Kate and Tich.

Jo Vallentine, West Australian Regional Meeting.

Kate Vallentine became engaged to Tichaona Mazhawidza, formerly of Zimbabwe & Zambia, in June 2010. They visited the two parts of Tichaona’s family around that time. Tichaona had been living in Perth for some years, studying law, and has since become an Australian citizen.

Wanting to honour both cultures, the young couple decided to have a full traditional Shona ceremony in Harare earlier this year. It was very exciting, and a little scary, for her parents to prepare for the big event.

Tich gave us some cultural briefings and we checked out the Roora customs online…being partners in a marriage transaction. This is not seen as payment for the bride, but valuables are given to the woman’s family to legitimate or seal the marriage. It is not something which can be understood in isolation, but part of a rich fabric of Shona custom, which defines and regulates the complex relationships between the ethnic group, the family and the individuals concerned. It is a bringing together of two families, fostering mutual respect and indicating that the man is capable of supporting his wife both financially and emotionally.

A munyai or messenger begins the formal process, conveying news of the intended marriage to the family of the bride-to-be. So, there we were, in Harare, at a comfortable old colonial lodge, with two teams to negotiate the lobola under the guidance of the munyai. This was just before the wedding ceremony, but usually takes places well beforehand, in case of glitches. We certainly weren’t going to cause any of those, and it was embarrassing to think that we were to come out of the negotiations with cash in hand, provided by Tichaona and his family to their team to pass on to us!

It was an intriguing process. The bride first had to acknowledge that she knew the groom, and after that, her presence wasn’t required! Neither was the groom present, but after the first money transaction, they were considered married, and there was much whooping and ululating from the women. Everything was said and done on their behalf by their negotiating teams, and we, as parents of the bride, were asked to agree to certain conditions/payments, but were not to speak directly to the assembled group.

The disparity in status was re-enforced by the fact that Tich’s family team was seated on the floor, and we were seated on chairs. Everything went through the munyai, including financial transactions being placed in a bowl, handed to her, handed to our chief negotiator, then the bowl returned emptied, ready for the next round. There were many items on the list for consideration. After some discussion back and forth, a payment was agreed upon. Some of the items were quite light-hearted, others very serious. For example, the father of the bride was paid for having to endure all her little games with his beard when she was little. I was paid for having carried her in utero.

We had discussed with our team beforehand that we’d like to leave most of the lobola payment in Zimbabwe to benefit local enterprises in some way. I knew about a Quaker project at Hlekweni, but wasn’t sure where that was, or exactly what it was like. So Tich followed through with some on-line research. It sounded like what we were looking for – wonderful programmes training young people in skills of various kinds, including AVP workshops. So we visited the centre near Bulawayo when we were on a discovery tour later, to offer them the value of a bull calf and a heifer! They were quite delighted about that as they are just building up their cattle herd. It was special for us to have a Quaker connection,

Some of the lobola was down to cash, other parts in kind – like six more head of cattle, translated into a dollar figure. All of that wasn’t paid at the time, nor was it expected to be, this is because ongoing relationship between the two families is assured by the one owing money and favours to the other over a long period of time. Some of it was to hand immediately, like a smart hat and walking stick for father-in-law and a beautiful shawl for mother-in-law, whose outfit for the wedding was also provided by the prospective son-in-law.

These negotiations, lasting several hours, were preceded by a meal and a briefing the evening before, and followed by another meal and much congratulation. All of this leading to the ceremony itself, which was the expression that our Kate was joining her husband’s family.

Kate was driven by women supporters to the Mazhawidza home, but the car stopped short of their driveway by about 100 metres, in order to form a processional of women and children, singing and dancing as she neared her in-law’s house. Kate was totally covered at this stage, so was led by an attendant, who every so often suggested to her that they sit down in the roadway and refuse to move until the crowd had given them money to encourage them to move further. Evidently some of the songs at this point were rudely teasing the young bride to check her resilience – would she be able to cope with her new situation? It was very lively, very colourful, and very noisy!

Eventually, the bride made it into the family living room, where she was seated on the floor, and various women sang and danced for her, head still covered, but gradually she was encouraged to peek out from beneath her cover. The dancers included Tich’s 83 year old grandmother, who did a wonderful solo welcoming the young bride. Eventually the veil was lifted, and Tich was brought in to sit beside Kate.

So there they were, married, together, finally, in front of all the family and friends.

Men joined in at this point. Much more traditional dancing and singing followed. It was wonderfully vibrant, and very moving.

After that, a feast which was mostly prepared by Tich’s young brother, a chef, assisted by his sisters and other cousins and friends. There were 23 different dishes, including goats roasted on a spit, and all manner of sudsa and salads and savoury treats. There were some speeches, a blessing by the pastor of a local Christian church which Tich’s mother attends, a jazz band, and then more music for dancing. There were lots of fires lit round the garden as the night cooled down, and little groups clustered around them to talk for hours. This was family nurturing – we now feel very connected to Tichoana’s father’s side of the family in Zimbabwe, and to his mother’s side in Zambia, some of whom journeyed to Harare for the event and others whom we met when we visited their homes in the week following the ceremony.

These were unforgettable experiences and, too, new dimensions of family life opening up on either side of the Indian Ocean.

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