this stage of negotiations was that Paul was right on all those charges. All I could do was counter-attack. Firstly, I told Paul that, because he can't speak Zulu very well, his worth as a groom is halved. Then, he never combs his hair and only shaves once a month, it is halved again. Then, because he will be spending half his time away from the matrimonial kraal, gallivanting off through the bush, it's halved yet again. However, I concluded, as a gesture of goodwill and in no way admitting that Roz is worth an udder less than 19 cows, I was prepared to reduce the price to 17 cows.

This price was agreed, and so the ceremony which many of you have just attended was able to take place. But one thing remains to be done, and that is the payment of the labola. This is done after the father of the bride formally addresses the groom.

For seventeen kine this woman shall be thine:
Let thy brother now deliver!

[17 cut-out cardboard cows were now pulled into view by Stuart Cryer]

I accept these seventeen kine:
Now this woman is truly thine!

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